There is a TON of research on gluten intolerance and celiac disease. It’s the most well-known inflammatory food reaction on earth. And it can tell us exactly what can and does happen when our immune system is triggered by a food.
Just to wet your appetite, celiac disease has been shown to be associate with well over 100 different health problems and may cause symptoms of chronic inflammation. We’ll get into that more soon. Also, if you haven’t already, please go watch the previous video in the Essentials of Inflammation series.
But first, let’s talk about what celiac disease, and gluten are, because many of you probably don’t know, which is fine.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that is triggered by eating gluten. Autoimmune means that your immune system is attacking you. And gluten is a protein found in wheat and related grains. Celiac disease, more specifically, is damage to the small intestine that is caused by your own immune system. And the trigger is eating gluten, which then stimulates your immune system to generate an inflammatory response that results in your immune system attacking your small intestine.
It’s been assumed that people with celiac disease always have diarrhea and digestive problems. But despite popular belief, lots of research has clearly shown that celiac disease may or may not result in digestive problems. The only common thread is the damage to the small intestine.
Fortunately, regardless of the symptoms or the severity of the symptoms, when they stop eating gluten, most people heal up and get better. It’s the only autoimmune disease that we already know how to cure.
However, people who have it but don’t get diagnosed, or who are diagnosed but don’t stop eating gluten, are known to be at much higher risk for a multitude of other health problems.
Why? If you’ve watched the previous 3 episodes of my series on inflammation (Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3), you now know why. Because inflammation is at the root of nearly all disease. And if you continuously stimulate the immune system to generate inflammation, then you are at risk for poor health all the way around. We shouldn’t be too surprised by this, but it seems to be something that no one wants to talk about.
So how does this connect with other food reactions? Celiac disease is not really the cause, it’s the symptom. Say what? Celiac disease is a symptom of gluten intolerance. Everyone who has celiac disease first had an immune response to gluten, the food. That immune response to gluten is measurable with lab tests.
However, that immune response does not always result in celiac disease, the autoimmune condition in the small intestine. Gluten reactions can result in all kinds of different symptoms.
In fact, even celiac disease itself is widely variable. People often wrongly assume or are told that celiac disease is worse than other forms of gluten sensitivity. However, research has shown that to not be the case. About half of all people with celiac disease don’t even have any symptoms at all, only the positive test for celiac disease. That’s because celiac disease is only one of many problems that can result from a gluten intolerance. And it is a symptom of gluten intolerance, not the cause.
I’ve seen many examples of this in my practice. I’ve had numerous patients who’ve been in and out of the hospital for severe pain, or who couldn’t get out of bed and who feared for their health, tested negative for celiac disease. There were sent home with no answers.
What we later found out was that they were gluten intolerant. When they cut gluten out of their diet, they got all better.
And lots of people react to gluten, but don’t have celiac disease. Less than 1% of the population has celiac disease. But somewhere around 10% of the population is gluten intolerant. That’s why so many people who don’t have celiac disease find that they feel so much better when they avoid gluten. It a lot more valuable and productive to remove the cause of the inflammation than it is to try to block it on the other end with anti-inflammatories.
Reacting to gluten can and does result in all kinds of other problems instead of, or in addition to, celiac disease. Celiac disease is only one of many possible problems of a gluten intolerance. These problems are often called gluten sensitivity, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
A lot of scientific research has clearly shown that if you have a gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity, then your risk for developing other problems goes up, often WAY up.
What problems? Here’s a short list:
- Headaches, including Migraines
- Muscle aches
- Brain fog
- Heart Disease
- Thyroid problems
- Gall bladder problems
- Infertility and miscarriages
- Multiple sclerosis
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Liver failure
- Numerous autoimmune diseases
And what do all of those conditions have in common? Inflammation. Inflammation is at the root of all of them.
Remember. The immune system creates inflammation, and a countless list of inflammatory diseases, not the food. Gluten is not the problem. Lots of people eat gluten and are just fine. That’s why so many people think that avoiding gluten is a fad. But it’s not.
Around 30 million people in the U.S are gluten sensitive and do or would feel better avoiding gluten. And I don’t mean a little better. I mean it would completely change their lives, or already has.
Now here’s the kicker. This video is about how gluten intolerance sets the stage for and sheds light on other inflammatory food reaction and how there are different inflammation types. Gluten is just the tip of the ice berg. It’s the popular food reaction, the one that almost everyone has heard of by now. But any food has the potential to trigger your immune system to generate inflammation in the same way that gluten can.
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In my next video in this series I’ll talk about how we can tell when foods are triggering our immune system to create inflammation.
Dr. Wangen is the founder and medical director of the IBS Treatment Center, the award winning author of two books, and a nationally recognized speaker on digestive disorders. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio, and was named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.