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Bread, Beer and Bagels…Could They be Causing Your Joints to Ache? (And, what about depression or anxiety?)

iceplant, rich

A 42 year-old, first time client complained of arthritis so bad he could not walk down the flight of stairs to my office. After reluctantly removing all gluten from his diet, he was shocked to discover he had 80% less pain … and in one week.

Two other clients, both in their 30’s showed up in my office the same week with a severe skin breakout all over their bodies. After removing gluten and adjusting to a more balanced low glycemic diet, they were both pleased to see their skin clear up over the next 2-4 weeks.

Another 56 year-old client suffered a lifetime of regular migraines, anxiety and panic attacks. After 3 weeks off gluten (which included all of her favorite and commonly consumed foods), the client reported feeling calmer and happier. After 2 months, still no migraines. Of course in her case, it took a little while for her to completely remove gluten and to balance her diet with produce, protein and a lower glycemic food plan.

What are the symptoms of gluten intolerance? 

Many people believe that gluten intolerance only causes digestive symptoms. Although symptoms a such as bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, nausea and poor digestion can all be associated with gluten intolerance, many people don’t experience these symptoms at all.

For some people it manifests mainly as joint pain, such as arthritis and muscle pain, similar to fibromyalgia. Many of my clients show up specifically for worsening pain as their main symptom. After we assess, test or experiment they are often shocked to discover that gluten is the cause.

Other common though unexpected symptoms of gluten intolerance are emotional and psychological. Symptoms like anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and mood swings can disappear or be dramatically deceased with elimination of gluten in the diet.

In addition to the pain, digestive and emotional symptoms, gluten intolerance is associated with myriad other nagging symptoms: Skin conditions like psoriasis, itchy rash, eczema and rosacea; headaches and migraines; fatigue; sleep issues; acid reflux; gallbladder problems; unsteady gait and lack of muscle control; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); canker sores; attention deficit and poor ability to focus; anemia; food sensitivities and poor absorption of nutrients. Ironically, a person can be either overweight or underweight as a result of gluten exposure.

People with auto-immune diseases feel much better on a gluten-free diet. Symptoms are better managed and remission is more likely. These include Hashimoto’s, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, MS, Scleroderma and Sjogren’s just to name a few. There are many diet and lifestyle practices that can support and improve quality of life for people with autoimmune disease, and gluten elimination is part of that picture.

Of course, for everyone with pre-diabetes, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance, nothing raises blood sugar faster than wheat, the most common source of gluten in the diet.

What is gluten intolerance or allergy?

There are actually a spectrum of reactions to gluten with the most severe being Celiac disease, which is an auto-immune disease. People with Celiac produce antibodies to the lining of their digestive system. Any exposure to gluten causes severe damage and leads to myriad symptoms. A person with Celiac must completely avoid gluten for life to maintain their health. In a study by the highly reputable Mayo Clinic that analyzed the stored blood of Army recruits, researchers showed that celiac disease is four times more common today than it was in the 1950s and is becoming more common every year.

And it’s not just Celiac disease that is becoming more and more common. Experts representing several countries are proposing a new classification system for gluten-related issues plaguing a growing number of people globally for unclear reasons.

The second form of reaction is also immune mediated, with the immune system creating antibodies to gluten in the diet. This reaction is very inflammatory and can result in many of the symptoms I have previously mentioned.

However, there is a growing number of people that don’t fit into the first 2 categories, yet removal of gluten from their diet results in elimination of, or dramatic decrease in symptoms. They are not Celiac and they test negative for the telltale antibodies to gluten. Some health practitioners say that for every patient with confirmed Celiac disease, they see 6-8 more with the same symptoms that disappear on a gluten free diet. That is very consistent with my practice as well.

Why has gluten intolerance become so common?

Several theories are surfacing regarding why gluten has become such a problem across the globe. In the book Wheat Belly, by William Davis, MD, he does a great job of describing one emerging theory. Davis observes that wheat is not the same grain that our grandparents ate. It has been hybridized and crossbred many times in the last 50 years in an effort to make it resistant to disease and to increase yield. It does not even look like the ancient grain. Modern grain is short and stocky. This newer dwarf wheat grain is much higher in gluten content as well and the varieties of gluten it contains. This theory certainly makes sense and time will tell if it proves to be true.

What is a gluten-free diet?

If you suffer from some of the symptoms and issues described, it may be worth a gluten-free diet trial. Gluten is in wheat, barley, rye and oats. And, it is in products that use these grains for their production like beer, some hard liquor and soy sauce. It requires a little education and label reading in order to eliminate it completely.

Many people say they have tried such a test, but didn’t see results. Looking a little closer you find that they reduced but did not actually eliminate gluten. Maybe they removed all gluten except beer. Or perhaps all gluten except their favorite food. A trial must be completely gluten free in order to experience what your body feels like without it. I can certainly help.

Fear not, if you discover that gluten is an issue for you, there are many gluten-free products available. Of course, many are junk, and are even higher in sugar and additives than the gluten products they replace. However, there are more and more quality gluten-free products available too. You, like a growing number of people, may discover that life in your body is a lot more comfortable without gluten.