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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

Beyond Celiac Disease: the Problems with Wheat and Gluten

Jun 29, 2013 02:52PM ● By Ella McElwee

Those that suffer conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, irritable bowel problems or depression are unlikely to blame their breakfast cereal and certainly not the whole grains in their healthy diet. Although most people have heard of celiac disease, the illness is known to affect only a small portion of the population that has an autoimmune reaction when they ingest the gluten protein found in barley, rye and wheat. Yet, it may be time to think again.

Some medical experts are taking note of health problems related to gluten in individuals that have not been diagnosed with celiac disease, with a few estimates reporting as many as one in 100 people affected. In 2011, a panel of celiac experts convened in Oslo and settled on a medical term for this new malady: non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Some believe the condition is an under-diagnosed issue that is undermining the health of many people.

Cardiologist William Davis, M.D., who practices preventative medicine and authored the book Wheat Belly, proposes that eliminating wheat from the diet can help almost anyone lose weight and reverse a long list of health problems. He believes that wheat and gluten sensitivities may be the root cause of many cases of autoimmune disorders, cancers, liver disease and neurological and psychiatric conditions. In fact, he argues that the Western diet, heavily based in wheat breads, cereals, pastries and pasta, is making people ill.

The medical description of celiac disease involves damage to the gut wall that is detectable through tests for antibodies in the blood and is confirmed with a biopsy of the small intestine. In celiac disease, as the antibodies attack gluten, they also damage the villi that line the intestine, making them unable to absorb nutrients and leading to a host of serious complications. The most successful treatment involves the complete removal of gluten from the diet.

If Davis is right, celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are more widespread than is commonly accepted. By his estimates, they could be a factor in nearly 200 disorders, including diabetes, heart disease, immunologic disorders such as arthritis and asthma, and neurologic disorders, including dementia.

In addition, Davis suggests that wheat is not fully digested by most people, and therefore causes fermentation and gas. In addition, he suggests wheat can cause or aggravate inflammatory conditions in the body. There is also reason to believe that the indigestible protein may cause leaky gut syndrome, which is the passage of protein molecules into the bloodstream through the intestinal walls, resulting in toxicity.

Clinical nutritionists and naturopaths commonly suggest temporarily removing gluten from the diet to see if it makes a difference for a chronically ill client. A self-test for sensitivity involves taking a 14-day break from all wheat and gluten. Because they comprise hidden ingredients in many foods, it is best to center the diet on fresh foods, including gluten-free protein sources, vegetables and fruits.

After the 14-day break, it will be easy to notice if the body reacts when wheat and gluten are re-introduced. The reaction to the food may happen immediately or within 48 hours. Those with gluten sensitivities will feel drugged, tired, sluggish and foggy and may experience physical pain.

The foods people eat and digest should energize them. A food journal or app to track one’s diet and monitor mood, energy, pain, sleep and headaches is a useful tool to help individuals track their food intolerances. Another way to track the body’s reaction is to use the Coca Pulse Test, developed by Dr. Arthur Coca. Based upon the principle that stress caused by irritant foods accelerates the pulse rate, the technique involves tracking one’s own pulse at specific intervals throughout the day.

In Wheat Belly, Davis points out another important issue to consider: “The majority of wheat-free foods or gluten-free recipes do not give you truly healthy foods. Substituting wheat with cornstarch, brown rice starch, potato starch or tapioca starch, for example, as is often done in gluten-free recipes, will make you fat and diabetic.”

The key is not to get discouraged when trying to figure out the cause. The most effective way is to work with a health professional to solve the problem, as there might be some benefit from nutritional support. The healthiest and longest-lasting changes we can make are emotional and physical lifestyle changes, not just short-term diets. That means permanent changes that enable us to live a happier, healthier and better quality life.


Ella McElwee is the founder and director of the Health By Choice, Inc. Natural Health and Wellness Center and Natural Foods Store, in New Enterprise, and of Health By Choice at Weaver’s Natural Foods, in Manheim. She holds degrees in naturopathy and homeopathy, as well as a Ph.D. in natural sciences. For more information, call 800-858-3288 or visit

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