No food is a more powerful trigger of neurological issues and autoimmunity than gluten, the protein found in wheat. The average American eats wheat at every meal and we’re seeing dramatic increases in gluten sensitivity today. Gluten is found in wheat, spelt, barley, rye, kamut, triticale, and malts. Oats are often contaminated with gluten because they are grown in rotation with wheat or processed in the same facilities as wheat.
Is the rise in gluten sensitivity real or imagined?
The numbers of gluten-free books, blogs, and online products has exploded. But is this just a health fad, or the result of more awareness and diagnoses? Or are we seeing an actual increase in gluten sensitivity and celiac disease today? Although awareness has grown, research shows the increase is not the result of increased detection clinically. Instead, one study showed the rates of gluten sensitivity have risen dramatically over the past 50 years, from one in 700 people to one in 100. If the study had looked not just at celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten, but also gluten sensitivity, an immune reaction to gluten, the numbers would have been much higher.
Gluten is different today thanks to hybridization and deamidation
The gluten you eat today is not the same gluten you ate as a child, or your parents or grandparents ate. Although not technically genetically modified, gluten has nevertheless been significantly hybridized and deamidated over the years, processes that have rendered it inflammatory to humans. Hybridization has created a “new wheat,” one that appears more prone to trigger immune reactions, especially in the brain and nervous system.
Deamidation, which is used extensively in the food processing industry, has also made gluten more immune reactive. Deamidation uses acids or enzymes to make gluten water soluble (it is normally only soluble in alcohol) so it mixes more easily with other foods. Although deamidation makes wheat easier to use, research has also been shown it creates a severe immune response in people.
The hybridization and deamidation of wheat appear to play a role not only in the sharp increases of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, but also in inflammation, degeneration, and even autoimmunity of the brain and nervous system.
Gluten intolerance and celiac disease primarily affects brain and nervous tissue
Many people do not think they have a gluten intolerance because they do not have digestive issues. However, research shows only a minority of people with a gluten intolerance have digestive issues. For most people the intolerance manifests in the skin, the joints, the thyroid, etc. In fact, the tissues most commonly affected by gluten are brain and nervous tissue. Studies have found associations between gluten sensitivity and disorders in every major part of the nervous system, including the brain, the spinal cord, and the nerves that extend into the arms and feet.
Unfortunately, despite the research, most doctors today do not understand gluten sensitivity or the effects of gluten on the brain. It is up to you to protect your brain health.
Standard gluten testing fails to diagnose many people
One reason doctors don’t understand gluten sensitivity is because conventional testing is substandard and fails to diagnose many people. Testing for a gluten sensitivity is much more complex than most people and the standard health care model realize. Most labs only test for antibodies to a portion of gluten called “alpha gliadin,” which, thanks to current research, we now know is extremely limited and produces many clinically negative results. There are many other portions of wheat to which people can have an immune reaction that impacts the health of the brain and nervous system.
You can react to more than one gliadin
Gluten is made of a sticky portion called “glutenin” and a protein portion called “gliadin.” Gliadin is further broken down into alpha, omega, and gamma gliadin. As I mentioned before, most labs only test for alpha gliadin antibodies, which is most commonly associated with celiac disease. Even worse, they do not report this limitation in test results. The reports usually state “gliadin” antibody, but do not specify it is alpha gliadin. The result often comes back negative, doctors tell patients they can eat gluten, and patient health further deteriorates. When the patient finally tests for the other branches of gluten, the results show severe gluten sensitivity. I have seen this happen many times.
You can react to glutenin in wheat
Glutenin, the sticky portion, makes up 47 percent of the total protein content of wheat and is responsible for the strength and elasticity of wheat dough. Most labs do not test for glutenin sensitivity because it was believed glutenin is not immune reactive. However, this has been disproven. Many people have severe reactions to glutenin but show normal results on the basic gliadin antibody test.
You can react to deamidated gluten
As I mentioned earlier, deamidation is used by the food processing industry to make wheat water soluble and deamidated gliadin has been shown to trigger a severe immune response in people. Many people will never test positive on a conventional gliadin antibody test, but will have profound immune reactions to deamidated gliadin. If you suffer from impaired brain function, testing for deamidated gluten is critical.
You can react to lectins in wheat
Many people react to the lectin portion of wheat. Lectins bind sugars and carbohydrates together. In wheat they are called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) and the highest concentration of WGA is found in whole wheat and sprouted wheat. WGA can pass through the blood-brain barrier and attach to the myelin sheath, the protective coating on nerves. This can inhibit nerve growth factor, a chemical critical for neuron growth and health. Many people never test positive for gluten antibodies but have a WGA sensitivity. For these people eating lectins may cause a severe inflammatory response and destroy neurons.
Your brain can produce gluten opioids
People may also react to gluten opioids, which is different than a reaction to gliadin, glutenin, or WGA. An immune response to opioids takes place in the nervous system and can be measured by antibodies to gluteomorphin and prodynorphin. Gluteomorphin is an opioid peptide formed during the digestion of gluten. Prodynorphin is an opioid that is the basic building block of endorphins. If a person has elevated antibodies to these compounds gluten may cause a neurological reaction. The most difficult thing about an opioid sensitivity is that going gluten-free can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, including depression, mood swings, or abnormal bowel activity. It is similar to withdrawal from opioid drugs such as heroin. If this occurs the person must hang in there for a couple of weeks on a strict gluten-free diet and deal with the withdrawal symptoms until they’ve kicked the gluten addiction.
People can have an autoimmune response to more than one transglutaminase enzyme
Positive transglutaminase antibodies indicate gluten triggers autoimmunity. The problem with labs today is they test only for antibodies to TG2, the intestinal transglutaminase, which indicates an autoimmune reaction in the gut. They also list the test results as “transglutaminase” and never specify it is only TG2. If you have neurological issues possibly stemming from gluten, you also need to evaluate TG6, which is is found in the nervous system and is associated with neurological destruction triggered by gluten.(TG3 is found in the skin and is associated with skin outbreaks triggered by gluten, such as dermatitis herpetiformis.)
How to properly test for gluten sensitivity
I use a more comprehensive panel from Cyrex Labs for my patients that has revealed countless misdiagnosed issues of gluten sensitivity. It is called the Wheat/Gluten Proteome Sensitivity and Autoimmunity Panel.
If the test shows you are gluten sensitive you should avoid gluten at all costs. If you have positive reactions to any of the transglutaminases, it means you have an autoimmune reaction and should consider further screening for antibodies to neurological tissue if you suffer from brain decline.
When going gluten-free is not enough
Often going gluten free is not enough for many people and they must eliminate other foods to calm inflammation or the immune system’s attacks again brain and nervous tissue. These foods can include other grains, all forms of dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, yeast, sesame, and more. I run a food-sensitivity panel for my patients to determine which foods are triggering an immune reaction.
Following a strict anti-inflammatory diet can be difficult, but many people come to love it because they feel and function so much better.