Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gluten Awareness is on the Rise – But is it helping or hurting Americans?

Times are definitely changing when it comes to awareness of gluten intolerance. [Please note that I use the term ‘gluten intolerance’ as an umbrella term that embraces both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity – more on each of those later.]

While I have been committed to increasing awareness of gluten intolerance for the past 15 years, the increased ‘awareness’ occurring is a bit altered from what I hoped it would be. That ‘awareness’ currently means that people have heard the word ‘gluten’, but unfortunately they really don’t know much about how it can affect their health or if there is any reason for them to learn more about it. Due to a lot of publicity about gluten and weight loss, many people mistakenly put it into the category of just another weight loss strategy or fad.

This type of publicity is doing Americans a great disservice because, while gluten intolerance certainly can cause issues with both weight gain and weight loss, categorizing it within such narrow confines misses the fact that it is responsible for over 300 diseases and conditions ranging from diabetes to depression, from ADHD to eczema, and from infertility to liver disease.

The biggest ‘venue’ for gluten awareness is in the area of food consumption. Gluten-free food products have increased astronomically in the past 8 years or so, making their presence on grocery store shelves quite common. General Mills even has a prime time commercial touting that five of its Chex cereals are now gluten-free.

While that seems to be a positive change and a ‘plus’ in the increased awareness column, I find that most lay people have a distorted idea of what gluten intolerance really means.

Celiac disease was originally described in 250 AD but it wasn’t until 1888 that an astute clinician named Gee described it scientifically. Yet over a century later the vast majority of the cases are still unidentified – specifically we only diagnose 3 – 5% of all those who suffer. 

Why is our ability to diagnose this disease so poor?
Is it because something that’s considered “rare” is not often looked for? 
Is it because there’s no drug to treat it and we live in a ‘drug driven’ health system? 
Is it because celiac patients are thought to fit into a narrow symptomatic category of unrelenting diarrhea along with extreme weight loss and abdominal pain?

“Yes” is no doubt the answer to most of those questions.

The facts today are that an estimated 1- 4% of our population has celiac disease with 95 to 97% of them remaining undiagnosed. 

Unfortunately it also means that the undiagnosed group is being treated for something that gluten has created rather than for the gluten intolerance itself. In other words, if gluten intolerance is the underlying root cause for someone’s depression and that is undiscovered, the individual is likely, instead, to receive a dangerous antidepressant drug. Such drugs not only have life threatening side effects, but they do not address the reason why the individual suffers from depression.

I cannot tell you how many individuals suffer health problems that, once gluten intolerance is identified, enjoy complete resolution of their symptoms. It’s can be truly miraculous.

If only 3-5% of those suffering with celiac disease are diagnosed, I guarantee you that our ability to diagnose gluten sensitivity is even worse.


Gluten sensitivity has only very recently been recognized as a ‘real’ disorder. Research is just starting to occur but early estimates place its incidence at 9 to 15% of our population. Obviously that is much more impactful to our society than the 1-4% afflicted by celiac disease due to the increased number of people affected. Personally, based on my clinical experience, I anticipate that further research will find the incidence of gluten sensitivity to be much higher. But time will tell.

Gluten sensitivity affects individuals in much the same way that celiac does – its ability to negatively affect most organs and systems of the human body is well documented. And the treatment is the same as well:

1.    Eliminate all gluten from the diet for life
2.    Treat the secondary effects of gluten – this includes such things as infections, cross-reactive foods, probiotic imbalance, hormonal imbalance, nutritional deficiencies and more.

Yet I’ve been noticing a trend in some of the language associated with gluten sensitivity that concerns me. In articles written by reporters or bloggers or simply questions posed by laypeople, there is a false datum that gluten sensitivity is not a serious disorder.

I’ve heard people say “I only have a sensitivity, it’s not celiac disease.” Or a reporter might state say: “gluten sensitivity, not the serious form of gluten intolerance known as celiac disease…”

What’s the problem with these statements?

If your immune system reacts to gluten then eating it will cause you potentially life threatening problems. The immune system reaction in celiac disease is different as compared to that of gluten sensitivity, but it is still a reaction that creates health problems on a far reaching scale.

In close to two decades of working with both celiac and gluten sensitive patients, I can tell you that patients with gluten sensitivity can experience reactions that impact their health quite severely.

Nobody likes to be told that they can ‘never’ do something. So I completely understand that it’s not fun to be told that you can never eat gluten ever again. Plus it is human nature to look for the ‘loopholes’ and ways you might be able to ‘get away with it’.

But I promise you that cheating on a gluten-free diet is akin to playing Russian roulette – and that’s a very dangerous game to play with this one body that you have. And that is true whether you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

At this writing there are no ‘officially’ sanctioned lab tests available to discover if you’re gluten sensitive, but there is one that a recent consensus of fifteen researchers stated ‘could be’ indicative of the problem once celiac disease has essentially been ruled out.

It’s a test that I’ve been using for several years and I do believe it has validity. It’s called an AGA test – that stands for anti-gliadin antibody. Basically the test ‘asks’ your immune system if it considers gluten to be a good guy or a bad guy.

Cyrex Labs also offers a comprehensive panel that embraces about ten different measurements that can be utilized to see if the immune system is having a negative reaction to gluten, inclusive of the above test AGA. This is a blood test.

Such testing must be backed up with an elimination diet lasting a minimum of 30 days. Why? No test is perfect and the elimination diet is still considered the ‘gold standard’ when evaluating food reactions. The most scientifically accurate follow-up to the elimination diet is a reintroduction of gluten to assess a return of symptoms. Optimally this would be done ‘blindly’ meaning that the patient would receive food with gluten and some without but they wouldn’t know when they were receiving the gluten.

Some patients, depending on the seriousness of their condition, are unwilling to take that chance with a reintroduction as they are convinced that gluten is a culprit. I wouldn’t insist upon it in such a case and in fact would never encourage someone to reintroduce gluten if they were convinced it was a problem for them.

Yet, try as we might to be perfect, life tends to ‘create’ a reintroduction when we least expect it in the form of a mistake or a contamination. Eating a food one thought was safe, only to have a reaction, and later discover the presence of gluten, is often how such unplanned ‘reintroductions’ take place.

In Italy they screen children for celiac disease the way we screen our children for scoliosis – every child is evaluated. Is it possible that screening for gluten sensitivity might someday occur in this country? Even if it was for a percentage of the population who, based on family history or symptoms, were at an increased risk, I believe that we could greatly reduce the incidence of many of the serious diseases of which we are plagued as a society.

I hope this was helpful. If you think gluten intolerance could be affecting your health or that of a loved one, I am happy to offer you a free health analysis.

If you don’t live locally that’s not a problem. Our destination clinic treats patients from across the country and internationally.

Visit us at If you have questions or need any help, I’m here for you! C
all 408-733-0400.

I look forward to hearing from you.

To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN, CFMP

IFM Certified Practitioner

Founder of Root Cause Medical Clinic
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”

Author of the eBook: “Gluten Intolerance – What You Don’t Know May Be Killing You!”

Friday, March 09, 2012

Gluten Intolerance Can Cause PMS

Your Stress Gland Balances Your Hormones
The part of the body responsible for helping you deal with stress, also creates energy, maintains an ideal weight and balances mood and hormones. It’s called your adrenal gland(s) – you have two of them and they sit on top of each kidney.
Adrenal fatigue is one of the secondary effects that gluten intolerance creates, which is why it can relate to PMS. In our stressful world, it is not surprising to learn that adrenal fatigue is all but epidemic. Normalizing adrenal function is an integral part of the job of clinical nutritionists.
Adrenal Stress Causes Many Hormonal Problems
When the adrenal glands become exhausted from chronic stress, they cannot keep up with all the demands made upon them. This can then lead to such symptoms as fatigue, depression, loss of libido and hormonal imbalance symptoms such as PMS, migraines, heavy bleeding and infertility, to name a few.

Gluten Intolerance Adds to the Problem
Gluten intolerance, be it from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is responsible for putting stress on the adrenal glands in two ways:
  1.  Inflammation is created in a gluten sensitive individual’s digestive tract. If the inflammatory reaction happened only occasionally it wouldn’t be an issue. But in patients with gluten sensitivity this inflammation occurs chronically, every time they eat any gluten.                                                                                                                                               This continued inflammation acts as a chronic strain on the adrenals glands, thwarting their ability to perform all their functions. One of those is to make the precursor hormones that in turn make the sex hormones, both male and femaile.These hormones need to be maintained in proper balance to prevent such conditions as PMS, anxiety and infertility.
  2.  Nutrient deficiencies can occur due to the damage created from inflammation, as mentioned above, as well as from the tissue destruction that occurs in the small intestine from celiac disease. Important nutrients such as B vitamins, calcium and iron, to name but a few, can become deficient. The lack of these nutrients has been mentioned in scientific literature as a cause of hormonal imbalance in women and mean alike, all as a result of gluten intolerance.
What is important to realize is that when your body has been under chronic stress it is forced to make a decision: It can get you through the day, putting one foot in front of the other, or it can make adequate amounts of sex hormones. It is designed to perform both activities, but it can’t because it’s too overwhelmed by stress. 

Is Your Body Low in Progesterone?
When put in this situation, your body decides that the most pro-survival thing to do is to get you through the day, to the detriment of making sex hormones. The insufficient production of hormones does not occur evenly across the board however and progesterone tends to fall more dramatically than does estrogen resulting in a net estrogen dominance.

The symptoms of estrogen dominance are such things as cramping, heavy bleeding, menstrual irregularity, endometriosis, polycystic ovaries, fibrocystic breasts, migraines and PMS.
A major symptom of progesterone deficiency is infertility and miscarriage, along with depression and anxiety.

There is an Easy Solution!
The existence of gluten intolerance and its resultant stress upon the adrenal glands is common, but rarely diagnosed. Millions of women therefore suffer with symptoms that are correctable with often something as simple as diet, nutrition and lifestyle changes. The exciting aspect of treating both gluten sensitivity and adrenal exhaustion is that neither one requires drugs or surgery. The treatment is completely natural.

There are lab tests available that identify gluten intolerance as well as adrenal fatigue. If you would like assistance in this area I am happy to offer you a free health analysis - call 408-733-0400. We are here to help!  

Visit us at If you have questions or need any help, I’m here for you! Call 408-733-0400.

I look forward to hearing from you.

To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN, CFMP

IFM Certified Practitioner

Founder of Root Cause Medical Clinic
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”

Author of the eBook: “Gluten Intolerance – What You Don’t Know May Be Killing You!”

Permission is granted to re-post this article in its entirety with credit to Dr Vikki Petersen & HealthNOW Medical Center and a clickable link back to this page. Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN is founder of HealthNOW Medical Center and the author of “The Gluten Effect” and eBook: “Gluten Intolerance – What you don’t know may be killing you”.  She has been featured in national magazines, international medical journals and is a frequent headlined speaker.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

MSG, Gluten and Nervous System Diseases

Gluten Intolerance Can Cause Neurological Disease
Ataxia (unsteadiness of gait or balance is highly associated with gluten intolerance – more so gluten sensitivity than celiac disease.

Some patients suffering from ataxia call themselves clumsy or accident prone as there are likely to fall into things, trip, etc. Unfortunately ataxia can get so severe that a patient’s life is greatly inhibited as they are no longer able to drive and may feel afraid to be alone.

Gluten is the most common cause of something called cerebellar ataxia. (The cerebellum, a part of the brain, helps modulate voluntary movements so that they become more accurate, smooth, and require less conscious effort to perform. A good example of this is learning to ride a bicycle. Initially you have to consciously balance, and think hard to coordinate the movements of your arms and legs, etc. Yet as you practice more and more you can eventually ride the bike without thinking about it – that is your cerebellum at work.)

50% of Gluten Intolerant Patients Have Nervous System Problems
Neurological complications are found in many patients with gluten intolerance  - 30-50% to be precise. The critical step is to try to diagnose patients, early on, who are having their nervous systems affected by gluten because it has been found that gluten-free diets sometimes cannot stop neurodegeneration (degeneration of the nervous system) that has progressed too far.

Over the years I have noticed that many of my gluten intolerant patients are also MSG intolerant. Let’s look at why that might be and how it can affect the nervous system.

Substance called “Free Glutamate” Can Act Like MSG
Insidiously enough, many companies tout their products as being free of added MSG but that doesn’t mean that they are also devoid of free glutamate. Glutamate, an amino acid, is typically found in high protein foods. When bound it isn’t a problem but prolonged cooking or processing liberates or “frees” the glutamate and that is when problems arise for some individuals. The presence of free glutamate is not found on any labels but suffice to say that most fast food institutions and many highly processed foods (especially those high in protein) have either added MSG or free glutamate present.

If you know that your body responds poorly to MSG or you have any type of neurological complaint, I would recommend that you become familiar with these foods and consider eliminating them from your diet. Remember, free glutamate does not tend to be present in what I consider fresh, healthy food. A little internet search will give you more specifics on these types of foods.

We use ‘gluten’ to refer to the protein structure found in the grains wheat, rye, barley. Factually we should be using the word ‘gliadin’ as only wheat contains true ‘gluten’. Don’t worry about it, but for this post I wanted to make the distinction for a reason. And that is to explain that gliadin is broken down, upon digestion, into the amino acids proline and glutamine. Glutamine in turn breaks down into glutamate (both are amino acids) and the highest rate of this breakdown occurs in the small intestine. So there is a cascade from gliadin to glutamine to glutamate as digestion occurs.

How Gluten and Glutamate are Related
Interestingly, gluten and glutamate share a common thread in the area of creating neurological complaints. Could the ingestion of foods with high glutamate, though gluten-free, explain the onset of neurological symptoms due to a high free glutamate? It does give one something to think about... It certainly has been the case in this some of my patients.

Let’s put this all together to understand just how gluten can create neurological problems and how glutamate might be adding kerosene to the fire.

Excitotoxicity  - the Killer of Cells
First a definition: Excitotoxicity - a process whereby excess glutamate accumulates outside cells, resulting in damage and eventual death of cells in the nervous system.

Excitotoxicity can Cause Stroke, Autism,  Alzheimer’s and Seizures
So as you can see, glutamate can kill cells of the nervous system if not removed efficiently. Excitotoxicity is associated with such disorders as stroke, autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and seizures due to the fact that glutamate can result in severely decreased blood flow to the brain.

Inflammation Creates Excitotoxicity – A Bad Outcome
The bottom line is that a lot of glutamate is produced in the brain when it’s “excited”. It is “excited” when it’s inflamed and gluten is a major source of inflammation in those who are intolerant– see how it all comes full circle?

Gluten Can Inflame the Brain
We know that gluten can cause systemic (throughout the body) effects upon the immune system, even though it enters the body through the gut. It has also been well established that gut irritation can activate immune cells in the brain that initiate immunoexcitotoxicity (a process whereby the brain is subject to excitotoxic damage).

The more Brain Inflammation Occurs, the More Damaging It Is
The brain’s immune cells can secrete a number of inflammatory substances, but even worse, once it’s occurred the first time, the next irritation that occurs causes the immune cells to pour out excitotoxins, creating neurological symptoms.

Heart Disease, Diabetes and Cancer Share a Common Root Cause
There are 3 excitotoxic amino acids that are poured out, one of which is our friend glutamate. These amino acids suppress the transport system that allows glutamate to be removed efficiently from the brain. Buildup thus occurs, increasing excitotoxicity and unstable substances (called free radicals) that will react with most tissues of the body creating destruction in their wake. Free radicals are known to cause many disease conditions including cancer, diabetes and heart disease, to name but a few.

By the way, we also know that the immune cells of the brain are activated by not only gluten and glutamate but by chronic infections and toxins, including pesticides and herbicides.

What is the Take Away? 
Let’s review:
  • We know that chronic inflammation is a bad thing and we want to prevent it.
  • We know that when sensitive to gluten a body can become inflamed in many areas, especially the gut and the nervous system. 
  • We know that we want to prevent neurological diseases such as stroke, autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and seizures and that they may very well be initiated by a negative reaction to gluten, one of its breakdown products glutamate, and foods high in free glutamate.
  • And lastly we also know that we want to avoid excitotoxicity as it literally spells a death sentence for the cells of the nervous system and brain.

What Can You Do?
First it must be determined if the individual suffers from gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. This can be difficult in some people who yet have no symptoms, as neurological problems may take years to develop although the damage is slowly and relentlessly occurring.

Blood tests that measure AGA, tTG, EMA and dAGA are all available. Cyrex Labs has a nice test that is more sensitive than those previously used and it’s the one we use here at HealthNOW. Our major goal is early diagnosis – we want to discover the problem before too much damage has occurred.

It must also be determined if glutamate containing foods are problematic. Many people who are sensitive to MSG know it, but unfortunately they are unaware of the free glutamate in food, so they chalk up feeling badly to some other source.

We must encourage protection of the nervous system and reduce stress on the brain’s immune cells.

How? Nutrients found in cranberries and many other brilliantly colored fruits and vegetables have potent antioxidant activity which may help fight heart disease and cancer in addition to protecting the nervous system. DHA is a powerful anti-inflammatory for the brain that not only inhibits immune activation of brain cells, but it improves blood flow to the brain and blocks excitotoxicity – all very good things!

Lastly we must remove any additional sources of inflammation to the body. Possible culprits are other foods causing problems, infectious agents, heavy metals and other toxins.

It sounds difficult but we must strive to “clean up” our body’s internal environment. We can’t swim in a sea of toxins and expect to be healthy. The body can only tolerate so much.

Neurological diseases are terrible but the good news is that they may be largely preventable.

I hope you find this information useful and please share this data with someone who has some of these symptoms or suspects they may be suffering from gluten intolerance.

If you would like to improve your health please call me for a free health analysis. I’m here to help!
HealthNOW is a destination clinic and we see patients from all over the country as well as internationally, so you don’t need to live locally to receive assistance.

Visit us at If you have questions or need any help, I’m here for you! Call 408-733-0400.

I look forward to hearing from you.

To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN, CFMP

IFM Certified Practitioner

Founder of Root Cause Medical Clinic
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”

Author of the eBook: “Gluten Intolerance – What You Don’t Know May Be Killing You!”

Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Dr Vikki Petersen & HealthNOW Medical Center and a clickable link back to this page.