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Gluten Sensitivity: A Missing Link in Healing Chronic Disease

Autoimmune diseases account for more pain and suffering and cost to the economy than cancer and heart disease but hardly anyone knows much about these conditions.

Dr. Susan Blum (a consultant to Dr. Oz) just published The Immune System Recovery Plan: A Doctor’s 4-Step Program to Treat Autoimmune Disease.” It’s a very good book, useful for anyone who has chronic and seemingly unrelated issues such as: exhaustion, irritability, brain fog/lack of concentration, hair loss, dry skin, and even swelling or aching joints.

Dr. Mark Hyman wrote the introduction to Blum’s book, starting with: “What problem affects 24 million Americans but receives only 5.4 percent of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) budget to study its potential causes?” The answer: autoimmune disease. Chances are that you or someone you know may have a problems related to autoimmune disorders.

Getting the Gluten Out

Dr. Blum outlines a simple plan to reverse and cure many of these conditions using functional medicine. She starts with something that is almost sacred: our daily bread (and all things with gluten). Blum writes:

“There has been an increase in the use of genetic modification in the wheat grown in our country since the 1940s. The genetically modified wheat has been altered to have more gluten because it is thought to make the plant heartier. In addition, there are several different proteins that make up gluten, and it is the most toxic variety that has become more concentrated.”

Blum cites Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist and integrative practitioner, who detailed how wheat has changed over time in “Wheat Belly.

According to Dr. Davis, “Wheat really changed in 1943, when it was intentionally reengineered so that there would be more yield per acre, in a misguided effort to help end world hunger.” Sad, but true.

1 in 3 Americans are Going Gluten-Free

Going gluten-free is no longer an underground endeavor. According to a recent poll, 30% of Americans are trying to reduce their intake of gluten or go entirely gluten-free. Even gluten-free dating sites have popped up on the Internet! Our very own Teri reluctantly kicked gluten to the curb  and immediately saw her sinuses and chronic ear infections improve.

Still, there’s more to learn, and the science behind the wheat conundrum is still unfolding.

Zonulin: Intestinal Regulator Key to “Leaky Gut?”

In May 2013, the Institute for Functional Medicine awarded Alessio Fasano with its highest honor, the Linus Pauling Award, for his groundbreaking discovery of why gluten-free diets often help people suffering from chronic diseases — even if they don’t exhibit visible symptoms of wheat protein intolerance.

Fasano and his team discovered zonulin, the only known regulator of tight junctions between intestinal cells. The study revealed that zonulin is released by gliadin, one of the main compounds found in gluten. When zonulin is released, the tight cellular junctions relax, allowing space to open in the gastrointestinal lining. When zonulin gets overexpressed (as in the case of people with autoimmune diseases), the gastrointestinal lining becomes too permeable and allows toxins, bad bacteria, and undigested food molecules to pass through into the blood stream (i.e., “leaky gut”).

Cancer & Chronic Disease Associated with Undiagnosed Gluten Intolerance

According to the Mayo Clinic, celiac disease is rising dramatically, but not everyone shows the same symptoms, thus many people go undiagnosed.

However, there’s a cost: Mayo reports that untreated gluten intolerance is associated with cancer, osteoporosis, infertility, skin rashes, and joint pain. You see, these days, even gastroenterologists are starting to distinguish “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” or NCGS as a legitimate clinical syndrome to study and treat.

If mysterious, seemingly unrelated chronic symptoms persist no matter what you do, it might be time to give a gluten-free diet a try.