Gluten-free foods, gluten-free menu options… Gluten-free choices are everywhere nowadays, but does it mean you should go gluten-free?
Consider the following:
- If you’ve got celiac disease, then going gluten-free is necessary. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains). Eating gluten or gluten-containing foods will lead to gut inflammation and destruction of the intestinal tract (in addition to debilitating pain and anemia). This condition can be life-threatening if left untreated. Celiac disease affects about 1 percent of the population.
- Some people feel unwell after eating foods which contain gluten. Some patients tell Dr. Yik that prior to removing gluten from their diet, they felt tired, bloated, depressed, they had headaches, they suffered from skin ailments, etc. but once they cut gluten out, the symptoms disappeared. Others say that reducing gluten correlates with feeling better or losing weight. For these people, they may have a gluten/ wheat allergy OR gluten intolerance. Click here to read about the difference between a food allergy or food intolerance.
- If your lab tests are negative (i.e. you don’t have the above conditions), and you still suffer from unpleasant symptoms after eating wheat products, then you may have what’s called non-celiac wheat sensitivity. Many of Dr. Yik‘s patients fall into this category. Medical doctors may be dismissive after seeing that the patient has neither celiac disease nor a gluten or wheat allergy/ intolerance. But the symptoms you experience are real and research presented at United European Gastroenterology Week 2016 in mid-October may shed some light on why you feel unwell. Dr. Detlef Schuppan (who holds faculty positions at Johannes Gutenberg University and Harvard Medical School) and his team have revealed that another protein found in wheat, called ATIs (amylase-trypsin inhibitors), contributes to non-celiac wheat sensitivity. ATIs appear to cause inflammation. This inflammatory reaction can also worsen chronic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, asthma, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. So, for people who fall into this category, avoiding gluten and wheat are crucial to better health.
- What if I just want to go gluten-free…? Data from the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School found that while the prevalence of celiac disease remained fairly stable over 2009 to 2014, the number of people who followed a gluten-free diet without having celiac disease more than tripled. Perhaps this surge is due to what I’ve explained in #2 and #3. Or perhaps people have read the recent bestseller books in which the authors argue that gluten and carbohydrates are at the root of Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Or maybe some people have jumped onto the gluten-free bandwagon just to follow a trend. If you fall into this group, here’s some food for thought:
- Whole grains are an important source of B vitamins, fiber and minerals like iron, zinc and magnesium. For the average person who doesn’t have wheat or gluten issues, it’s not necessary to consume only gluten-free foods. As with all things, moderation is key.
- A significant number of people think that gluten-free food products are healthier but often times, they’re not. Gluten-free products and snacks may contain more sugar and fat to make them taste better, so be sure to check the ingredient labels.
If you feel unwell or if you have conditions (e.g. eczema, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, migraines, headaches, etc.) that flare up after eating gluten or wheat products, you should get tested. For a holistic approach, find a licensed naturopathic doctor who can help you investigate root causes and navigate through appropriate treatment options to restore proper function of your digestive and immune systems.