Sunday, 1 June 2014

Is Gluten Sensitivity All In Your Head? Think Again.

After a recent study by Dr. Peter Gibson at Monash University in Australia was published claiming that non-celiac gluten sensitivity doesn’t exist, I received several requests from friends to comment on the findings and the validity of the study. I am by no means trying to de-bunk the study with this post, and only wish to better educate people about this health issue and what the results mean.

I will begin with a disclosure that I am someone who suffers from non-celiac gluten sensitivity. All gluten containing grains were extremely high on my IGG testing, and any ingestion of gluten causes severe stomach pain and bloating after eating, headaches, brain fog, and inevitable trips to the bathroom the next morning. Since I tested negative for celiac, trace amounts (a bit of soy sauce, a small bite etc.) don't bother me, but a full sandwich or slice of pizza means I’m out of commission for several days. It was my naturopathic doctor who recommended removing several commons allergens, including gluten, and food additives from my diet, allowing me to finally regain control of my life.
Hence, you can see my frustration, anger and embarrassment when people assume I am gluten-free because ‘I’m on a diet’, or ‘I’m a picky eater’, or ‘I’m high maintenance’ or 'I’m only gluten-free because my best friend is'.  These are all lines people have said to my face in the past, and the strange looks and judgmental stares when I asked for a gluten-free menu can make ordering out or dinner parties excruciating to sit though.  Nonetheless, there are many  people who are gluten-free for no real reason, and don’t even know that gluten is! Check out the Jimmy Kimmel Video for a good laugh

If you want more information on what gluten is, the Wikipedia page, like any good researcher, is a good place to start.

Let’s breakdown the findings of this study using this article posted on the Huffington Post

37 subjects, a relatively small sample, with self-declared gluten sensitivity and irritable bowel syndrome were placed on different diets including a high-gluten, low-gluten and control diet, consisting of 16 grams of whey protein isolate per day.
No matter which diet they ate, all reported feeling worse, even when consuming the gluten-free diet. BUT I personally don’t like how they used whey protein isolate as a control. Cow’s dairy is highly inflammatory and even isolate (which contains very little lactose) can cause bloating and stomach pain in people who are sensitive.  The scientists explained these results by a “nocebo” effect, “where people basically convince themselves that they feel worse and thus, they begin to experience real symptoms, but it’s all in their heads.” I slightly agree with researcher because if I’m eating out and skeptical of whether or not the server got my order right (i.e. the pizza crust or bun is in fact gluten-free), I do feel somewhat nauseous in anticipation of the pain and GI upset to come.

Thus, the researchers concluded that FODMAPS (Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols) are a far more likely cause of the gastrointestinal problems attributed to gluten intolerance. When participated consumed a low-FODMAP diet, almost all reported that their symptoms improved!
However, it should be noted that major dietary sources of FODMAPs include glutinous grains such as rye and wheat. Other potential triggers that are part of the FODMAPS family include HFCS, lactose, and certain fruits and veggies. In case you’re wondering, I do try to avoid large portions of foods high in FODMAPS as they are a trigger for my IBS. 

So what does this all mean? I will admit that gluten-free is extremely trendy these days and a great marketing tool, and I’m sure there are a good percentage of people on a gluten-free diet who don’t need to be and only feel better because they’re eating more whole, fresh food. On the other hand, I do greatly enjoy this current trend because it makes grocery shopping and dining out a much easier and less stressful experience for celiacs and those who are gluten intolerant alike and need to avoid gluten for medical reasons.

If you think going gluten-free will lead to weight loss, think again. Maybe in the past because going gluten-free meant cutting out cake, cookies, breads, pasta, pizza and other starchy, high calorie items from your diet. These days, there is gluten-free everything, including donuts, but this does not make them healthy or calorie free. In fact many gluten-free breads are FAR WORSE nutritionally, contain much more sugar, and are WAY MORE expensive than their gluten containing counterparts.

If going gluten-free makes you feel better mentally and physically, then I don’t think it’s truly all in your head. I do not recommend buying store bought gluten-free breads, pastas or cookies however, because they are often highly processed and full of white rice, potato starch and white sugar, which will cause a huge spike in blood sugar and a crash later on leaving you hungry and irritable. Instead try substituting with healthier ingredients; think zucchini or carrot noodles, cauliflower pizza crusts, Swiss chard wraps, and almond or coconut flour for homemade bread and desserts. If you have more questions about going gluten-free or think you may have other food sensitivities feel free to send me a private message or better yet, book an appointment with an accredited naturopathic doctor who can help you create an optimal diet for your gut.

Happy Eating 

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