what is gluten?

Dr. Stephen Wangen of the IBS Treatment Center.
Dr. Stephen Wangen of the IBS Treatment Center.

Do you know what gluten sensitivity is? Do you know how it differs from Celiac Disease? Maybe you don’t even know what gluten is.

Here is a gluten definition refresher: Gluten is a protein that is found in many different grains, including wheat, spelt, rye, and barley.

If you are sensitive to gluten, then you are sensitive to all of these grains, and to anything made from any of these grains.

Celiac disease is a very specific kind of gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease occurs when there is a very specific kind of damage that occurs to the villi in the small intestine. This damage is called villous atrophy.

This damage may be seen on a biopsy of the small intestine, which is taken during an upper endoscopy performed by a gastroenterologist. It can also be diagnosed with a blood test.

However, other than the villous atrophy, there is often very little difference between celiac disease and other forms of (non-celiac) gluten sensitivity in terms of symptoms or reactions to the ingestion of gluten. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity can cause just as many problems as celiac disease, and be just as severe. (more…)


drwangenIn this week’s Digestive Health Smartbrief, self proclaimed experts on gluten sensitivity are acknowledging that there is a lot more gluten sensitivity than there is celiac disease. That is good news. But…they are still confused…

I (Dr. Stephen Wangen) have been writing about and studying gluten sensitivity for over a decade, however I was not included as an expert on this article. This is just as well, as the experts are also saying other things with which I don’t want to be associated with.

Among other things, they point out that before you diagnose gluten sensitivity that you should first rule out an allergy and auto-immune causes. This makes no sense for two primary reasons.

First, gluten sensitivity, just like celiac disease, is an allergy.

Secondly, gluten can cause auto-immune reactions, not the other way around. Celiac disease itself is an auto-immune reaction. If you did have an auto-immune disease, then you’d want to be looking for the cause, which might be gluten.

Sadly, the medical system is so warped that it often can’t understand the difference between a symptom and a cause.

It’s not the first time, but will it never end?

Excerpt from Digestive Health:

Experts such as Dr. Alessio Fasano, Director of the Mass General Center for Celiac Research and Treatment, estimate an incidence of gluten sensitivity of up to 7 percent of the population. The causes are under study, but hypotheses include intestinal inflammation, changes in the gut microbiota, and high-gluten wheat.



(img from commons.wikimedia.org)
(img from commons.wikimedia.org)

Your health is still about what you do eat, even if you don’t eat gluten.

A recent article titled “Gluten-free is not a worry-free diet” states that “overeating, and loss of vital nutrients are common.”

Though perhaps the problem is going gluten free by eating rice flour based foods that are processed and not good for you, instead of eating a good whole foods diet.

Excerpt from utsandiego.com:

“Some find that cutting out gluten helps them avoid the temptation of empty-calorie processed snack foods that they want to eliminate,” Baker said. But some dieters cut gluten only to replace it with gluten-free versions of “empty-calorie, processed snack foods,” Baker said, which is no benefit for weight loss, energy levels, or improved health.

“A gluten-free claim is by no means an indication that a food is more natural, healthful or lower in calories,” she said. “For optimal health and weight management, it is essential to consider the whole diet, physical activity as well as eating behaviors.”

The cause of IBS varies from person to person, which is what makes it so difficult for most doctors to treat. However, through proper testing you will be able to identify the exact cause or causes of your symptoms and live a life free of digestive problems.

Contact our office at Info@IBSTreatmentCenter.com or toll free at 1.888.546.6283

Please feel free to add your comment below.


(image thanks to kelownaceliac.org)

This article from the New York Times brings out some good points, but unfortunately starts out with the draconian nature of avoiding gluten.

This might be good marketing for the writer, but it’s the typical way of criticizing anything that is really healthy for you. You can’t possibly do those things because most people don’t do those things. Don’t bother being healthy, it’s so un-American.

Oh the humanity. Then there is the argument that this is just a fad. Of course, if everyone were feeling great and their health was just fine, then people wouldn’t be jumping on this issue. People are seeking answers, and enough people are finding them by avoiding gluten that the market is growing, rapidly.

My only concern, don’t replace all of the glutenous food with the same things that are gluten free. It may healthier, but it still isn’t health food. Gluten free cookies are still junk food. Replace the gluten with more vegetables, nuts, meats, and fruit. It’s an opportunity to learn how to truly eat healthy food. Then use the gluten free specialty products sparingly.


Now medical experts largely agree that there is a condition related to gluten other than celiac. In 2011 a panel of celiac experts convened in Oslo and settled on a medical term for this malady: non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

What they still do not know: how many people have gluten sensitivity, what its long-term effects are, or even how to reliably identify it. Indeed, they do not really know what the illness is.

The definition is less a diagnosis than a description — someone who does not have celiac, but whose health improves on a gluten-free diet and worsens again if gluten is eaten. It could even be more than one illness.

“We have absolutely no clue at this point,” said Dr. Stefano Guandalini, medical director of the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center.

Kristen Golden Testa could be one of the gluten-sensitive. Although she does not have celiac, she adopted a gluten-free diet last year. She says she has lost weight and her allergies have gone away. “It’s just so marked,” said Ms. Golden Testa, who is health program director in California for the Children’s Partnership, a national nonprofit advocacy group.

Read the full article on NYTimes.com here.


Scientists at WSU are trying to find wheat plants that lack gluten or that can be genetically engineered to lack gluten. 

Wheat is not meant to be the dietary staple that we’ve turned it into. This research is simply a marketing tactic. It’s about finding artificial shortcuts for problems that already have real answers instead of promoting the real answer, which is to avoid gluten. Genetically engineering food has never led to healthier people, and it never will.

Gluten is an oversimplification of the reaction to wheat. There are many different kinds of glutens, and many other proteins and factors in wheat to which a person can have a reaction. Just eliminating gluten isn’t truly the issue. The issue is eating healthier food.

It’s also worth noting that this is not a purely scientific pursuit by WSU. They are receiving funding to pursue this, and it’s likely from a corporate agriculture giant. And they stand to make a lot of money if they do find something that they can take to market. These are the kinds of questions that should be answered by articles like this.

This isn’t probably, in my mind, the best use of research resources.  It would be better to focus on making sure the products that contain wheat or gluten are properly labelled and expand our societies use of non-wheat sources of nutrition.  Especially those that provide better all around nutrition than wheat, barley, and rye do.

Excerpt from LATimes.com:

People with serious gluten allergies such as celiac disease now have only one tried-and-true option: swear off all foods containing wheat, barley and rye. Only that way can they avoid the damage that gluten exposure wreaks: abdominal pain, nutritional deficiencies and a progressive flattening of the tiny hairlike villi in the gut that are needed for the proper digestion of food.



Villi are tiny finger-like extensions of the surface of the intestinal tract. (image thanks to unc.edu)

What is celiac disease?

You may have never heard of celiac disease, but it is actually a fairly common problem. In fact, 1 out of every 133 people has it. That is over 2 million people in this country. It is really more of an allergy than a disease, although it is typically called an intolerance to gluten.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, triticale, and couscous. People who have celiac disease cannot eat any foods made out of these flours. Gluten is the thing that makes bread, well, bread. It allows bread to rise and keeps it together with lots of nice little air pockets, making your bread light and spongy. Without gluten it is difficult to make bread that is not heavy and dense.

What are the symptoms of celiac disease?

The symptoms vary widely. Celiac disease is typically thought of as a condition that causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, gas and bloating. However, many people do not experience these symptoms at all. They may experience constipation, weight gain, fatigue, headaches, heartburn, skin problems such as eczema and acne, or any number of health problems.

What exactly happens to the body in celiac disease?

In people with celiac disease, eating gluten leads to damage of the small intestine. Damage is specifically done to the villi of the small intestine. Villi are tiny finger-like extensions of the surface of the intestinal tract. They can only be seen under a microscope. In celiac disease the villi are in essence worn down, or blunted. This is known as villous atrophy. It’s something like the difference between holding your hand open with your fingers out, and having your hand clenched into a fist. The fist represents the blunted villi.

Why does this happen? (more…)


This article describes the FDA’s proposal for regulation of the gluten free label, among other things. The comment period has been closed for a long time.  The FDA proposed regulation of the label “gluten free” back in 2007, and reopened the comment period in August of 2011 for 60 days.  The proposed rules will be very helpful to those with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten intolerance, and those who care for and feed them.  This regulation is long overdue!  When will the final regulation be published?  Please help the citizens of the US get better information on the safety of their food.

This is your call to action – email the FDA asking when the final rule will be published! Send emails to consumer@fda.gov and to your Senator and Congressperson:

By bringing this up in numbers, we might be able to get make some headway with a problem that should have been solved in 2007!

How Is FDA Proposing to Define ‘Gluten-Free’?

In 2007, FDA proposed to allow manufacturers to label a food “gluten-free” if the food does not contain any of the following:
    1.    an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains
    2.    an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
    3.    an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten
    4.    20 ppm or more gluten

In the notice reopening the comment period, FDA states that it continues to believe the proposed definition of “gluten-free” is the correct one.
FDA’s notice also describes current analytical methods that can reliably and consistently detect gluten at levels of 20 ppm or more in a variety of foods.

The agency is interested in hearing from the public and industry. The public comment period on the proposed rule will officially open after noon on Aug. 3, 2011, and will remain open for 60 days. To submit comments electronically, go to www.regulations.gov and
    1.    choose “Submit a Comment” from the top task bar
    2.    enter the docket number FDA-2005-N-0404 in the “Keyword” space
    3.    select “Search”

After FDA reviews and considers the comments, the agency will issue a final rule that defines “gluten-free” for labeling food products, including dietary supplements. 

This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.