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Should you go gluten-free? Gluten expert shares 6 things to consider

by Jun 20, 2023

Home » NUHS Blog » Should you go gluten-free? Gluten expert shares 6 things to consider

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 of the top 15 leading causes of death are chronic inflammatory diseases. Thus, as a recognized world expert on gluten, reducing systemic inflammation is a primary focus of my messaging. Even if you don’t have celiac disease, one of the most common causes of that inflammation is wheat products.  

You don’t want to just treat the symptoms, you have to treat where the inflammation is coming from.  

During a recent interview Dr. Jill LIVE!, I recently discussed chronic auto-immune diseases and the health benefits of going gluten-free. Here are 6 things you should consider if you’re thinking about eliminating gluten from your diet: 

1. Gluten causes inflammation in every human who consumes it 

The idea that you have to have celiac disease to have a problem with wheat is a historical misconception. Gluten is one of the only foods that causes inflammation every time you eat it. This is because of a genetically-designed life-saving mechanism in the gut our ancient ancestors developed. Before agriculture 10,000 years ago, our ancestors were foragers following the herds for food. Whatever they found that looked like food, they would smell, nibble for taste, and if there were no alarms going off, would eat. The immune system in the proximal part of the small intestine is vigilant screening every morsel of food for pathogens. If a pathogenic microorganism was identified, two things happened within 5 minutes: 

  • Increased ‘leaky gut’ bringing water into the gut to wash out the bug 
  • Increased production of NfKappaB (the major amplifier of inflammation)              

This occurred within 5 minutes of the contaminated food leaving the stomach entering the first part of the small intestine. This is a life-saving non-negotiable immune response to a perceived threat. Those who had efficient gut immune response survived. Those who didn’t have an efficient gut immune response died and did not reproduce. Every human today has this immediate response in their gut to the perceived threat of contaminated food. 

What the science clearly shows us is that the incompletely digested peptides of wheat are misinterpreted as a harmful component of a microorganism. Wheat is treated as a potential pathogen. 

A 2017 study review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that components of gluten can cause an immediate and transient increase in gut permeability and that this process takes place in all individuals who ingest gluten.  

That’s why wheat’s a problem. Whether you feel bad when you eat it or not. 

2. Why food can have a big impact on the immune system 

In our bodies, the gut and immune system are closely connected. This connection goes all the way back to our ancestors when our bodies were trying to protect us from harmful bacteria in the food we eat. 

The immune system works the same. [To our ancestors] the most common threat was what they ate and what they drank. This is such a critical concept to understand. It doesn’t matter if you feel good or bad when you eat wheat. Your immune system ‘trying to protect you’, will have this inflammatory response to wheat. 

Wheat is the only food that the body will produce memory B-cells for, which can cause the immune system to attack it. 

Your genetics and your antecedents determines where that inflammation is going to manifest. But it’s always inflammation, in every human who consumes wheat. 

3. All disease begins in the gut 

While Hippocrates coined the phrase, “all disease begins in the gut” 2,400 years ago, the latest research continues to prove that it holds a lot of truth. 

A 2022 systematic review showed that in 66 out of the 83 selected studies (79.5%) there was a reduction in autoimmune disorder symptoms after going on a gluten-free diet. Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease were among the most common autoimmune diseases that benefited along with other autoimmune diseases like pancreatitis, cardiomyopathies. 

Compared to decades ago, the data today is clear. Many ailments can benefit from a gluten-free diet. 

4. Processed “gluten free products” are not a solution 

One of the benefits of going on a gluten-free diet is eliminating many processed food products that often contain wheat. It is well-known how harmful processed food can be to our health. Not only do processed foods contain high levels of added sugar, sodium, and fats, they often contain harmful chemicals like stabilizers, preservatives and pesticides. They are also considered “empty calories” that don’t make you feel full or provide much nutrition.  

If you continue to eat processed foods, even if they’re gluten free, they are likely to make existing gut issues worse, not better. 

5. Be sure to keep your gut microbiome diverse 

Just giving up gluten is not enough. In fact, if you don’t make other adjustments to your diet, it can cause a drastic decrease in healthy gut bacteria. This is because wheat may be your body’s main source of prebiotics, which our good gut bacteria depend on. 

In addition to eliminating inflammatory foods like gluten, having a healthy microbiome is the best way to protect your body from autoimmune diseases. 

If there’s only one thing you’re going to do, it’s build a healthy diverse microbiome. 

6. Lab tests can help confirm what’s causing your inflammation 

I never say that everyone needs to give up wheat (although there is a scientific argument for that). What I say is that if you have a health concern, just test accurately to see if your immune system has crossed the threshold of wheat exposure and you now are creating excess inflammation in response to wheat exposure. 

Everyone who has a health concern or any autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, fatty liver disease, multiple sclerosis, colitis, etc., should be comprehensively tested to see if their immune system is fighting wheat. The Wheat Zoomer, is the most accurate and comprehensive test that can check for this. In most cases, wheat is a contributor to the inflammation that is manifesting into other chronic autoimmune diseases. 

You just have to check. It’s very common that wheat could be a primary trigger. If you can’t afford to get the test, try to eliminate gluten, dairy, and added sugar. It could take a year to 2 years to turn the body’s entire metabolism around. 

A diagnosis of an autoimmune disease is not a sentence for life. You can improve your body function in any condition you have. Your body wants to be healthy, it wants to thrive, and you just have to find the map back to health for your body from your history, your lifestyle and your environment. 

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About the Author

Dr. Tom O'Bryan

Dr. Tom O'Bryan

Tom O'Bryan, DC, CCN, DACBN, CIFM, ‘80, an adjunct faculty member at National University, is a recognized world expert on gluten and its impact on health. He has traveled the world speaking to health care professionals on this issue. His website, thedr.com, is a resource center on the most current gluten sensitivity research and testing. He has published multiple books including, a 2016 critically acclaimed ground-breaking book, ‘The Autoimmune Fix,’ which won the National Book Award. He has trained and certified tens of thousands of practitioners around the world in advanced understanding of the impact of wheat sensitivity and the development of individual autoimmune diseases.

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