There was an excellent article in the Huffington Post on Sunday: Gluten Sensitivity and the Effect on the Brain by David Perlmutter, MD . He profiled a 9-year old girl who struggled in school until discovering a gluten-sensitivity. Upon following a gluten-free diet, she showed dramatic cognitive improvement within 2 weeks. And by the end of the school year her academic testing went from below a 3rd grade level to a 5th-8th grade level.
Cognitive effects are just one of many ways a sensitivity to gluten can manifest. Contrary to what Dr. Perlmutter was taught in medical school (and what I was taught in my Nutrition education), gluten-sensitivity and/or Celiac Disease does not always involve classic gastrointestinal tract (GI) symptoms (no need to go into details). This is why I was so incredulous when I tested mildly positive for Celiac Disease through a blood test done through my acupuncturist (about a month after testing positive for Rheumatoid Arthritis). I didn’t have any of the classic GI symptoms. Instead, the morning after I ate any gluten/wheat, I would (and still do) wake with very painful, burning and stiff joints, sometimes to the point where it was hard to walk because my feet were so cramped up. After I got moving the symptoms would drastically improve, but that is no way to start your day. Taking Aleve helped even more, but I knew those symptoms were a sign of something intrinsically wrong with my body and to achieve the level of wellness I wanted was not going to be about slapping a pharmaceutical band-aid on it. Not to mention, I would soon learn that Aleve and other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – e.g. naproxen, ibuprofen, etc.) actually contribute to the true underlying issue I was experiencing –Leaky Gut Syndrome (this unpleasantly and oversimplified titled condition deserves a post all its own, which I’ll save for after we all enjoy our Thanksgiving meals).
There is one thing I would like to point out in this article, which I think is the source of confusion for many: gluten-sensitivity does not always = Celiac Disease (and to add to the confusion, “gluten-sensitivity” can also be referred to as “gluten intolerance”). Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine which requires a small bowel biopsy to confirm the diagnosis (looking for damage to the lining of your small intestine). However, inconclusive or negative results in these tests do not necessarily mean you’re free from a wheat or gluten sensitivity of intolerance. In fact, most people experiencing legitimate and significant gluten sensitive symptoms have officially tested negative for Celiac Disease. These individuals are categorized as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitive, or NCGS (again we’ll dive into gluten-testing later — so much good stuff to to cover, so little time!) Personally, I have not had the biopsy. It is my opinion that whether I have Celiac Disease or just a sensitivity to gluten, my body clearly isn’t a fan, so why subject myself to such an invasive procedure. The treatment for both is the same — avoid gluten. Easy, right? Stay tuned for my top tips on getting started….its not as painful as you think.