by Dr. Will Cole
The health and food industries have been radically transformed by the explosion of research in recent years addressing the potentially damaging effects of gluten and other components of the wheat plant on people. Due to the hybridization of wheat to maximize gluten content, heavy spraying with toxic desiccants, and a grain-centric culture that can hardly image a meal without some form of bread, gluten has become an insidious force.
Gluten specifically is one of the proteins in certain grains such as wheat, rye, spelt, and barley, and research is continuing to discover how highly inflammatory it is for many people. I would go so far as to say that gluten is the aspartame of the 21st century – maligned by the health community and defended by its loyal consumers and industry advocates.
You’ve probably heard of celiac disease. This autoimmune condition causes a reaction to the presence of the gluten protein that destroys the lining of the small intestine, drastically hindering nutrient absorption and causing inflammation and a leaky gut.
However, you don’t have to have celiac disease to have a reaction to gluten. What was once considered a fringe “diagnosis,” non-celiac gluten intolerance is now a legitimate diagnosis. But how do you know if you have it? The first thing to consider is whether you have any of the classic symptoms of gluten intolerance, which include:
- Other autoimmune conditions besides celiac disease
- Other chronic health issues, such as Hashimoto’s, Crohn’s, or adrenal fatigue
- Skin eruptions in the form of eczema, cold sores, or acne
- Chronic unexplained fatigue
- Chronic unexplained joint pain (or rheumatoid arthritis, another autoimmune disease)
- Indigestion, bloating, gas, heartburn, or other uncomfortable symptoms that occur after eating
- Congestion during or after eating
- Unexplained anxiety, moodiness, or irritability
- Chronic headaches or migraines
If this sounds like you, you may think you can just go to your doctor and ask to be tested. What a conventional doctor will typically do is to give you the gliadin or anti-transglutaminase antibody tests. The problem with these tests, when run alone, is that they’re often an incomplete view of underlying problems. Also, they are primarily tests for celiac disease, which you do not need to have to have an intolerance to gluten.
These tests do offer helpful but incomplete information:
- Gliadin, the protein component of gluten, has four different sub classifications: alpha, beta, gamma, and omega. The problem with the typical gliadin antibody test is that it only tests alpha gliadin. You could have a negative alpha gliadin antibody test but have a positive response against another form of gliadin. This quirk gives many the impression that gluten isn’t a problem for them, and they continue to feed their health problems with every meal.
- The anti-transglutaminase antibody test is run to rule out celiac disease, the autoimmune disease, which is known for its severe reaction against gluten. If you have celiac disease, you certainly want to know this information. However, if this is the only test your doctor does, he or she may not be aware of the increasing amount of research being done on non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). An estimated 18 million Americans may have some form of gluten sensitivity or intolerance.
So what tests should be done if you want to find out for sure if you have gluten intolerance? These are the main tests that I run on my patients to make a thorough diagnosis of gluten intolerance, or to rule it out and know to look elsewhere for the cause of symptoms:
1. Deamidated Gliadin
In many processed foods, wheat is put through a process of deamidation which makes it mix better with other ingredients. This chemical process also goes on in your intestines, which can further complicate the issue. Your body may tolerate every other form of gluten except deamidated gliadins. This test will help to clarify if that is the case for you.
Gliadin is not the only component to gluten. The other half of gluten is a compound called glutenin. This compound was once thought not to cause an inflammatory response in the body, but recent research has shown that it actually can be a problem for some people. Looking at just part of gluten is like having only part of the pieces to a puzzle. This test completes the puzzle.
Many of my patients feel worse when they first come off gluten. They’re probably detoxing off of gluteomorphins or gliadorphin. Gluteomorphins are opiate-like compounds that can make gluten a bit like an addictive drug. Coming off gluten can come with several days or weeks of irritability, brain fog, headaches, and lethargy. This test can clarify the reason for those symptoms.
Prodynorphins are necessary for your body to make endorphins. Their production can be suppressed in someone with gluten sensitivity, and this test can illuminate that condition.
5. Wheat Germ Agglutinin
Wheat germ agglutinin is the lectin component of wheat and can bind to nutrients to make them unusable in your body. They also can cause an immune response in your body, leading to chronic systemic inflammation. If this test is positive, you are reacting to a component of wheat that is not gluten but is nevertheless causing problems in your system.
6. Gluten Cross-Reactivity
This test can be the missing link for many people who are eating “gluten free” but are still having symptoms. When your body makes antibodies against gluten, those antibodies can also recognize proteins in other foods that have a similar structure. When you eat those foods, even though they don’t contain gluten, your body reacts as though they do!
Some common gluten cross-reactive foods are rice, corn, soy, quinoa, and buckwheat. To get the whole story, as you can see, a comprehensive health history and testing is necessary and can be a life changer for many people whose symptoms remain undiagnosed. When we clinically investigate these underlying issues, that information allows us to create a customized health program for the individual.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
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