The case for going gluten-free


By Niki Gratrix

It is now estimated as many as 1 out of 5 people in the industrialised world have some form of gluten sensitivity  – and if you are sensitive, you are 39-72% more likely to die earlier than someone without sensitivity, and you are probably ten times more likely to develop all kinds of diseases, the main category being autoimmune disorders.

Autoimmune diseases are the third leading cause of death in the industrialised world. Scientists also know autoimmune processes are at work in the two top killers – heart disease and cancer – giving rise to a strong argument that autoimmunity is the number one cause of death.

If you ask the world-leading researchers who should be tested for gluten sensitivity they are saying: “Anyone who is sick.”

Sensitivity to gluten has gone up 400% since the 1950s. This is probably due to a combination of genetic modification using old style hybridisation of seeds used to grow wheat, and a general change in the Western diet to more processed and refined foods.

Another cause of sensitivity may be due to the “Stone Age man” argument as there is evidence to show many current chronic complex illnesses arose when the Agricultural Revolution took place and humans began eating more grains. For example, a recent study showed that more than 50% of the Australian population has the genetic propensity to develop Coeliac Disease!

For every person diagnosed with Coeliac Disease (CD), there are estimated to be a further eight that have full CD but because they have no gastrointestinal symptoms, they are never referred for the test.

Even if they have the test, it may be false negative up to 50% of the time as the standard test only confirms CD where there is “total villous atrophy”. This is the end stage of the disease. If the disease is in the earlier stage – i.e. only partial villous atrophy, or gut inflammation – the test accuracy plummets. These early stages of the illness are being called “Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity” (NCGS).

Why is this important? Because the largest study ever on CD showed that the mortality rate is higher in the NCGS group (72% higher) than the full CD group (39% higher). Researchers believe CD starts in childhood and takes decades to get to the end stage.

The second reason the standard test for CD is highly inaccurate, and misses the Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitive group is because the test only checks for antibodies against one type of gluten peptide (gliadin), whereas research clearly shows that many people react to a range of peptides which can exclude gliadin. Around 12 gluten peptides in total have been identified by researchers.

Children diagnosed with CD had a three-fold increase in long-term mortality whether they were on a gluten-free diet or not.

How can this be? Similar findings are documented in adult CD where rates of osteoporosis and poor nutrient absorption are found even after 20 years on a gluten-free diet. Most likely because it’s not enough just to take gluten out of the diet. Patients must heal the leaky gut and put out the self-perpetuating cascade of inflammation.

Two other reasons for a failure to improve on a gluten-free diet are:

1. The patient is not vigilant enough, still eats a “little bit” or decided to add more back later after taking time out from gluten. Researchers are finding that 1/90th of a piece of bread can cause symptoms for 6-8 weeks and gluten sensitivity is permanent.

2. Certain foods have been found to  cross-react with gluten, which means that if you are on a gluten-free diet but still eating these, your body still thinks you are eating gluten! The main ones are: all kinds of dairy (cow, goat, sheep, buffalo), coffee, and milk chocolate. Other foods, including all grains and potatoes, may also be cross-reacting.

Go to Niki’s blog to read a longer version of this article, which includes:

  • what coeliac disease can do to your health: a list of nearly 50 diseases and disorders associated with it
  • how to get tested for coeliac disease and for non-coeliac gluten sensitivity
  • tips for transitioning away from gluten
  • lists of gluten-free, and gluten-containing, foods

Go here to read the CAM magazine version of this article: “8 key facts: what every practitioner must know about gluten sensitivity”.

You might also be interested in Niki’s article, Celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and chronic fatigue syndrome: part 1 misdiagnosis and mortality on Health Rising, Cort Johnson’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia website.

I’m going to end this with a shocking 2004 case report cited in the above article:

A milligram of gluten a day keeps the mucosal recovery away

“A frustrated 34-year-old woman went to a celiac specialist to find out why, after following a gluten-free diet for a year, she was still not better. Testing revealed her antibodies were still sky high and she had total villous atrophy and osteoporosis. She was suffering from hair loss, poor skin and chronic fatigue, but had a good attitude.

The specialist asked how strict her gluten-free diet was. After being told she was still eating the odd amount every month, she was told to cut out gluten completely. A year later her energy was a bit better and her antibody results were high normal instead of sky-high, but her endoscopy results were still bad and she still had  hair loss and osteoporosis.

The specialist agreed she was indeed on a gluten-free diet but then discovered the lady was a nun, and she was eating a small piece of host (sacramental bread) daily. The specialist met the priest and asked for a sample of the host. The specialist measured it and found that a 30 mg fragment of wafer contains approximately 0.5mg of gliadin (1 mg of gluten).

The woman refused to give up her daily sacrament until her priest prevailed on her to do so. Eighteen months later the woman came back radiant with a full head of hair, a healthy small intestine and no chronic fatigue. The fragment of wafer was half a thumb size.”

Niki Gratrix, BA (Hons), Dip ION, mBANT, CNHC, is one of the UK’s leading nutritional therapists specialising in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E., and related illnesses. Further information, and more articles by Niki, here.

1 Comment

  • I’ve been avoiding gluten for donkey’s years. This article is an eye opener and a kick in the rear to give it up completely. My new mantra: a milligram of gluten a day keeps the mucosal recovery away !!

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