Gluten Sensitivity – Is it real?

Non Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity – science now says it exists!

It would seem (said with a small amount of sarcasm)…that those who are genuinely feeling better (mentally and physically) off gluten and wheat products are not imagining it. There is now growing scientific evidence of something we have suspected for years, and is called Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) or Non Celiac Wheat Sensitivity (NCWS).

Earlier this year, a heading in Science Daily states…

“Biological explanation for wheat sensitivity found!”

I’m really excited and a little relieved (and even a little smug I’m sorry to say) to see more and more published articles backing up what I was taught in my Naturopathic training.

Since 2008 when the Human Microbiome Project was launched, we are seeing a huge number of articles from research done in this growing field of the gastro-intestinal system or Gut. Ten years ago, there were hardly any studies at all.

This particular latest study conducted and published by the Columbia University Medical Centre in the Journal GUT – states that…

“people with non-celiac wheat sensitivity have a weakened intestinal barrier, which leads to a systemic inflammatory immune response after ingesting wheat and related gluten containing cereals…” (also known as Leaky Gut)

“Our study shows that the symptoms reported by individuals with this condition are not imagined, as some people have suggested.” Said study co-author Peter H. Green, MD, the Phyllis and Ivan Seidenberg Professor of Medicine at CUMC and director of the Celiac Disease Centre. “It demonstrates that there is a biological basis for these symptoms in a significant number of these patients”.

Testing for gluten sensitivity?

There are no 100% specific pathology testing markers which can without a doubt prove this condition at this point of writing – as there are too many gluten like proteins to test for, and we don’t have that technology as yet.  It is also especially inaccurate if someone is already on a strict gluten free diet for over 6 months.

However, much of the evidence from Functional Medicine research recommends we test for specific anti-bodies for gluten type proteins, Immunoglobulins & coeliac gene testing (even if results are a definitive negative for coeliac, it can still indicate gluten sensitivity with the correct interpretation).  In some cases also doing a stool test which assesses the health of the gut flora is another way to get an accurate picture.

Australian Functional Medicine practitioner Dr Mark Donohoe is convinced that anyone with a negative coeliac gene result (i.e. they don’t have the genetics for celiac disease)  but with a HLA DQ2-5 gene result present, should stay off gluten as they are prone to get an inflammatory response.  So the important thing to re-inforce here is, just because you have a negative coeliac gene test doesn’t mean you are not gluten sensitive.  Depending on the lab you test with and the details obtained, it will give you an indication if you should stay away from gluten and wheat.

Of course the main “hands on” test I find most telling  (but without the bells and whistles… or financial cost) is to do a total fast off gluten for 4 weeks then have it again for a couple of days to reassess how you feel. It is as simple as that.  But often our minds need as much evidence as possible – and in writing – when it comes to deciding to stay away from crusty fresh delicious bread.

The symptoms of NCGS or NCWS are varied and include digestive system symptoms, fatigue, mood and cognitive difficulties as well as pain.

In The Lancet, Dr Majos Hadjivassiliou of the United Kingdom who is a recognised world authority on gluten sensitivity, has reported that “gluten sensitivity can be primarily and at times, exclusively a neurological disease”.  Meaning, that people can manifest gluten sensitivity by only having issues with their brain, mood, energy and cognitive ability, without having any of the gastrointestinal symptoms.  He states that the anti-bodies that a person has when they are gluten sensitive can be directly and uniquely toxic to the brain.  This is why I request anyone consulting with me for any mood or energy problems, to go off gluten entirely.

Gluten in wheat and other grains (in particular rye, barley and in some cases oats) also stimulates the release of a protein in our body called Zonulin (released from the liver and the intestinal epithelial cells) which contributes to Leaky Gut and immune disorders.  The not so enticing news is that if you are suffering from gluten sensitivity, it is important to know that there are cross reactions that can occur with other foods & gluten.  These are diary, soy, corn and coffee.  You may not need to stay off these foods for ever, but depending on your condition it may be important to cut out these foods for 1-3 months for the immune system to settle down.  Gluten will always need to be eliminated entirely though if you test gluten sensitive.

For more evidence based scientific articles on the importance of going gluten free for mental health, nervous system health and auto-immunity, click here and here.


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