Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Two Things About Gluten: Indigestible and Nutritionally Useless!

In the fall of 2013, we enjoyed some wonderful presentations by many of the world’s leading gluten researchers at “The Gluten eSummit”.

If you missed the summit, I wanted to share with you some of the gems that were shared.

Dr. Alessio Fasano
In this post I wanted to share with you what Dr. Alessio Fasano had to say when interviewed. I have always called Dr. Fasano “my hero” and nothing has changed in that regard. If anything, I now have him on a higher pedestal!

Did you notice the title of this blog? While it’s not news that gluten is indigestible, it bears repeating—until more of our population understands that it’s not the nutritional “staple” that many believe.

7 Myths and Facts About Gluten

Let’s look at some common arguments leveled against those who avoid gluten, and counter them with the facts as we know them:

Myth 1: Wheat has been around forever. Of course it must be good for us!

FACT: For 99.9% of our evolution, our ancestors have been gluten-free. We did not evolve to digest gluten. It only arrived 10,000 years ago.

Myth 2: Ancient wheat was fine and didn’t cause any problems. It’s modern wheat that is creating health issues.

FACT: The above statement isn’t completely false, particularly as it refers to problems with modern wheat, but let’s break it down. Gluten as a protein is indigestible due to its odd composition of high amounts of the amino acids proline and glutamine. The composition or sequencing of these amino acids literally is unrecognizable to our enzymes such that we—all humans—(not just those of us who are intolerant to gluten) are unable to digest it properly. The indigestible quality of gluten has always been the case, regardless of how ancient the cultivar.

However, what is true is that modern wheat is worse. According to Dr. Fasano, the amount of gluten per dry weight of grain has been increasing over time. It’s doubled in a few centuries. The result is that the indigestible nature of the grain has worsened. Gluten now encompasses 30-40% of the total protein content of wheat, when in the past it was half that.

Of course the recent problem of GMO wheat adds yet another health risk, but more on GMO in a future post.

Myth 3: A gluten-free diet can be dangerous because it creates nutritional deficiencies.

FACT: According to Dr. Fasano (and this is a direct quote): “Gluten is nutritionally useless. We evolved as a species without gluten.” 

Those who warn that a gluten-free diet is dangerous cite a lack of fiber and vitamins, substances that are readily and more beneficially replaced in a truly healthy diet, regardless of its gluten-free status. The fact that many Americans don’t consume a healthy diet is a different issue. But blaming the lack of gluten as a component in malnutrition, is foolhardy and false.

Myth 4: Genetics dictates what diseases we get. If it’s in your genes and family tree, there’s not much you can do about it.

FACT: According to Dr. Fasano, it’s the environment that influences our genetics to either express a disease or have it remain dormant. And the gut is where genetics and the environment meet. When it comes to the environment, we don’t just mean your diet. In addition to gluten and other food sensitivities, problems also arise from antibiotic overuse, pollutants, chemicals, GMO foods and infectious organisms.

Yet none of these things would create problems if we didn’t have permeability issues in our gut—leaky gut. The health problems that ensue from a leaky gut include:
  • food allergies
  • autoimmune disease
  • inflammation (known to initiate ALL degenerative diseases)
  • stroke
  • cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • and more!
Yes, Dr Fasano agrees with me that autoimmune disease often begins from a leaky gut. He considers that we are in the midst of an epidemic of autoimmune diseases such as asthma, diabetes, M.S., rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease. This epidemic, he says, has been taking shape over the past 40 to 50 years as our lifestyle has gotten less and less healthy, resulting in compromised gut health.

Can genetic change be held responsible for this ‘epidemic’? No, the rapid increase of autoimmune disease sits squarely on the shoulder of our environment. The facts are that genetic change takes centuries, not years. It is our environment that is changing and challenging us with substances with which we cannot maintain a proper equilibrium.

Myth 5: Autoimmune disease is an immune system disorder where the immune system gets "out of control" and begins attacking the body. There is no cure for these disorders; the only possible treatment is drugs to suppress the immune system.

FACT: While Preventional Medicine (steps that prevent the manifestation of the disease) far surpasses Interventional Medicine (treatment once the disease has already occurred), Dr. Fasano stated that you can arrest the development of autoimmune disease by addressing gut health, specifically leaky gut. 

Research has shown that the genes for a disease can be present along with the instigator of the disease (e.g. gluten in celiac disease) and yet the disease won’t manifest in the presence of a healthy gut.

The immune system only gets out of control in the presence of an unhealthy gut that allows the passage of "bad guys" from within the gut, where they should be annihilated and excreted out into the bloodstream where they can begin their destruction of various parts of the body.

It is the loss of the tightly controlled barrier function that initiates these illnesses by allowing unsafe passage of various molecules and substances.

Myth 6: Celiac affects 1% of the population. That’s significant perhaps, but certainly doesn’t explain the vast amounts of people (40% of population) who choose to follow a gluten-free diet and likely are just following a fad. There is no medical reason for the rest of the population, meaning 99% of them, to eat gluten-free.

FACT: According to Dr. Fasano, gluten creates a leaky gut in everyone who eats it. Gluten is ingested, it’s not completely digestible as we mentioned earlier, a substance called zonulin is released, and the result is a leaky gut. The consequence of gluten leaking into the bloodstream is inconsequential—for 70 to 80% of the population—those not reacting to gluten. But for 20 to 30% of the population, the consequences are quite severe—disease and earlier death, per research findings.

The point is that if 1% of the population has celiac (this percentage does increase with age at a rate of doubling every 15 years, according to Fasano’s research) then up to 29% has gluten sensitivity if you do the math. Personally I think the percentage is easily 30% of the population if not more, but this is the first time I’ve heard Dr. Fasano make a statement that went that high.

Myth 7: Gluten creates gut problems. If your digestion seems fine, you don’t need to worry about a gluten reaction.

FACT: Dr. Fasano cited that calling gluten a GI related disorder was “reductive”. The GI tract is where the immune system first encounters gluten, an enemy, but whether the reaction against gluten occurs there—or in the brain, the joints, the skin, the nerves, the thyroid, etc.—depends on the genetic makeup of the individual.

Gluten causes a wide variety of symptoms and conditions. Therefore if your doctor cites the myth above that gluten is solely gut-related, or he/she refuses to test you for a gluten reaction because you DON’T have any digestive symptoms, feel free to show him this article.

I hope you found this helpful. There exist many myths about gluten and hopefully this served to shine the light of truth on some of them. Feel free to share this with your doctor, friends and family, especially anyone who gives you a hard time about your gluten-free lifestyle.

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!”

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