Thursday, December 09, 2010

Gluten and how it may affect a developing Brain

A reader submitted a question that I wanted to answer here because it brings up two incredibly important issues. First is the question of gluten “challenges” and second is the effect gluten has on the brain.

Here is her question:
“I was diagnosed with Celiac Sprue at age 12 after having suffered my entire life. After that they had me do two challenges, one at age 13 and one at age 14. Both left me sick for months. I am a person that responds to eating gluten in both physical and mental ways. When I slip I get depressed, anxious, and have mood swings. My question is if eating gluten can affect the brain and actually cause lesions, what happens when a person has undiagnosed Celiac Sprue during the time that the brain is still maturing?”

You may think that because Catherine is likely an adult that her gluten “challenges” occurred more than 10+ years ago and such things wouldn’t happen today.  I wish that were true, and honestly little gets me more upset than hearing from someone that they were “made” to challenge gluten for several weeks in order to re-do a biopsy or other celiac testing procedure, only to get incredibly ill as a result.

As I’ve stated before I am not against celiac testing. But there are times when one needs to evaluate what is the greatest good. When a person has “suffered [her] entire life” prior to being diagnosed, only to remove gluten from her diet and feel vastly improved, what really is the point of doing a challenge?  And since the first challenge left her “sick for months”, what on earth could be the justification for doing another one?  It certainly wasn’t because her symptoms were subtle. She clearly states that she feels ill both physically and mentally when any gluten enters her diet.

Yet this happens often – too often.  I hear about it personally from our patients, not to mention those who write to me.  My biggest concern is that a gluten challenge will cause the body’s immune system to cross a threshold from which it cannot be brought back with the result being an autoimmune disease.  I have seen this all too often which is why you’ve heard me refer to gluten challenges and cheating as playing Russian roulette. It has been well established that untreated gluten intolerance shortens one’s life span.  It too has been well established that gluten is a frequent root cause of autoimmune disease.  I never see a good reason to do a gluten challenge in an individual who “knows” they are sensitive – it certainly violates the oath to “do no harm”.

Catherine goes on to ask a good question about how gluten may affect a developing brain. As I mentioned, the inflammatory and autoimmune effects of gluten upon the nervous system are well established.  The symptoms created are numerous and include depression, chronic headaches or migraines, ADD/ADHD, autism, developmental delay, poor memory, schizophrenia and more. The degree to which gluten affects the nervous system is likely dependent on several factors, specifically, the presence of a leaky gut, a genetic predisposition, the presence of gluten in the diet, and the health of the immune system.  Factors in utero are highly related to the health and diet of the mother, in addition to the genetics of both parents. All these variables likely go to answering the question of why some people seem to “come out of the womb” ill from gluten, while others can live many decades before it becomes a problem.

Dr David Perlmutter has and continues to do some excellent work in this area.  Just recently he was published on Huffington Post so you can read more there.

Is gluten, in its current state, truly good for anyone? With the recent research revealing that many develop celiac disease later in life, one really starts to wonder…

I hope this data is helpful.  If you'd like to improve your health, consider calling us for a free health analysis - call 408-733-0400.. We are a destination clinic and treat patients from across the country and internationally. You don't need to live local to us to receive help.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Is Gluten Sensitivity the Cause of PMS?

A reader wrote the following comment to an earlier blog post entitled, “Gluten and PMS, What is the Association?” It was so compelling that I have decided to write a post about it.

Here is her question:

I've been getting terrible PMS for about 7 years. Sometimes it would last 2 weeks. Recently it changed to 3 weeks and I've developed a massive fibroid even though I am slim. I read about the gluten connection to estrogen dominance and cut-out all gluten a month ago, however my PMS has not improved, in fact I think it's worse. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Kitty

First of all I’d like to say that PMS is never normal.  Common it may be, but “normal”, no.  And it is absolutely ridiculous that Kitty has had to put up with PMS for 2 and 3 weeks per month!  That is between 50 and 75% of her life – truly unnecessary considering it’s able to be fixed, naturally. I underscore “naturally” because too often such women are put on the birth control pill to “control” their symptoms.  I am opposed to this as it doesn’t get to the root cause of the problem but merely masks the issue while in fact the real problem worsens.  Other doctors may recommend inducing a short term “menopause” with drugs to give the fibroid a chance to shrink.  I don’t recommend this approach either.

When making a dietary or lifestyle change that you hope will result in a favorable change in your hormones, you must be patient. It takes at least 3 months to alter hormonal balance.  There are some lucky individuals who notice changes sooner but typically you need to give it 3 months.

Kitty also tells us that she has a “massive fibroid”.  We don’t know her age but regardless, a large fibroid speaks strongly of hormonal imbalance. Typically symptoms such as PMS, anxiety, depression, heavy periods, migraines, fibroids and fibrocystic breasts all can be interpreted as a likely deficiency of progesterone in relationship to estrogen. Changing PMS with the profile of a concomitant large fibroid is definitely not something that will occur in a month.

Progesterone is a common deficiency seen in women in this country of all ages.  Progesterone, when normalized, can almost “magically” handle the above mentioned symptoms. An added bonus is that progesterone is a glucose tolerance factor.  When its levels are normalized, sugar cravings abate and unstable blood sugar is no longer an issue. This can be a huge relief to someone being “ruled” by sugar cravings and who is unable even to eat fruit or any complex grains without getting the cravings started.

The good news is that the solution to these symptoms is not difficult. We work with women frequently in this area with excellent success.  The “fix” is often a multi-pronged one, meaning that it entails more than one step.  Let’s look at the possible steps below:
  1. First is always food and Kitty has made a great start eliminating gluten.  Gluten is known to offset hormonal balance, whether it's from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Kitty doesn’t mention if after 30 days she has noticed any improvement in her general health from removing gluten, which is something I would very much like to know. Dairy products are also a big no-no when a woman is expressing estrogen dominant symptoms. Unfortunately our cows are fed a lot of hormones (as is our beef) and that can definitely contribute to estrogen dominance.  So in addition to diagnosing any food intolerances, all sources of exogenous [coming from the outside] hormones must be removed.
  2.  Adrenal gland balance.  We don’t know much about Kitty’s health history but it would be important to know about her stress load, both past and present, sleep habits, caffeine consumption, any drugs she takes, etc.  The adrenal gland is the stress gland and when it is overstressed it will make more stress hormones and less progesterone.  This is a major cause of hormonal imbalance in this country. A poor diet and food sensitivities will also stress the adrenal glands which is why step #1 is always done first. Fortunately normalizing adrenal function is not difficult nor does it involve any drugs or surgery.
  3. Natural, bio-identical hormones. Once again there are many questions about Kitty’s health that are unknown to us, but it would be important, considering her large fibroid, to have some blood tests for hormonal levels.  A woman who typically has a 28 day cycle would get a blood test on day 21 of her cycle.  Her progesterone, total estrogen, DHEA and testosterone would all be measured. With Kitty’s large fibroid and horrific PMS, would could likely make the assumption of a low progesterone level, but that doesn’t tell us the rest of the values, which are equally important to know.  Depending on the woman’s age, some bio-identical hormones could be prescribed.  There’s also a substance made from broccoli that has a strong estrogen lowering effect in women whose estrogen is excessive.  But without a lab test this is impossible to determine.
  4. Liver and digestive function. The top 3 points listed above are the major ones.  But it is important to ensure that the liver and digestive organs are functioning normally to ensure that hormones are being excreted effectively.  As an example, if you did all the points mentioned but the woman had constipation, you wouldn’t get the desired results.  The slow moving colon is allowing hormones that should be excreted to re conjugate and create disruption.
Personally I used to suffer from extreme PMS and migraines related to hormonal imbalance.  I also suffered from terrible menstrual cramps with my period.  When I added all those days together is was about 1/3 of my life.  Fortunately I handled the problem while still in my 20s and have had no issues since. So when I hear of such stories as Kitty’s my heart goes out to her.  But more importantly I know how to solve such problems so I am, of course, delighted to help anyone I can.

Please do know that such symptoms are never normal and truly do not need to be put up with.

I hope you find this helpful and let me know how I can be of any assistance.Our destination clinic treats patients from across the country and internationally. You don't need to live local to us to receive help. And if you would like to improve your health, consider calling us for a free health analysis - call 408-733-0400.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen
Co-author of the bestselling “The Gluten Effect”

Friday, November 05, 2010

How the Immune System Gets Confused in Autoimmune Disease

I must confess, I’m a bit obsessed with autoimmune disease.  As the third leading cause of death it is well represented in our population. Besides celiac disease, we are told that most autoimmune diseases “have no cure” and the trigger remains unknown as well.

But that’s not entirely accurate.  We do know many of the triggers and we do know that the health of the gut goes a long way in increasing or decreasing our predisposition to autoimmune disease. Getting back to triggers, there are some pathogenic organisms (mostly bacteria according to research) that when contracted can then lead to autoimmune disease through a molecular mimicry process.

Let me explain. Ankylosing spondylitis is a condition where the joints of the spine fuse leaving young bodies looking and feeling more like centenarians.  It is known to be associated with a Klebsiella infection.
Rheumatoid arthritis is associated with a Citrobacter infection.  Thyroiditis is associated with Yersinia,  and autoimmune diseases as a general category are associated both with E. coli and Proteus infections. All organisms mentioned are bacteria.

The immune system is clever.  When it comes in contact with something it considers dangerous it makes something called an antibody to destroy it. Therefore after the initial exposure, whenever it should encounter it, it has a ready-made tool to destroy it.  Recall that 80% of the immune system is housed in the intestine so much of this activity is happening there. Unfortunately when the immune system is a bit overstimulated, which can occur as a side effect of a leaky gut, it becomes overly vigilant, less discriminating and molecular mimicry can occur.
Molecular mimicry is a process whereby the immune system mistakenly identifies a body part for a pathogenic organism.  This usually comes about due to similar protein structures within both the organism and the human body itself.  Therefore bony joints are mistaken for Klebsiella bacteria and the thyroid is mistaken for Yersinia bacteria. The immune system attacks the body part when it thinks it’s attacking the bacteria and autoimmune disease ensues.

Can we prevent everyone from ever getting an infection? No, that’s not possible.  What we want to work on is optimizing the function of the immune system such that it clearly knows friend from foe. One of the major ways to achieve this is to optimize the health of the small intestine.
Does achieving optimal health always come back to the intestine?  Frequently that is the case and it’s not just my opinion – the research is strong in this area.  Is our health determined by what we put in our mouths? Yes, again.  Do you think it’s time to stop getting lured in by the fast food commercials and junk food? You’re right!

Please realize that autoimmune diseases are on a dramatic rise.  Research tells us this is from environmental causes, not genetics.  The good news there is that we have a lot of control of our environment.  Does it take some effort and discipline? Sure! Is it worth it? Absolutely!

Let me know how I can assist you and yours. Here at HealthNOW we are a destination clinic and treat patients from across the country and internationally. If you'd like to see if we can help to improve your health, consider calling us for a free health analysis - call 408-733-0400.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Co-author of the bestseller “The Gluten Effect”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Vit D Can Prevent the Flu!

Winter is fast approaching and unfortunately that means that increased colds and flu are on the horizon as well.  Vitamin D is associated with a gene that modulates anti-microbial function – meaning that it will kill viruses.  And yes, both the cold and the flu are caused by viruses.

The recommended strategy is to mega-dose Vitamin D at a dose of 50,000 IU for two or three days (please note ONLY two or three days) to up regulate this very important gene’s activity.  When would you start?  If you had any sign, based on the way you feel, that your immune system is compromised,  if you’ve been taking care of a family member with the flu or a bad cold, or you’ve had a lot of fellow coworkers get ill.  Remember to take Vitamin D3, not D2 that is less effective.  Personally I take a liquid form that’s not only palatable but very bioavailable.

If you haven’t had your vitamin D levels checked recently now would be a good time.  It’s well worth the slight cost to ensure a healthy winter, not to mention all the other benefits that D provides such as anti-cancer properties, bone protection and the like.  We like to see your levels between 50 and 75 on a lab test.  If you have or have had cancer, the higher end is recommended.

Another test you may want to run is vitamin K.  While deficient vitamin D has been much discussed, one can also create an imbalance if vitamin D is high normal with a deficient vitamin K.  Such an imbalance could create calcification in the body’s soft tissues.  We obviously want strong bones but we don’t want calcification occurring where it shouldn’t , creating such problems as painful kidney stones. So consider checking your vitamin K levels. If you eat the dark green leafy vegetables that I heartily recommend you should be in good shape in the vitamin K department. Excellent sources include: spinach, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, green beans, asparagus, broccoli, kale and mustard greens.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance and here’s wishing you and yours a very healthy winter.  

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why I Allow Butter On A Dairy-Free Diet

A reader sent in this very good question:
“In your article "Gluten Free but Still Feeling Ill" you mention that you sometimes recommend avoiding dairy products to your patients but then say you tell them that organic butter is ok in moderation.  Can you explain how a product derived from cow's milk is not a dairy product?”

I can definitely see where the confusion is coming from so let me clarify:
The problem with dairy products is the protein portion of them.  The protein is pro-inflammatory and much like the protein portion of the grains wheat, rye and barley, it seems that the human body doesn’t respond well to it.  Many researchers state that while we are designed to digest our own mother’s milk for the first few years of life, we were never designed to glean nutrition from the milk of another mammal such as the cow, goat or sheep. For that reason plus a few decades of clinical experience showing that to be the case, I recommend to my patients that they exclude dairy from their diet.

How is butter different? Butter is about 80-82% fat (higher fat butters are available if you look for them), 17% water and only about 1% milk solids (protein).  For some patients I find that the minimal amount of protein is insufficient to bother them.  And, thosewho prefer to avoid all milk protein can enjoy clarified butter or ghee where virtually all water and protein are removed with only the fat remaining.

Organic is important because the fat is where the hormones and toxins might reside in a non-organic product.  The organic version is free of such contaminants.

Unfortunately, the majority of patients don't tolerate butter well either. Is it because of the small amounts of protein remaining, or due to the toxins and hormones found in the fat? Likely a bit of both. But for those who do and who only consume the organic variety, enjoy!

And why not simply cook with olive oil (medium heat only please), avocado, walnut or coconut oil and be done with it?
Other than the fact that it’s enjoyable to cook with butter or ghee, butter contains an interesting saturated fat that is also an omega-6 fat called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).  In the spirit of “never saying never”, CLA is actually a saturated, trans fat that’s very good for you.  It has the unique status of being the sole trans fat that is considered to be healthy and there is quite a lot of information about it because it in fact tends to act like a “good” omega-3 fat in the body.

While CLA does seem to have some nice benefits, it doesn't outweigh the negatives found in milk and dairy products in general. There are plenty of other areas in your diet where you can get those same benefits without the liabilities associated with dairy.

So there you have it. I hope this clears up any confusion.
Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.If your health is not to the level you'd like it to be, consider calling us for a free health analysis - call 408-733-0400. We are a destination clinic and treat patients from across the country and internationally. We are here to help!

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN


Friday, October 15, 2010

October is Non-GMO Month

Genetically modified foods have been slipping their way into our grocery stores for some time.  Most people, when given the choice, choose non-GMO foods over their genetically modified counterparts. Why?  I guess we inherently understand that fooling with mother nature is a bad idea, or we have been following this movement and have grown wary by its use of deceptive practices to get us to embrace these laboratory made “foods “.

In Europe, where they not only eat healthier but their food quality is much better than ours, they successfully banned GMOs a decade ago.  Did the government step in?  No.  Quite the contrary this was a consumer driven movement.  Articles, such as this one, were written, education was offered and the result was that all major food companies willing stopped utilizing GMO ingredients in their food due to the public’s outrage over them.

What would it take to accomplish that feat here in the US?  Surprisingly, not that much.  If just 5% of US shoppers supported this movement, we could tip the scales to alert US companies that we mean business! 

Organic is best but if you can’t buy organic at least opt for non-GMO. Many natural food grocery stores are becoming involved with this movement as well.  Whole Foods promises that their personal brand is completely non-GMO and the rest of their offerings are clearly marked so that there will be no confusion.

Jeffrey Smith is founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology and he is helping to lead this movement.  If you go to: you can get a Free shopping guide to help steer you in the right direction.

Mr. Smith is interviewed at this site if you’d like some more information:

I believe that GMO foods are one of the factors causing inflammation and a leaky gut and therefore they should be avoided at all costs.  Nature is rather magnificent in what she has created. Science is an unwelcome intruder when it comes to engineering our food.  Let’s keep it natural and enjoy better health!

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.