Lingering, troubling health problems often stem from gluten. Gluten reactions can include digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea; peripheral neuropathy (numbness or tingling in the extremities); mental and emotional imbalances; or autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and psoriasis. But your misery doesn’t have to remain a mystery: If a gluten-free diet improves your health or a lab test is positive, you can declare gluten the source of your difficulties.
As the gluten-free revolution has picked up momentum, more people are discovering that gluten sensitivity, including celiac disease (an autoimmune disease caused by reaction to gluten), lurks behind their problematic health symptoms. But how do you know for sure if you suffer from negative reactions to gluten? One possible way to test whether your health complaints are in fact due to gluten is to remove all gluten-containing foods from your diet and monitor the progress of your symptoms. If they clear up, you may have your answer. If your health doesn’t improve after a gluten-free period, your symptoms may nonetheless still stem from gluten reaction, but as part of a more complex picture of your health.
Sorting Through Gluten’s Damage
Nearly every person has some level of gluten sensitivity, and the digestive discomfort associated with gluten reaction may be only one part of the puzzle. You may find through proper medical testing that your symptoms are due to other food sensitivities, parasites, abnormal bacterial overgrowth, and neurological or emotional triggers. In addition, many people who are gluten-sensitive do not experience digestive symptoms, instead developing neurological or immune symptoms. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is rich with neurological, hormonal and immune system components, so damage to the GI tract because of gluten reactions can have major impacts throughout your body.
False Negative Test Results
Blood testing and allergen testing can determine whether you have a minor gluten intolerance or celiac disease, which damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents certain nutrients from being absorbed. However, the gluten-sensitivity blood tests that have been available for years can frequently and misleadingly show a negative result, even in the presence of a moderate to severe gluten sensitivity. In my clinic, we use saliva and/or stool testing, which looks for an immune reaction directly at the level of contact between your gut lining and gluten-containing foods. This type of testing often gives a more accurate reading as to the level of gluten-sensitivity.
No test is foolproof, and even the newer gluten-sensitivity tests can give you a false negative reading if the immune system within your GI tract is not functioning properly. Digestive-immune impairment often happens after years of eating foods that you are sensitive to, as well from chronic inflammation caused by a variety of conditions. Even with these limitations, the saliva or stool tests are the most accurate we’ve found to date. One stool test that is available online can be found at Enterolab.com, and a saliva test kit can be purchased at Unikeyhealth.com without a doctor’s order.
Alternate Test For Celiac Disease
If you do have gluten-sensitivity, how do you know if it is mild or severe, or if you actually have celiac disease? With severe gluten reactions, continued gluten exposure can damage the lining of your small intestine, reducing the surface area for nutrient absorption and creating a host of related complications. In the past, more in-depth testing for celiac disease was typically performed by taking a sample (biopsy) of the small intestine during an invasive procedure in which a scope is passed down into the small intestine. This test helped to analyze the level of damage to the intestinal lining. Alternately, Enterolab has developed a stool test measuring fat in the stool. If the fat level is abnormally high, this indicates that fat is not being absorbed and is an indirect measure of intestinal damage.
Choosing Gluten-Free Alternatives
Because there is no straightforward test to distinguish between people that are highly sensitive and those who are mildly sensitive, complete avoidance of gluten-containing foods is the universal recommendation to heal gluten problems. However, gluten is often hidden in foods or not obviously listed in the ingredients, so you need to become a careful label reader to keep gluten out of your meals.
If a product is labeled as “wheat free,” it may not be gluten-free. To be safe, the label must be explicitly labeled as “gluten-free.” In addition, many other types of foods, such as nuts or beans are packaged in the same plant as gluten-containing foods, which can contribute to cross-contamination and induce allergies. Thanks to the growing demand for gluten-free foods, many manufacturers now are clearly labeling their products for gluten-free consumers.
Our knowledge of gluten sensitivity and its many complications is constantly evolving as the gluten-free movement gains a significant foothold within conventional and integrative medicine. The avoidance of gluten has restored the health of millions of people — sometimes quickly and at other times more gradually. If you feel you have issues with gluten, remember to always follow your gut and get appropriate testing to increase awareness of your own personal health and wellness.
Dr. Isaac Eliaz is a renowned integrative medical doctor, licensed acupuncturist, researcher, product formulator and frequent guest lecturer. He has been a pioneer in holistic medicine since the early 1980s, and has published numerous peer-reviewed research papers on several of his key integrative health formulas. He is the founder and medical director of Amitabha Clinic in California, an integrative health center specializing in cancer and chronic conditions. Dr. Eliaz is an expert in using highly strategic, synergistic protocols to address numerous areas of health including metastatic cancer, immunity, digestion, detoxification, diabetes, cardiovascular health and more. His approach integrates modern science with traditional healing wisdom for optimal health and wellness. To download any of Dr. Eliaz’s comprehensive wellness guides, click here.