Celiac disease. Gluten sensitivity. Allergy to wheat. Gluten intolerance. How real is it? And should you go through the trouble to avoid foods that contain gluten?
Gluten free has become the buzz phrase of the decade. It’s not that avoiding gluten was ever a bad idea, but somehow word got out that gluten was bad for you and causes all kinds of bad health conditions. I remember a situation from early in my practice career (maybe 13 or so years ago).
A patient was referred to me for a weird skin lesion on her back. She had been to the U of A dermatology department and called herself the “poster child” down there. At one point she remembered baring her back while a near endless stream of residents and interns paraded past her for a good look. While they tried many meds and creams, nothing was working.
That’s when she came to see me. We discussed food allergies and skin problems (the gut and the skin derive from the same embryological tissues, so what aggravates one tissue may affect the other) and I recommended a 2 week trial of a gluten free diet and “Bingo!” the skin lesions disappeared. They reappeared almost instantly after a reintroduction of wheat after the 2 weeks.
I remember another case where a patient presented with dermatitis herpetiformis, a blister like skin lesion that shows up commonly on the elbows and is very strongly associated with gluten sensitivity. He had been put on Dapsone (an antibiotic used to treat leprosy) about 10 years prior, but the treating doctor told him he did not need to avoid gluten because that was too difficult. I can only assume that this doctor was unaware that the damage to the gut in these patients continues unchecked with Dapsone use, but the skin lesions DO improve. And that’s all that matters, right?
Would you like my take on the gluten free craze? Of course you do–you’re already 322 words into the post.
Clearly gluten sensitivity is very real. It is a spectrum that ranges from minor sensitivity to the gut destroying flattened villa of full blown celiac disease. We are likely seeing an increase because of the combination of nitrogenous fertilizers (increases levels of gluten in grains) and the overuse of antibiotics (there is a cross reactivity between gluten and Candida albican yeast).
I have covered more on the effects of gluten on the body in a previous post that can be read by clicking here.
So what about switching to gluten free foods and avoiding all those foods that contain gluten?
This particular article should give you some reassurance that most of the foods labeled gluten free are actually gluten free. The authors found that the gluten content in 99.5% of 205 commercially available gluten free products tested, the samples had a gluten concentration <20 mg/kg.
Good news, right?
Here’s my take.
We live in a society heavily dominated by grains. It seems like we can’t go a single meal or a single snack without some form of wheat attached to it. And, more often than not, it’s the nearly poisonous enriched wheat flour.
So, after watching Dr. Oz, you decide that avoiding foods that contain gluten is a good idea. So you go to the store and spend way to much money on the exact same type of foods you were eating but this time they are gluten free. Gluten free bread. Gluten free pasta. Gluten free hamburger buns. Gluten free broccoli.
Wait…gluten free broccoli? But isn’t broccoli gluten free anyway? YES. That is the point.
Instead of spending your money and taste buds on the same types of food that got you into this mess in the first place, expand your horizons and eat foods that are naturally free in gluten.
I have to laugh when Sprouts, a local natural-oriented food store, has its “gluten free” sale. Anything in the store that is gluten free is on sale and marked. Not a single food in the fruit and vegetable section has gluten. Nothing at the meat counter. Nothing in the spices (at least not the quality ones).
So, it’s great to know that foods that are labeled gluten free are very likely to be so, why not skip the concept altogether and buy foods that don’t need to be modified so that they no longer contain gluten?
If you have tried a gluten free diet, what was the one food item you missed the most?