Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Parents -Should You Put Your Child on a Gluten-Free Diet?

I meet many parents who are in quite a quandary about instituting a gluten-free diet for their child. A typical
scenario is that one of the parents is gluten intolerant and is highly suspicious that their child is as well. Due to the child being ‘relatively healthy’ the non-gluten intolerant spouse suggests that the child be able to ‘live a little’ and enjoy the cake and pizza that is so prevalent at children’s parties and sporting events.

In my opinion, once it has been established that there is a gluten problem, either by blood test, genetic test, or the merits of elimination, there is no question about whether a gluten-free diet should be implemented. 

Why do I feel so adamant on this point?

  • Gluten intolerance vastly increases your risk of developing diseases that can affect most any system and organ in the human body. 
  • Gluten vastly increases your risk for autoimmune disease. 
  • Gluten can be rather silent in a younger body, but if a positive test exists, then it IS doing damage, regardless of whether it is felt or not.And that damage will worsen with the passage of time.

To add a little more strength to my argument is the result of a recent study published by the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics wherein researchers aimed to evaluate the influence of celiac disease on the social aspects of life in those living in the U.S. 

Not surprisingly celiac disease did have a negative impact on the quality of life in socials settings, specifically in the area of travel and dining out. However, and this is where I find that most people make their mistake with their children, the researchers found that ‘those diagnosed in childhood and maintained on the diet had less of an impact on the quality of life as an adult’.

So it turns out that you aren’t doing any favors to your at risk child by putting off the implementation of a gluten-free diet. You’re not only creating negative impacts health-wise as mentioned above, but by delaying a gluten-free diet you are also condemning them to the perception of a lower quality of life.

If you think about it, if gluten-free is pretty much all you’ve ever known, you would be less likely to miss it. You haven’t built up the memories of gluten-containing cakes and pizzas and pancakes.

Please do not put off testing your child because you think you’re doing him or her a favor. The truth is quite the contrary. Waiting could allow an autoimmune disease or other illness to develop - one that could have been avoided. There is absolutely NO benefit to one’s health to continue eating gluten when one is gluten intolerant, and it turns out that there is no benefit psychologically either.

Have you run into this argument from friends or family? Have you put off diagnosing a child because you were made to feel guilty?

Please write to me and let me know your experiences and thoughts.

I’m here to help and am happy to offer a free health analysis to you or someone you care about. You can call me at 408-733-0400. Together we will raise awareness and create a future generation that’s healthier than our current one! Our destination clinic treats patients from across the country and internationally. You don't need to live locally to us to receive help.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Author of the e-Book: “Gluten Intolerance – What you don’t know may be killing you!”
Awarded Gluten Free Doctor of the Year 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Is Depression Really a Chemical Imbalance or Does Gluten Play a Role?

Patients with depression are told they have a chemical imbalance.  If someone else in their family is also
depressed, the “gene card” is played.  “Your depression is genetic”, they are told.

I have been in practice for over 20 years and I find the above data to be false.  Consistently we find patients who are suffering from depression and anxiety to be gluten (and dairy) sensitive.

How could a food cause depression?  Let’s take a look:

After the digestive tract, the most common system to be affected by gluten is the nervous system. It is thought that depression can be caused by gluten in one of two ways. 

First, gluten causes inflammatory changes. The immune system in an individual with glutensensitivity or celiac disease responds in a negative, inflammatory fashion to the protein gliadin.  Unfortunately, that protein is similar in structure to other proteins present in the body, including those of the brain and nerve cells. A cross reactivity can occur whereby the immune system “confuses” proteins in the body for the protein gliadin.  This is called cellular mimicry and the result of this confusion is the body literally attacking it’s own tissues. When inflammation occurs in the brain and nervous system, a variety of symptoms can ensue, including depression.

Research shows us that patients with symptoms involving the nervous system suffer from digestive problems only 13% of the time.  This is significant because mainstream medicine equates gluten sensitivity almost exclusively with digestive complaints, a mistake that causes millions to suffer needlessly.

In a study examining blood flow to the brain, 15 patients with untreated celiac disease were compared to 15 patients treated with a gluten-free diet for a year.  The findings were amazing. In the untreated group, 73% had abnormalities in brain circulation while only 7% in the treated group showed any abnormalities. The patients with the brain circulation problems were frequently suffering from symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

In addition to circulation problems creating symptoms of depression, other research has looked at the association between gluten sensitivity and its interference with protein absorption.  Specifically, the amino acid tryptophan can be deficient. Tryptophan is a protein in the brain responsible for a feeling of well-being and relaxation. A deficiency can be correlated to feelings of depression and anxiety.

Is it worth it to discover if your depression is being causes by something in your diet? Absolutely, in my opinion.

Our society is too willing to accept a “chemical imbalance” as an explanation for their symptoms and instead of getting to the root cause of the condition, simply opt to swallow a pill – a pill that in the case of anti-depressants has very dangerous and sometimes lethal side effects.

The frequency with which we are able to successfully taper patients off their anti-depressants is considered “unbelievable” to many mainstream doctors, yet we do it regularly.  How is that possible?  We actually diagnose the root cause of the depression.  Frequently the culprit is gluten.

I hope you found this informative. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, consider calling us for a free healthanalysis – 408-733-0400. We are a destination clinic and we treat patients from across the country and internationally. You don’t need to live local to us to receive assistance. We are here to help!

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Co- author of TheGluten Effect
Author of the e-book: Gluten Sensitivity: What you don’t know may be killing you!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Following Your Gluten Free Diet But Still Feeling Sick?

Following Your Gluten Free Diet But Still Feeling Sick?

As a clinical nutritionist, I constantly here from frustrated patients who, despite being vigilant about their gluten-free diet, continue to suffer health problems. In fact, it's the most common reason patients contact us and visit our destination clinic. Either they have diagnosed celiac disease or gluten sensitivity (often self-diagnosed) and while they experienced initial improvement on a gluten-free diet, they are now suffering with returning or new symptoms. The bottom line: they're not healthy and they are not getting any help to improve their condition.

I have been involved in the field of celiac and gluten sensitivity for over 15 years and am delighted by much of the recent increased awareness and attention given to the area.  Where my concern arises is that after the diagnosis and the advice to follow a gluten-free diet, there is no follow-up program designed to address and treat the secondary effects of gluten sensitivity. Such an oversight condemns many to ongoing ill health.

In this post I wish to focus on some of the ongoing conditions we see in patients despite following a gluten-free diet, some research that supports our 'Secondary Effects' program, and steps you can take to address some of these problems.

Leaky Gut

Also known as increased intestinal permeability, a leaky gut refers to a loss of integrity of the lining of the small intestine.  The small intestine, you may recall, is approximately 23 feet in length and has the surface area of a tennis court. Why so large? It is responsible for turning food into fuel and 'feeding' the body's 10 trillion cells. That's a lot of 'hungry mouths' to feed. Therefore, if the small intestine is not performing this very important function effectively, cells starve and ill health is a result.

Gluten, in the sensitive individual, is a known cause of leaky gut. In a perfect world the elimination of gluten would allow healing to occur resulting in an intact, healthy intestinal lining.

But alas we are often not in a perfect world and other factors contribute to the health of the gut.  Such things as infections in the form of parasites, amoebas, bacteria and the like can certainly be a factor in continued increased permeability.  Likewise, other food reactions, chief amongst them dairy, can cause persistent irritation and thereby prevent healing.  Imbalance of the good bacteria or microbes comprising the microbiota (population of probiotics) of the intestine also are suspected to be a cause of lack of healing, as well as a deficiency of pancreatic enzymes and nutritional deficiencies.

Let’s take a look at these individually:


Whether one has celiac disease or is gluten sensitive, one thing is for sure, one’s immune system has been overtaxed due to the presence of gluten in the diet.  Depending on the age of diagnosis, the immune system has often undergone several decades of stress .

Such an overburdened immune system is unable to be as vigilant as a healthy one and as a result it allows such organisms as parasites, amoebas or bacteria to infiltrate the intestine and, as a result of a leaky gut, the body as a whole.  It is estimated that the digestive tract is normally exposed to a pathogenic organism every 10 minutes.  A healthy intestinal immune system is able to identify and eradicate those organisms as part of its normal activity.  The unhealthy immune system is ineffective at eradicating such organisms and they happily take up residence in the small intestine.

Interestingly, some of these organisms create crypt hyperplasia and villous atrophy (as seen on an intestinal biopsy) the same as gluten.  Imagine the frustration of a patient who is being told by their doctor that they are not following their diet when indeed they are.  What’s being missed?  The presence of an infectious agent.

In the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2003, researchers reported a high percentage of small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO) in celiac patients with persistent GI symptoms despite adherence to a gluten-free diet. These patients were disciplined at following their gluten-free diet, but were still having diarrhea due to the presence of inhospitable organisms in their intestine.

This segues nicely into the next area I want to discuss – Dysbiosis or imbalance of the friendly bacteria in the small intestine.


The population of organisms found in the intestines of celiac patients (treated with a gluten-free diet or not) is different from that of healthy control groups.  The ratio of good bacteria to bad was found to be reduced in celiacs regardless of whether they were in an active or inactive disease state.  Because the “bad” bacteria are pro-inflammatory in nature, they can not only be responsible for creating some of the initial problems with the disease, but also for continuing them despite following a gluten-free diet.

In the August 2009 Scientific American, Dr Alessio Fasano made a very interesting statement regarding these microbes or probiotics as relates to the age of initiation of celiac disease.  He stated: “Apparently they [probiotics] can also influence which genes in their hosts are active at any given time.  Hence, a person whose immune system has managed to tolerate gluten for many years might suddenly lose tolerance if the microbiome changes in a way that causes formerly quiet susceptibility genes to become active.  If this idea is correct, celiac disease might one day be prevented or treated by ingestion of selected helpful microbes.”

Isn’t this fascinating?  If you haven’t read the complete article I encourage you to, but suffice to say there is scientific discussion that entertains the notion that a healthy microbiome or probiotic population is not only anti-inflammatory (a good thing to help prevent many diseases) but may actually act as a “switch” that turns on and off gene expression.

Thereby, part of our program is to examine the population of the microbiome through laboratory testing and supplement as needed to support a healthy anti-inflammatory population. In the past we typically prescribed probiotics only for a few short months following the eradication of a pathogenic organism. But in the last several years it has become clear that our patients’ clinical profile is much more stable with continuous probiotic supplements.

Dairy Sensitivity

It can be difficult to confront major changes in one’s diet.  Removing gluten is definitely a big one and sometimes my patients look at me so very forlornly when I simultaneously recommend the elimination of dairy products.  I try to keep them uplifted by sharing some of my favorite recipes along with coconut ice cream, cheese and milk substitute suggestions.

There is excellent documentation to backup what we’ve seen clinically for years - gluten and dairy are truly not our friends.

The majority of our planetary residents are lactose intolerant.  Populations such as Asians, African Blacks, those of Jewish descent, Mediterraneans, Mexicans and North American Blacks all exceed 70% intolerance to lactose.

Note that many drugs and supplements may contain lactose as well, so be vigilant.

It is estimated that we have the enzyme to digest our human mother’s milk for 2 to 5 years only. Human milk, mother's perfect food, is very low in protein but rich in essential fatty acids.Interesting to note from the viewpoint that milk from other mammal's tends to have a very different composition. Other mammal's milk is likely toxic because it’s too high in protein and phosphorus, making proper digestion by humans  impossible.

The protein casein from milk is highly associated with immune-based allergic reactions. Therefore, putting lactose and casein together presents double jeopardy to the body.  Compound the substance itself with the fact that, in this country, milk contains more toxins per gram than any other food, and you can see that there’s cause for great concern.

Earlier we spoke of leaky gut.  Dairy stops the formation of glucosamine in the intestine making it one of the primary causes of leaky gut in addition to gluten.

Nutritional Deficiencies

When we eat, the ultimate goal is to efficiently and correctly nourish the body.  Discovering that one is sensitive to gluten and eliminating it goes a long way towards achieving this goal, but a roadblock can still persist in the form of nutritional deficiencies. 

Folic acid, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin D levels are all very important to measure. Supplementation is often needed to optimize the levels of these substances while follow-up testing ensures that optimum levels have been achieved. If supplementation fails to normalize levels of certain nutrients, suspect some of the secondary effects we have discussed above. There is a reason the body isn't assimilating the nutrition that it's being given. The reason must be discovered and addressed.

Discovering that you’re gluten sensitive and following the diet should be rewarded with dramatically improved health.  If that is not the result it simply indicates that other factors need to be isolated and treated. Such a program is not difficult and well worth the effort. Here at HealthNOW we call it treating the "Secondary Effects" of gluten. In addition to what we discussed above, the other potential issues are cross-reactive foods, toxins and hormonal imbalance. The nice thing about the program is that it truly gets to the root cause of why the gluten-free diet isn't working.

If this post describes what you're experiencing, consider calling us for a free health analysis - call 408-733-0400. We are destination clinic and we treat patients from across the country and internationally. Therefore you don't need to live local to us to receive assistance. We're here to help!

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Awarded Gluten-Free Doctor of the Year 2013

*Thank you to for the illustration!