Monday, February 23, 2009

Tainted Chocolate or Why Gluten isn’t just Wheat

Valentine’s Day recently passed and many of us enjoyed our favorite confection – chocolate. A patient came into the clinic several days after Valentine’s complaining of a red itchy rash around her mouth. The skin was dry, red, itchy and irritated. She was confused by the symptom because it had always been the hallmark of a gluten indiscretion but she wasn’t aware of any gluten which had come into her diet. She did confess to enjoying candy over the holiday and was concerned that perhaps she had flared up some yeast.

One thing about having treated so many patients, I have become a very good detective! I immediately asked her for specifics as regarded her candy consumption. Her fiancĂ© had bought her Lindor Truffles. Having a love for chocolate myself, I have pretty much memorized which chocolates are safe and which have gluten. I had a suspicion and asked her if she had read the ingredient list. Not surprisingly, she hadn’t.

A very common source of gluten contamination comes from a patient “knowing” that a food is okay. What could be in chocolate? Barley - in this particular case.

Another source of gluten contamination is from patient’s equating “gluten” with “wheat”. Glutinous grains include wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, etc. (Visit my website: for a complete list.) Once the above patient read the ingredients she sent a link to me asking if there was anything in them that was a problem. Because there was no “wheat” listed she thought she was fine.

The take-away is this: do a little memorization drill with yourself until you can easily rattle off ALL the grains that are glutinous. And…read the ingredients of everything!

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen, author of The Gluten Effect

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rat Poison?!

While I was writing my book, The Gluten Effect, I interviewed many patients because I wanted to include a variety of case studies in the book. There are probably close to 40 of them with a nice cross-section of interesting stories, backgrounds and symptoms associated with their gluten sensitivity adventure.

It was fascinating to do the interviews and very difficult to decide who to leave out of the book. But an interesting phenomenon occurred with a small handful of patients who each came to a similar conclusion about gluten independently of one another. They each stated that they put gluten in the same category as “rat poison”. While that may sound dramatic, let’s look at it in context.
Having diagnosed and treated patients with gluten sensitivity for over 15 years, I can tell you that one of the biggest hurdles is maintaining a gluten-free diet. Often patients remove it from their diet, feel a lot better and then slowly re-introduce it. One of the many insidious things about gluten is that it doesn’t always create digestive or immediate symptoms. In fact, only one-third of the time are the symptoms digestive in nature. A full two-thirds of the time the symptoms manifested are non-digestive and can occur several days after ingesting gluten. And if that wasn’t bad enough, when gluten is creating an autoimmune disease (think lupus, MS, thyroid disease, liver disease or arthritis) the damage it’s creating can be “silent” for years. It isn’t until the disease manifests itself that we then make the causal connection between the two.
So why can it be hard to maintain a gluten-free diet? Because for some people, they can cheat occasionally with no “apparent” ill effects. The damage is occurring but because it is “silent” they aren’t aware of it for some period of time.

I always think of our patient with lupus who when we first diagnosed her with gluten sensitivity was in the very early stages of lupus. We removed gluten from her diet, worked with her nutritionally, eradicated some intestinal infections and she was doing great. She had reverted the lupus successfully, After about a year she started eating gluten again and because she didn’t notice anything negative from doing so, didn’t ask our opinion about her decision. Fast forward 2 years and she has full-blown lupus, is on several dangerous drugs and feels horrible. She then came to see us and it was very sad. There is a silver lining which is that with a renewed program of a gluten-free diet and the rest of what the HealthNOW Method contains we were able to get her off all the drugs. The sad part is that she will not be able to regain the full robust health level we had previously attained.
The take-home point is this: if you’re gluten sensitive you need to maintain zero gluten in your diet. We have seen stories similar to the above patient time after time. Often we can learn from the lesson and go forward, but sometimes, as in the above case, permanent damage occurs that we cannot fully recover from.

What about the rat poison comment? If you put gluten in the category of rat poison you won’t ever be tempted to cheat. If you can get in the mindset that gluten is truly poison to you then you’ll never be tempted to “have just a little” when your friend or family wiggles some beneath your nose. And the equating of gluten with rat poison is also a great response to that less than understanding friend or family member who “insists” you try “just a little”. Simply look them in the eye and ask: “Would you ask me to taste just a little rat poison?”

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen

Friday, February 13, 2009

Special Announcement – The Gluten Effect is now available

Mayor of Sunnyvale The Honorable Anthony Spitaleri, Dr Vikki Petersen and Dr Richard Petersen

The long awaited day has arrived – today is the international release of our book The Gluten Effect!

Two days ago we had a book signing event with 150 patients along with their families and friends in attendance. Our Mayor and the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce spoke at the event. Having specialized in gluten sensitivity and its attendant symptoms for over 15 years, it was gratifying to see all the familiar faces in the crowd. Present were patients both new and old whose lives had changed dramatically after removing gluten from their diet.

A patient who had been chronically depressed since he was 16, shared his 30 year long struggle. When he came to see us a year ago he was on 7 different medications ranging from anti-depressants to anti-anxiety to anti-seizure drugs. When he first began his gluten-free diet and started to feel better he returned to his psychiatrist to ask him to help taper him down off his medications. The psychiatrist informed him that he had a chemical imbalance and that he would never be able to stop taking his psychiatric meds.

Fast forward 1 year later and he’s not only off every single one of those medications but he feels and looks better than he ever has. He spoke at our book signing and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

We wrote The Gluten Effect because it was no longer enough for us to only help the patients who live local to our clinic. Millions of people in this country are suffering needlessly due to undiagnosed gluten sensitivity and we wanted them to get the vital information that we provide in our book about the vast number of symptoms and diseases associated with gluten. It’s not that we’re encouraging self-diagnosis exclusively, but within a medical community who considers celiac to be extremely rare and doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of gluten sensitivity, patients diagnosing themselves with a gluten problem is extremely common.

I just received a call from a gentleman in Kansas this week who is going to fly out to our Destination Clinic to get treated. His comment to me was: “Doc, I’m tired of being my own doctor!” He had diagnosed himself with gluten sensitivity despite none of his doctors supporting him. He wanted to come to a clinic where he could get help with his many health problems.

I am hopeful that the information in The Gluten Effect will be valuable to all those who read it. It is my sincerest wish that you or someone you know will be helped with the data in the book.

To Your Good Health!

Dr Vikki Petersen