Food sensitivity is an adverse reaction to a food substance that does not follow the general allergy pattern.
A typical food allergy would be the type of reaction that some people experience when eating certain foods, commonly peanuts, pine nuts or some fruits. This could include swelling of the lips, hives and the inability to breathe due to swelling of the windpipe.
On the other hand, the symptoms of food sensitivities, which can include bloating, excessive gas, fatigue, hives, skin rashes, psoriasis and even migraine headaches are more vague and oftentimes slow to develop. Western physicians for this reason often miss food sensitivity.
Gluten sensitivity or intolerance is a growing category of food sensitivity that affects up to ten percent of the U.S. population. Celiac disease, which is an absolute intolerance to gluten in any form, affects about two percent of the U.S. population.1
As we understand the symptoms that may be caused by gluten intolerance, the diagnosis is becoming more common.
Gluten is a type of protein found in grains and includes all types of wheat as well as rye, barley and triticale. Some people have an inability to break down and digest the gluten molecule exposing the body to the full molecule in the small intestine, where it may enter the blood stream. In the brain, gluten may actually act as a neurotoxin.2
I have seen patients who suffer from chronic fatigue, dark circles under the eyes, insomnia, anxiety, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome3, allergies4, migraine and hives get better by simply removing gluten from their diets.
The remarkable resolution of symptoms with this simple dietary adjustment in people who do not have celiac disease warrants a closer look. Why gluten and why now?
One theory is simply a quantity issue. The amount of refined grains in the U.S. diet has increased exponentially in the last few decades, increasing our exposure to gluten.
Another theory relates to the engineering of the wheat plant in order to produce a higher gluten content. This is most likely a cost-savings issue for the food industry, as gluten is what gives bread its volume and stickiness.
You will often find gluten listed as an added ingredient in many mass-produced bread products. Some estimate that the wheat we are eating today contains up to sixteen times the amount of gluten as 30 years ago.
Our ability to adapt simply does not evolve as quickly as the food industry can engineer changes such as these in our food supply.
Among the benefits of a gluten-free include clearer thinking, improved ability to concentrate, less fatigue, steady energy levels throughout the day and the end to constipation.
Eliminating gluten from the diet opens the palate to more whole foods. Various vegetables, flax seed and quinoa (a wonderful gluten-free complete protein), provide the necessary fiber that is often missing in the daily food intake of the typical western diet.
A gluten-free diet is a lifestyle choice that may offer excellent benefits in the quality of your health. If you suffer from any of the ailments noted here, think about a four-week gluten elimination trial.
If gluten is a contributing factor to your symptoms, you will feel a marked improvement within 2 to 3 weeks. Have hope and be encouraged that there are other medication-free methods to achieving optimal health.
Vincent Pedre, M.D. is an Integrative, Holistic General Practitioner and Board-Certified Internist in private practice in New York City. Follow Dr. Pedre on Facebook.
1Troncone R, Jabri B. Coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity. J. Intern Med. 2011 Apr 11.
2M Hadjivassiliou, et al. Does cryptic gluten sensitivity play a part in neurological illness? The Lancet, 1996 Feb 10, Volume 347, Issue 8998, Pages 369-371.
3Verdu EF. Editorial: Can gluten contribute to irritable bowel syndrome? Am. J. Gastroenterol. 2011 Mar;106(3):516-8.
4Massari S, et al. Occurrence of Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity in Patients with Allergic Disease. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2011 Feb 22;155(4):389-394.