How a Gluten-Free Diet Can Be Harmful

Gluten-Free Diets - Separating the Wheat from the Chat

Until only a few years ago, almost the whole of the scientific world maintained that the wheat protein gluten would provoke negative effects only in people with rare conditions such as celiac disease or wheat allergies. But by the early part of 2013, it was largely becoming accepted that some non-celiac patients could suffer from gluten or wheat sensitivity. Indeed, a consensus panel of experts now officially recognizes three gluten-related conditions: wheat allergy, celiac disease, and gluten sensitivity.

What percentage of the population should avoid wheat? About 1 in 1,000 may have a wheat allergy, and nearly 1 in 100 may have celiac disease. Celiac disease appears to be on the rise, though there’s still less than about a 1 in 10,000 chance an American will be diagnosed with celiac in a given year. Our best estimate for wheat sensitivity is in the same general range as celiac, slightly higher than 1 percent. That’s still potentially millions of people who may have been suffering for years who could have been cured by simple dietary means, yet who were unrecognized and unaided by the medical profession.

Although gluten sensitivity continues to gain medical credibility, we still don’t know how it works. We don’t know how much gluten can be tolerated, if it’s reversible or not, or what the long-term complications might be of not sticking to a gluten-free diet. Considering the lack of knowledge, people with gluten sensitivity should consider reintroducing gluten back into their diet every year to see if it’s still causing problems.

The reason health professionals don’t want to see people on gluten-free diets unless absolutely necessary is that, for the 98 percent of people that don’t have gluten issues, whole grains—including the gluten grains wheat, barley and rye—are health promoting, linked to reduced risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases.

Because some people have a peanut allergy doesn’t mean everyone should avoid peanuts. There is no evidence to suggest that following a gluten-free diet has any significant benefits in the general population. Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that a gluten-free diet may adversely affect gut health in those without celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergy. A study out of Spain, highlighted in my video, Gluten-Free Diets: Separating the Wheat from the Chat, found that a month on a gluten-free diet may hurt our gut flora and immune function, potentially setting those on gluten-free diets up for an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in their intestines. Why? Because the very components wheat sensitive people have problems with, like FODMAP and fructans, may act as prebiotics and feed our good bacteria.

Gluten, itself, may also boost immune function. After less than a week on added gluten protein, subjects experienced significantly increased natural killer cell activity, which could be expected to improve our body’s ability to fight cancer and viral infections. Another study found that high gluten bread improved triglyceride levels better than regular gluten bread.

Ironically, one of the greatest threats gluten-free diets pose may be the gluten itself. Self-prescription of gluten withdrawal may undermine our ability to detect celiac disease, the much more serious form of gluten intolerance. The way we diagnose celiac is by looking for the inflammation caused by gluten in celiac sufferers, but if they haven’t been eating a lot of gluten, we might miss the disease. Hence, rather than being on a gluten-free diet, we want celiac suspects to be on a gluten-loaded diet. We’re talking 4-6 slices of gluten packed bread every day for at least a month so we can definitively diagnose the disease.

Why does it matter to get a formal diagnosis if you’re already on a gluten-free diet? Well, it’s a genetic disease, so you’ll know to test the family. But most importantly, many people on gluten-free diets are not actually on gluten-free diets. Even 20 parts per million can be toxic to someone with celiac. Many on “gluten-free diets” inadvertently eat gluten. Sometimes gluten-free products are contaminated; so, even foods labeled “gluten-free” may still not be safe for celiac sufferers.

As editorialized in The Lancet, the irony of many celiac patients not knowing their diagnosis, while millions of non-sufferers banish gluten from their lives, can be considered a public health farce.


 

Though the medical profession now recognizes wheat sensitivity as a discrete entity, it’s still not clear if it’s actually the gluten to which people are reacting. For a review of the controversy, see Is Gluten Sensitivity Real?

In How to Diagnose Gluten Intolerance, I go step by step how someone may want to proceed who suspects they might be sensitive to gluten-containing grains.

More on the benefits of whole grains in general in Whole Grains May Work As Well As Drugs and Alzheimer’s Disease: Grain Brain or Meathead?

More on keeping our gut flora happy in videos such as Prebiotics: Tending Our Inner Garden and How to Change Your Enterotype.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Whatsername? / Flickr

  • Susanelizabeth

    For those with thyroid issues, like Hashimotos, it is advisable to stay away from gluten. When I eat gluten my TPO goes up. And so does my need for medication as I have to increase my meds. Plus my joints ache and I get incredibly dizzy. So I avoid it.

    • Vege-tater

      Hashimotos is an autoimmune issue that can be greatly improved my eliminating foreign animal proteins…at least for me. Once I stopped challenging my immune system lots of issues resolved! We are all different, but getting our gut in order can ameliorate a lot of issues that we’d never connect. Slowly adding a lot of cultured foods took it to the next level, I always have something bubbling away on my counter!

    • WFPBRunner

      Interesting….I have Hashimotos. About 7 years ago I went dairy-free and gluten-free for a different auto-immune issue. It wasn’t until I gave up meat, fowl, and fish that my Rx went from 2 mcg to 1.37–theory being that my gut started absorbing more of the medication and I needed less to maintain that sweet spot.

    • Kat Kamp

      You might have Celiac. I have Hashimoto’s and was extensively tested for Celiac. I don’t seem to have it, but I avoided gluten for 9 months because everyone says you should if you have Hashi’s. However, more research indicated that Hashimoto’s patients are just twice as likely to get Celiac.. so, 2 out of 100. My antibodies went down with medication, diet has not seemed to affect it much, but I have noticed as I went vegan I’ve required less medication.

  • Alan

    Hi Dr. Gregor,

    Since I suffer anytime I eat gluten, my scalp breaks out and is a mess, but take away the gluten and it settles down. But I want to address what I think is my issue and many don’t relate to why they are sensitive. In my case, I took two Z-Pack rounds of antibiotics within a 3 month period for a severe cold. Within one month I started having this rash on the scalp and upper back, shoulders and chest, that I had never had before. I suggest the the antibiotics caused damage to the intestinal lining allowing for the gut to leak into the body, now called Leaky Gut!

    I have been dealing with this problem for 5 years now. It comes and goes any time I eat gluten. Ironically I can eat sourdough with little issues. Also I was recently it could also be issues with artificial sweeteners and I used them for years. Now I am starting on the FODMAP eating plan to try to heal the gut from the damage done. Will see how it works out. Besides the scalp rash and breakouts that a dermatologist diagnosed as folliclitis, which was a total mis-diagnosis, the other issues related to the Leakey Gut are flatulence, poor digestion, constipation and so on. Hopefully I can solve my issues with the FODMAP diet, but I just wanted to lend info on what I am going thru and hopefully help others dealing with similar issues. We are not necessairly kooks who are sensitive to gluten. I think it is damage from drugs or sweetner chemicals that have damaged the gut lining that are making us sensitive to gluten, not that gluten is bad, although I am not sure on that either. And also possibly that there has been an increase in gluten in foods added to the problem.

    Anyway, I will leave it at that. Thanks for posting this report. Alan Eckert

    • Tom Goff

      Interesting. Apparently your experience with sourdough bread is not unique – breads made using traditional fermentation style methods are it seems tolerable by many people with coeliac disease also. Traditional artisan type breads may therefore be a dietary option for people who react badly to gluten.
      http://www.cghjournal.org/article/S1542-3565(10)00987-0/fulltext

  • Revolt

    I stopped eating Gluten for half a year now. Since I’ve done that, for the first time in 8 years my TSH has finally gone back to “normal” levels and my TPO has dropped aswell. I had been dealing with severe eczema for 3 years and I couldn’t control it. Guess what? It’s gone. Not eating gluten has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I won’t say everyone should do it, but give it a try for a month and see how your body responds. Listening to your body is something we should all do.

    • VegGuy

      Dr. O’Bryan recommends that everyone who has a health problem that is NOT improving from standard treatments should give gluten-free a try. After a few weeks add gluten back and note any changes in symptoms along the way. Even though I had no health problems, out of curiosity I tried gluten free for awhile and didn’t notice a whole lot except that I felt cleaner. When I added gluten back in I noticed increased body odor, intestinal gas, mild heart burn, phlegm in my throat and feeling gunky/dirty.

      • peseta11

        Revolt and VegGuy, your stories would be much more useful for others to evaluate if you sketched your diet before removing ‘gluten’, and what gluten-loaded foods you removed (and maybe how often or how much you had eaten before removal).
        Then we’d get a better notion of possible confounders.

  • Thea

    Does someone know the answer to this question?: As explained in the article above, celiacs disease is a genetic disease. So, I can’t figure out why celiacs isn’t diagnosed by looking directly at the genes. Why have people do some test which involves eating massive amounts of gluten for a month when you instead you could (I presume) just check the actual cause by looking at the genes? What am I missing?

    • Chessie

      I think the issue is that it’s expensive to get genetic testing done, but it’s a fairly minor thing to test you for antibodies to gluten. If you have celiac disease and have eaten gluten recently, a simple blood test will turn this up. Also, an endoscopy can indicate celiac disease, and if it does, your doctor will probably suggest the blood test as a confirmation.

      • Thea

        Thanks for your reply Chessie.

      • Karl Young

        That sounds reasonable, though I was under the impression that genetic testing was rapidly becoming both easier and cheaper to perform.

    • Trailmomma

      Hi Thea, I have Celiac and when my girls turned 1, I had them tested (when they had their general blood work drawn). The result, I was told, was that yes they “carry” the gene for Celiac. It was evident that it was there in their blood but that there is a 50% chance it may “turn on” and they will have Celiac which makes sense because I have it but my husband does not. That’s the way it was explained to me anyway. I kept my kids gluten free for their first year of life and maybe a smidgen more just to let their intestines form completely and then we slowly introduced it. Now they get a mix of gluten free things and non. They like both. They love gluten free noodles and pancakes but will eat regular bread (though they are not a fan of bread in general). Neither show the signs I had growing up but I do keep a close eye. I find they react more when they have dairy than gluten … another battle of mine. :)

      • Thea

        Trialmomma: That makes so much sense! I’m glad your girls are symptom free. I think your approach makes sense. They are lucky girls to have you.

    • VegGuy

      Just because we have the genes for something, doesn’t mean we will get it. So genetic testing can tell us who MAY get celiac, but not necessarily who has it or who will get it. Also, in order to have a positive confirmation for celiac disease, destruction of the intestinal villi has to be quite progressed. Why wait until your intestines have been almost completely destroyed to get a positive diagnosis?

      • Thea

        Thanks VegGuy! Trailmomma pointed this out to me too. I did a facepalm after reading her post. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.

    • robert kealhofer

      Genetic testing can be used to rule out celiac disease, but not diagnose it as all the responders have pointed out. Good question though as it sent me on a quick search.

      • Thea

        robert: Great addition to the discussion: ie the point about potentially using genetic testing to rule out celiac disease. Thanks for your reply.

    • E

      Celiac disease is sn autoimmune disease snd it os not always genetic.

      • Benjamin Richardson

        It is always genetic in the sense that people that have neither the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes cannot ever become celiac. On the other hand, having one or both of these genes is a necessary but insufficient condition for development of celiac disease, which need an epigenetic trigger of some kind.

    • Richard Barry

      They do actually but it’s usually a precursor to measuring inflammatory markers. Also about half of the population have the celiac gene (DQ8 gene I believe) though this hardly correlates to the number of ppl affected. My guess is there’s a lot of environmental factors at play.

      • Jim Felder

        I started to write that perhaps it might be do to exposure of infants to gluten too early before their intestines are mature enough, remembering back to when my kids were babies and being told not to introduce wheat before 6 months of age, and from that wondering if perhaps 6 months was still too early. But I stopped to do a quick search and found several sources including this WebMD article that says the opposite. That introduction to gluten at 4 months while still breast feeding helds the infant build up an oral tolerance for gluten. Isn’t the internet wonderful!

  • Sydney Groat

    I have been gluten-free (grain free) for a year and my gut health is better than ever. I am the healthiest I have ever been. I am very regular and haven’t had any stomach problems or other illnesses the entire year. Not even a cold.

    • Mateusz Szejna

      good but that doesn’t mean that gluten was cause of ur issues, there more to the story like fodmaps taht were more likely to cause digestive discomfort

  • Paul

    I’ve always been bemused by the anti-gluten craze. At first it seemed like a meatist way to get folks steered toward paleo and Atkins and to demonize vegan diets or healthy whole grains in general. Now I guess they’re doing more research on it, and some people actually do have sensitivities.

    How much gluten do people actually have to eat to get their “reactions,” though? Will a sandwich do it? A serving of pasta? I admit I don’t eat much bread and haven’t for years, but I do keep that Ezekiel cardboard stuff around for friends. About once a year I might eat a CLT (cucumber, lettuce, tomato) sandwich but really I’m just not into bread anymore. I eat WW pasta about 1-2x a week.

    Interesting point about the gluten-frees reintroducing it back into their diets since the health benefits are so significant.

    • Benjamin Richardson

      Knowledge of the existence of celiac disease and wheat allergy is not new or recent Paul. There have been very good reasons for some people to avoid gluten for a long time. By contrast understanding of ‘Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity’ and FODMAP sensitivity is developing. However all of these things summed together cannot account for the popularity of gluten-free foods, which also is driven by perceptions, correct or incorrect, that there are other reasons to eat gluten-free.

      The question “How much gluten . . . to get reactions?” is “It varies”.

      I am a celiac. Even celiacs, who probably have the least ability to tolerate gluten and suffer the worst effects from consuming it, have a range. However the range for celiacs is assessed as being in the micrograms, which is why 20 parts per million is the established “gluten-free” threshold for foods in the US and Europe. 20 parts per million is the equivalent of some grains of flour, within your sandwich which is why even accidental cross-contamination presents a very serious health threat to celiacs.

  • aGreenMom

    A lot of the gluten free baking products are not the best – often containing lots of additives, non-organic potato starch and other more processed ingredients. If wheat works for you, I would avoid these gluten free substitutes. Having said that, I see no reason that wheat must be included in the diet. Plenty of cultures have thrived on primarily rice based diets, for example. There is rice gluten in rice, so this would not be a technically “gluten free” diet, but could easily be a wheat gluten free diet. Is there any evidence that forgoing wheat if other healthy whole grains are used is a problem?

    Also, I don’t see a lot of discussion on this otherwise quite excellent website about glyphosate treated foods. It seems that there is evidence that glyphosate (aka Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide for GMO foods) kills gut flora which can then lead the way to leaky gut, food proteins entering the blood stream and possible immune reactions to these foreign proteins. Dr. Stephanie Seneff of MIT says that glyphosate also blocks mineral absorption creating mineral deficiencies.

    Conventional wheat in the US (and flax seeds in many places), while not GMO, are still treated with glyphosate to ripen the crop prior to harvest. I would recommend avoiding conventional versions of these foods in addition to GMO foods in order to avoid glyphosate exposure.

    • guest

      aGreenMum made interesting points – you have mentioned the elephant in the room re Glyphosate. Glyphosate I suspect has created all kinds of problems. I take the harvesting of these other heavily sprayed crops as a helpful warning. Im trying to do the low wheat use with my family but be as organic as possible.

    • Jeroen

      Yes I also wondered whether those benefits of wheat cannot be obtain from other gluten free starchy whole foods as well, such as millet, whole grain rice or sweet potatoes.

    • Paul

      Dr. Greger has a video on glyphosate.

    • Jim Felder

      The use of Roundup on a substantial part of the wheat crop is an internet myth and is discussed in this article on this topic at Snopes.

      Gluten is a protein only found in wheat, rye and barley. Eating gluten free means avoiding all products (including beer) made with these grains. Gluten is found in the endosperm of the grain (the white part) and so is present regardless of how refined the grain is or isn’t.

      The proteins in rice have a different structure than gluten and so rice is indeed gluten free and will not cause the allergic or immune system response that gluten will in those that are sensitive to that specific protein.

      • aGreenMom

        I don’t consider Snopes a reliable source based on their pathetic denials of vaccine safety issues.

        Nevertheless, I dutifully read this article and found it to provide no conclusive counter to the claim that glyphosate is applied to wheat and other non-GMO crops – just that the crops are not always “doused” with glyphosate.

        If EWG comes out with a comprehensive study looking for pesticide residues on conventional wheat and finds none, I might return to buying conventional wheat products for my children – meanwhile, organic is a safer bet.

        • Wilma Laura Wiggins

          I agree about Snopes. Farmers have told me they use it and tried to defend it as safe.

        • Jim Felder

          Well, I guess it is possible that the vast majority of wheat farmers have completely and unnecessarily changed the way they grow wheat since I worked with my Grandfather and Uncle on the family wheat farm in Northeast Oklahoma. The methods used are the same as their neighbors and haven’t changed to the current day. Well since I visited my uncle two years ago and asked him about this very practice. Wheat simply doesn’t need to be sprayed with a defoliant for the vast majority of the wheat growing region in the US and is only used in the fringe area in northern Canada where the natural lifespan is too long for their very short growing season. Everywhere else there is more than enough time for wheat to go through its natural lifecycle. The natural life cycle of wheat is that when the seed head is mature the plant dies. The golden waves of grain, those are dead wheat plants ready to be harvested. Selective breeding has resulted in wheat that is incredibly uniform in its maturation rate so that every single wheat plant reaches maturity and is ready to harvest at the exact same time. So there is simply no reason to waste money spraying wheat. Again save those who are trying to grow wheat where it really shouldn’t be grown.

      • Tom Goff

        The conspiracy nuts will never believe you – they have made up their mind and irrelevant trivia like the facts will never sway them.

      • Greg_X

        Glyphosate gives directions for use on pre-harvest wheat call for application 1 to 2 weeks before harvest. This causes the wheat to be uniformly ready for harvest & substantially increases the yield in many cases. According to USDA:NASS, Glyphosate use on wheat increased 80 fold between 1990 & 2009. My grandfather grew wheat on his farm in Missouri, and considered the use of herbicides essential to maximize yields. It’s a tough business relying on current market prices and the weather, both unpredictable from one year to the next. It’s easy to believe Monsanto’s claim of harmlessness because it only blocks certain amino acids in plants & not in people, plus the disinformation they propagate through other apparently innocent sources. They would prefer people not focus on its effect on gut microbiota, its carcinogenic qualities, & potential allergic & mutagenic reactions it might cause.

    • Wilma Laura Wiggins

      I was thinking just like you. Well said.

    • kerry

      Well, first I lost quite a bit of weight going grain free. OK, so it may not have been the gluten; whatever. Then I was in a bread shop and couldn’t find gluten free except for soy bread. Thought I would give that a miss and opt for ORGANIC WHEAT. After some stomach problems with it, I researched if glyphosate was used for organic wheat. To my surprise, it was!! – so much for organic.

      • What?!!! Please give a reference for this info! I was under the impression that no product claiming to be organic could be sprayed with glyphosate. Of course you are still taking your chances on glyphosate cross contamination from other fields, etc.

        I subscribe to the theory that glyphosate and its leaky gut causing effects are what is to blame for the massive rise in gluten sensitivity. After eating wheat every day for my entire life, about three years ago I started breaking out in a maddeningly itchy, blistering rash all over my face and neck every other time I ate. My eyelids were spontaneously blistering, so after much denial and tears, I had to face reality that gluten was causing the rash.

  • Vege-tater

    It says: “About 1 in a 1,000 may have a wheat allergy, and nearly 1 in a 100
    may have celiac disease. Celiac disease appears to be on the rise,
    though there’s still less than about a 1 in 10,000 chance an American
    will be diagnosed with celiac in a given year.”
    Seems like it should be the other way around?

  • Greg_X

    Those self testing for Gluten sensitivity should use Organic wheat products to be sure their reactions are not caused by the Glyphosate found in most commercial wheat. Roundup is now commonly used in the harvesting of wheat. There have been some reporting adverse effects to commercial wheat products, but not Organic.

    • Jim Felder

      The use on Glyphosate in the harvest of most commercial wheat is an internet meme that is not true. Checkout the entry on this topic at Snopes to see how this particular myth got started and what the actual information is.

      • Rebecca Cody

        I don’ trust Snopes at all.

      • Wilma Laura Wiggins

        Find another source to believe. Go check out how they grow and harvest wheat.

      • Tom Goff

        Thanks Jim. I wondered why nobody ever published any data to substantiate these claims – now I know.

      • Greg_X

        Glyphosate directions for use on pre-harvest wheat call for application 1 to 2 weeks before harvest. This causes the wheat to be uniformly ready for harvest & substantially increases the yield in many cases. According to USDA:NASS, Glyphosate use on wheat increased 80 fold between 1990 & 2009. My grandfather grew wheat on his farm in Missouri, and considered the use of herbicides essential to maximize yields. It’s a tough business relying on current market prices and the weather, both unpredictable from one year to the next. It’s easy to believe Monsanto’s claim of harmlessness because it only blocks certain amino acids in plants & not in people, plus the disinformation they propagate through other apparently innocent sources. They would prefer people not focus on its effect on gut microbiota, its carcinogenic qualities, & potential allergic & mutagenic reactions it might cause.

      • Thea

        Jim Felder: I just got around to reading that article you posted to. It was very thorough and very helpful. Thanks for the link.

    • Wilma Laura Wiggins

      Yes I agree. That’s what I did and it seems I’m fine as long as I stick or organic.

  • Karl Young

    At one point I heard some speculation that introduction of certain GMO crops that were pest resistant by actually increasing cases of leaky gut syndrome in insects might be leading to an increase in gluten sensitivity in humans. That sounds like an extremely difficult hypothesis to study but I was curious as to whether anyone has heard of any such attempts.

  • D.A.

    MTHFR mutations may be a third reason non celiac folks may choose a gluten free product. -The first two being Hashimotos and needing a Low FODMAP diet to mitigate intestinal issues. All processed wheat flour has folic acid added. Those with MTHFR mutations do not convert folic acid into folate and their already reduced ability to absorb folate from food is further blocked by the folic acid as I understand it. -So many issues come from our habitual consumption of highly processed foods. The “Whole Foods” Plant Based Diet is key to recovery.

  • aribadabar

    It is a sloppy use of definitions which make it all sound confusing:

    for the 1 in 1000 of a wheat *allergy* is defined as:

    Wheat allergy In WA children, wheat ingestion elicits typical immunglobulin E (IgE)‑mediated reactions of immediate onset, including urticaria, angioedema, bronchial obstruction, nausea, and abdominal pain, or systemic anaphylaxis in severe cases. Late manifestations appear about 24 h after wheat ingestion and include gastrointestinal symptoms and exacerbation of atopic dermatitis. In adults, allergy to ingested wheat seems to be infrequent, with a prevalence of about 0.1%,and may lead to exacerbation of atopic dermatitis or gastrointestinal symptoms.

    http://pamw.pl/sites/default/files/PAMW_2013-12_Picarelli.pdf

    So for the Wheat Allergy is the most life-threatening form of sensitivity, not what is commonly assumed, as SOME sensitivity.

    Any idea how they arrived at the “1 in 10,000 chance an American will be diagnosed with celiac in a given year”?

  • marysaunders

    For a complex discussion of the issues with glyphosphate, here is a link. Manufacturers of herbicides pay people to dispute this science, but I do not find their work to match the careful work of researchers such as these. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945755/

    • Tom Goff

      After looking at the author information, the other publications that have cited this one, and the fact that it is published in a somewhat obscure Slovakian journal, I can’t say that I share your apparent acceptance of this article’s thesis. Organic is always better and pesticide residues are definitely concerning, but I’d still like to see more evidence before accepting the argument in this article.

  • Liz

    The very best, & simplest, cure for snoring, and sleep apnoea, is to go gluten free.

    It took my partner 3 days to stop snoring, and about 2 weeks for his sleep apnoea to

    totally disappear, once he stopped eating gluten foods.

    Now if he eats gluten, yep, you guessed it, he snores, and his sleep apnoea starts

    again – he’ proven it over & over again.

    Our Clinical Nutritionist advised us of the gluten-causing problems.

    I myself was starting to have stiff feet on arising, then the same was happening in

    my knees. I went cold turkey off gluten, and after 3 days had no more stiff feet or

    knees, and my reflux disappeared, none of which has returned after 8 years of

    eating gluten-free.

  • Chicov

    Another component to throw in the mix is Roundup herbicide. Up to 80% of wheat grown in our country is sprayed with Roundup 10 days prior to harvest. As the wheat dies all the berries mature at the same time making harvest easier and more profitable. The herbicide is on long enough to be absorbed into the fruiting berries. This may be the reason some including myself have persistent aches and pains seemingly form inflammation when eating wheat products. It takes a few days to show itself and is product dose dependent. The more I eat the worse the pains until near complete mobility impairment. Four days to a week of no wheat and much improvement.

    • John

      Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the commercial product called Roundup, so you are talking about the same thing as they did above. I agree with what you’re saying though. John S

    • Tom Goff

      It is very easy to mislead with statistic claims like these. For example, if the real figure is in fact 1%, the claim that “Up to 80% of wheat grown in our country is sprayed ..” is still technically correct. But obviously misleading. Is there any hard data?

  • Nigel Oswyn

    Hypochondriacs are a funny bunch.

  • AlanTobey

    Are we no longer talking about objective blood tests that don’t depend on subjective reports? In 2009 I was diagnosed with nonceliac gluten intolerance via the very high level of IgA antibodies to gliadin in my blood when eating wheat. Going to a gluten-free diet cured my digestive issues in days and my snoring overnight; and I lost 21 pounds (from 192) in 5 weeks. All of my active symptoms were consistent with a systemic inflammatory response triggered by my immune system misidentifying gliadin fragments as dangerous invaders. (Celiac is a different condition related to IgA antibodies to glutenine, a different component of gluten.)

    Or so my doctors and I figured out 7 years ago. Is this now all discredited?

    • Tom Goff

      No. As Dr G noted in his first paragraph above:
      Indeed, a consensus panel of experts now officially recognizes three gluten-related conditions, wheat allergy, celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.”

    • baggman744

      Great that you got a proper diagnoses. Most people are left guessing. Thanks for posting, I hope they read this.

    • Benjamin Richardson

      Not entirely Alan, but there is some question about whether Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) exists as a condition distinct from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBAS) and FODMAP sensitivity since they are so similar in their symptoms and cause. However I believe that the weight of evidence is now pointing to NCGS being a recognizable condition. Recent key publications are –

      Evidence for the Presence of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity in Patients with Functional Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Results from a Multicenter Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Gluten Challenge – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26867199

      Small Amounts of Gluten in Subjects With Suspected Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Cross-Over Trial – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25701700

      Diagnosis of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS): The Salerno Experts’ Criteria – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26096570

      • Thea

        Benjamin: Great posts and information! Thank you!!

      • AlanTobey

        Thanks for providing more confirming evidence that NCGS is a verifiable condition (and, I believe, distinguishably different from IBS or FODMAP). But my post raised a different issue: Why is diagnosis still almost solely dependent on user reports of their perceived or imagined symptoms when objective blood tests for IgA antibodies to glutenine and gliadin are available that reliably identify the condition? Has something changed over the last few years to discredit these once-standard tests?

        • Benjamin Richardson

          Alan if you say that these tests were once standard as a reliable means of diagnosing NCGS I would ask in return, standard for whom? Given that NCGS itself is still not universally recognized within medical practice as a discrete condition and the recognition that it does have is built upon relatively recent (last few years) clinical research, this would say there also has not been a standard means for many medical practitioners to diagnose it.

          I caveat that I am interested but not very well informed about this field and welcome new knowledge!

          The “Salemo Expert’s Critera” for diagnosis of NCGS dated to 2015 represents an expert consensus and within the paper, section 2.3 titled “Monitoring the Gluten Elimination/Reintroduction Effects by Biomarkers” addresses the use of biomarkers, I copy paste below a part of that section. I think you might find it interesting.

          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4488826/

          “Although the most specific CD serological markers, such as IgA class anti-transglutaminase and anti-endomysial antibodies, are negative in NCGS patients by definition, IgG class antibodies directed against native gliadin (AGA) are found more frequently in these cases (about 50%) than in the general population, when eating a gluten-containing diet. Therefore, the finding of isolated IgG-AGA positivity may be a clue to the diagnosis of NCGS, particularly in subjects with extra-intestinal manifestations.”

          Kind regards

          • AlanTobey

            This subthread is getting beyond my scientific competence, so let me just close it with a comment: even though references such as the last you provided above point to the objective existence of NCGS, your articles are dismissive of the possibilities based largely on the unreliability of patients’ subjective reports. I believe you’d be more helpful if you could also mention the role of objective testing as at least part of the diagnostic process for both types of gluten intolerance (which btw we’d benefit from calling Type 1and Type 2 on the diabetes model instead of celiac and non-celiac)

            Your site, in fact, seems to show some irrational confirmation bias when it comes to gluten intolerance — you publish what supports conclusions you have already reached and ignore other data. As a silly example, another recent post favored eating wheat because of the potential benefits of compounds only in the whole grain — and ignore the obvious point that many non-gluten whole grains exist that likely convey similar benefits. Gluten-free eaters, for example, depend on breads and flour blends rich in brown rice flour. A little more research would give your posts here more credibility.

            But many thanks for following up. There is still more for all of us to learn.

          • Benjamin Richardson

            Howdy Alan, I do not own or operate any site and I do not publish anything. I am not a scientist, I am not involved in research, I am just an individual celiac who was aware of published research which appeared to be of interest to you. As such I am finding the comments you have directed to me very very odd :-)

  • sssa

    Thats why its better to eat eggs and meat, veganism is not all cracked up to be what it is, wheat is bad, sorry vegans

    • Tom Goff

      Logic is not your strong suit then?

      • LBE

        There are still beneficial fiber etc. and whole grain benefit from non-gluten grains, such as rice, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth etc. Yes???

        • Tom Goff

          Yes. That is precisely what Dr G writes in the quote in my last post ie
          ” ….. for the 98 percent of people that don’t have gluten issues, whole grains—including the gluten grains wheat, barley and rye—are health promoting, linked to reduced risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases”
          None of which supports the claim made in ssa’s original post.

    • Jan

      Huh?

  • AMB

    When it comes down to an important issue such as my health, I’ve learned over the years how to follow the knowledge, simply put, those with the most consistent research proves to be of value. Finding two or three professionals to agree on the best approach to any issue seems to be a rare thing now a days, but its that consistent desire for balance which led me to this blog. Men and Women of medicine who practice health care as opposed to SICK care, fascinate me. Lets face it, medicine is necessary, and so is nutrition, so why then is it not equally valued by physicians and patients alike? Why are physicians not trained equally in both, so they can pass the knowledge to their patients? I’m grateful that Dr. G with all of his professional accolades, seems to be a man of integrity. So is Dr. Jon Barron, aka… the miracle doctor and Mike Adams, aka… the health ranger. The advice I trust the most however, comes from a 30 plus year old company with an army of research professionals and published papers, who seems to have found the perfect balance between the natural and the synthetic. http://whybioscan.com/

  • TR M

    So what other foods can act as prebiotics for our beneficial bacteria in place of wheat? Gluten is made up from glutenin and gliadin proteins. Which of those 2 has the beneficial aspects? One? Both?
    Much more research required.

    • Benjamin Richardson

      There are some good answers to this question, many of which are captured within this review paper published in the Journal ‘Nutrients’

      Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705355/

      If you are very interested in learning about prebiotics and microbiota then I can heartily recommend taking the free online course (MOOC) offered via Coursera called “Gut Check: Exploring Your Microbiome”. The course is delivered by the Knight Lab, reference Rob Knight, a leading research lab producing new understanding of our microbiome, what influences it, and what it influences.

      A similar question I would really like to know the answer to myself is to what extent the positive health benefits associated with consumption of whole grains can be explained by their fiber content and are there any benefits which they provide independent of their fiber content? For example, if a person removes grains from their diet but replaces those with foods, for example vegetables, which result in a maintenance or increase of fiber intake, what is the expected health outcome?

      I do find it frustrating that in almost every occasion I see media reporting on studies which have found benefits from whole grain consumption diets with higher whole grains have been compared against diets higher in refined flours, sugar and oils, instead of diets richer in vegetables. No surprise that whole grains win those fights. I want trials that compare whole grains against vegetables!

      • TR M

        Thanks for the info. The link and course look very good. I’ll check them out.
        I too am left wondering why compare whole grains to refined flours etc instead of comparing them to veggies.

        • Benjamin Richardson

          I *think* this is because within dietary studies conducted within Westernised populations if you look at what is typically present within diets low in whole grains it is not high quantities of vegetables and fruits, and is refined flours, sugars, oils and animal products. The majority of such studies are also observational meaning they cannot change this, only observe it.

          There are certainly studies, and I apologies for not listing them right now, but they are studies that Dr Gregor has referenced in some of his videos that demonstrate significant health benefits related to increased consumption of vegetables and fruits.

          So there is evidence linking whole grains to health outcomes and evidence linking vegetable and fruits to health outcomes

          I expect that the difference between whole grains, their fibre content, and the extent to which vegetables and fruits can entirely substitute for and provide the benefits of whole grains is not a particularly pressing area for research. It is interesting to me because I choose to eat mostly grain-free as a means of helping to completely avoid gluten, cross-contamination with gluten and without replacing gluten with refined flours and starches. I do consume pseudo-grains – Quinoa and Buckwheat

  • Alison Stevens

    Sorry Michael Greger, I have been so ill for 25 years with Fibromyalgia and I now know for 8 years (however diagnosed last year with Grade 4 Osteoarthritis) that when I was told I should just continue on so many medications to keep my Fibro at bay (which it did not) I was taking 8 different medications including Morphine for the Pain of the Bone on Bone knees and having Osteoarthritis in ALL joints, not even being able to open a bottle of water without using an aid, I also was having to use crutches to walk as the pain was so intense, and joints double their size.
    Since being told it is my age and wear and tear, no solution (eventually have joints replaced), I decided to look into what I could do to reduce the inflammation in all my joints and to help with Fibro and all the effects including Fibro Fog tired upon tired, no energy, etc etc.
    I chose to listen to NUTRITIONISTS who have a completely different outlook to you on coming away from WHEAT INLCUDING WHOLE WHEAT RYE BARLEY OATS. The best move I made was coming OFF ALL OF THESE, within 10 days of coming off All I found I could move easier my joints were not as swollen I also started to have more energy and even my skin etc started to look better, other people noticed and within 3 weeks (December the 1st) was my first day of going G/F by the time I saw my Rheumatologist on DEC 23rd she asked me how many of the medications I was taking to have improved. I told her I was now taking NONE of the prescribed meds, however I had started to eat CLEAN and I am taking GLUCOSAMINE/CHONDROITIN/MSM PURE ORGANIC TURMERIC with Bioperine I also take 5000-10000 mgs of VITAMIN C and for the last 4 weeks I take Collagen every day and I make my own Collagen, so as I am now heading into my 11/12 week of G/F and the healthiest I have EVER BEEN in 25 years, please do NOT tell me that going G/F should not really be for anyone who does not have a problem in the family, I have NEVER been diagnosed with an intolerance.
    This eating Clean has not stopped my Vertigo etc however that is fine because now I can get back to work after being off sick for 16 months.
    I suggest that at this moment anyone wanting to stop inflammation, joint damage missing cartilage (regrow your own with collagen both home made and purchased in powder form). You have nothing to lose but for me no need for joints to be cut out, I also am taking normally daily Bananas PAPAYA KIWI PINEAPPLE etc and of course Sea Salt and Flax seeds Pumpkin Seeds Sunflower Seeds Goji Berries Chia seeds (the latter I have to purchase) all of these help with the 90 minerals and salts that our bodies are missing daily, which the gluten affects by blocking the small intestine and stops the NUTRIENTS from passing through the body.
    I know this as this is my body.
    Maybe this will change and I may suffer eventually again but for now while I am able to Live and have ME BACK AGAIN, I shall stay away from GLUTEN, WHEAT OATS RYE AND BARLEY.
    Thank you.

    • Alison, I agree with everything you said one hundred percent! I have gone through a similar awakening as you, diagnosed with fibro as a teen after a flu shot and suffering greatly thereafter despite taking up to ten prescription medications a day. People will stay complacently sick as long as they allow MDs to be responsible for their health. When I finally took my health into my own realm of responsibility, I did thousands of hours of research on pubmed and other sites. I ditched sugar, started eating healthy fats, raw, organic, gluten free, supplemented curcuminoids and magnesium. Now i treat my ills with herbs and oils. Life is finally worth living. I didn’t even feel this healthy as a child. Also I highly recommend vitamin b12 5,000 mcg one to three times a day to lick disabling neuropathy. Its a freaking miracle. Now I feel like I Walk on Water.

  • Emma Kyte

    I want to eat wheat products, bread used to be one of my favorite foods, but I can’t deny that I seem to have an issue with wheat/gluten. I have a family history of IBD, Crohn’s & Colitis, though I never had any symptoms myself really. Probably because I’ve been vegan since I was a teenager. But after a period of great stress I started having digestive problems and noticed I kept getting joint and muscle pain and tried eliminating different things. As far as I can tell gluten seems to give me problems. I had some the other day after not having any for months and the following day had worse joint pain, headaches and my gums have been inflamed in one area for a few days. I am studying to be a dietitian and want to believe the science on this issue, but my body is telling a different story.

    • Thea

      Emma: I was with you right up until the last sentence: “I am studying to be a dietitian and want to believe the science on this issue, but my body is telling a different story.” As I understand the article above, the science is saying that gluten is a problem for some people, just not the vast majority of people. So, you are one of the people that gluten is a problem for. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the science is wrong concerning the statistics of how many people gluten is a problem for. Am I missing something?

      • Emma Kyte

        It’s just that a lot more people than 1% report having the same symptoms as me. Many of whom have negative results testing for wheat/gluten sensitivity. I have no family history of coeliac disease and until the age of 26 had no problems with gluten, which looking at what science currently understands as wheat sensitivity, it just doesn’t make sense for me to have it. So either the science is off somehow or there is more to this gluten issue than we can see currently.

        • Thea

          Emma: Thank you for clarifying your point. Dr. Greger explained in today’s blog post how people can falsely end up thinking that they have problems with gluten. And there are some pretty big negative consequences of not getting a correct diagnosis. So, it makes sense to me to get a correct diagnosis in this case rather than just trying a diet change.
          .
          Not that this advice is in direct contradiction to Dr. Greger’s normal advice about diet. Usually he is recommending people give diet change a try, because in the vast majority of cases, the side effects are only good. This is a different situation.

  • Bat Marty

    I knew gluten flattened the intestinal villi (how do you call them in english?) so it was bad for your intestines…is that not true, then?

    • Benjamin Richardson

      It is definitely true for a celiac. Villi is also the term used in english and villous atrophy, measured by the ‘Marsh Score’ is one of the measures of intestinal health, or absence of it, for celiac patients.

      However villous atrophy is not unique to patients with celiac disease. This American Journal of Gastroenterology Paper provides an example of patients without celiac that do have villous atrophy and the clinical challenge that this poses.

      Villous Atrophy and Negative Celiac Serology: A Diagnostic and Therapeutic Dilemma – http://www.nature.com/ajg/journal/v108/n5/full/ajg201345a.html

      • Bat Marty

        Thank you Benjamin! but couldn’t the athrophy still be caused by gluten? even if one doesn’t have celiac disease…

        • Benjamin Richardson

          Oh, please let me clarify, I know that gluten causes villous atrophy for celiacs. I do not know whether it does or does not cause villous atrophy in non-celiacs.

          Celiac is an auto-immune disease and In celiacs it is the auto-immune reaction in response to consumption of gluten, rather than gluten directly, that results in the atrophy. So in non-celiacs without this auto-immune reaction I am unfamiliar with how gluten could cause atrophy via a different mechanism. One possibility is provided by the ‘leaky gut’ theory and hypothesis and there are some excellently explanatory videos on Youtube presented by Alessio Fasano which I suggest if this subject is of interest (I cannot visit youtube to provide links right now sorry)

          • Bat Marty

            thank you I will check on youtube. My naturopath used t tell me to be careful of gluten because of that (in Italy we tend to eat wheat pasta every day and more than once a day too), I never studied this argument deeply though. I’ll try to see on Youtube as you said. Thank you Ciao :-)

  • Dave

    It’s interesting that anti-gluten advocates use the increase in killer cell activity after eating gluten as evidence that the gluten is causing an auto-immune reaction, yet here the same fact is used as a positive aspect of gluten.

  • Darryl

    I thought this article offered a great way of reframing fiber and FODMAPs:

    Sonnenburg ED and Sonnenburg JL, 2014. Starving our microbial self: the deleterious consequences of a diet deficient in microbiota-accessible carbohydrates. Cell metabolism, 20(5), pp.779-786.

  • vegank

    Hi
    Could Dr Greger & team consider doing a video on the rare metabolic disorder GLUT- 1 Deficiency and the effectiveness of gluten free diet ?

  • Dr.Reuven Rosenberg

    I just have trouble believing that a normal component of wheat which has been eaten by millions for thousands of years is suddenly the bad guy.

  • Lepus Ignis

    True Story.

    I’ve been gluten free (mostly) for many years now. For me the consequences of eating wheat products were a feelings of fogginess, fatigue, large cystic acne, and eczema. I also had persistent dandruff before I eliminated wheat from my diet. I’m happy to say that I haven’t had to use Head and Shoulders for almost a decade now and only break out when forced to eat delicious bread or apparently when my husband accidentally buys a folic acid fortified rice.

    While I could connect these symptoms to eating wheat products, I don’t have celiac and I’ve been tested for both gluten sensitivity and allergies with negative results. “What is going on here?” I wondered. I also had high homocysteine levels. And then a doctor tested me for the MTHFR mutation, something I’d never heard of before. It turns out I have the MTHFR 677CT mutation.

    Based on all of the above, I would hypothesize that the symptoms I get when eating gluten/wheat products are not the result of gluten, but in fact due to my impaired ability to process folic acid. And given the higher prevalence of people with MTHFR than those with actual celiac or gluten sensitivity, a large number of people who avoid wheat products and feel better are also unable to process folic acid properly.

    Happily, since I started supplementing with a folate my body CAN process, my homocysteine levels are normal. I take (6S)-5-methyltetrahydrofolic acid, one of the folate supplements recommended by my doctor as appropriate for me. Unfortunately, I still have to avoid all wheat products due to government mandated fortification.

    I appreciate that the government was trying to protect the general population by requiring supplementation in certain products. But as we continue to understand metabolism, genetics, and molecular structures at with more and more detail, it would be wise to consider that an atom or two can make a difference in the functioning of a chemical compound depending on individual DNA. What is helpful to some humans will in fact be harmful to others. The sooner we can test individuals to see what helps them and what harms them the healthier we will all be.

    And if anyone could tell me where to get folic acid free all purpose flour so my husband could make me some bread, I’d really appreciate it.