What is Gluten Intolerance
There is much confusion regarding gluten intolerance these days. Mainstream medicine classifies gluten under the single heading of “Celiac Sprue” which is an inherited condition that causes serious allergic, gastrointestinal and immunological reactions when someone eats Gluten (a large complex protein) that is present in grains, such as wheat, barley, rye and oats. A person with Celiac disease has their own immune system attacking their intestines which result not only in the classic GI symptoms but also in very specific damage to the fingerlike villi that are located in the intestines. Thus the gold standard diagnostic tool for this type of Gluten reaction is a biopsy of the intestines looking for this very specific damage. Celiac Disease leads to severe malnourishment and possible development of other autoimmune illnesses later in life.
Then there is “Gluten Intolerance” which is much broader and usually undiagnosed. As many as 1 in 7 persons suffer with this broader Gluten sensitivity than true Celiac Disease. Since there is often no intestinal damage visible with this type of reaction, there is also not a widely accepted test for this type of Gluten problem. However, there is an immune test for IgA and IgG reactions for Gluten proteins. This test is what most alternative or holistic healthcare doctors use to diagnose this type of Gluten reaction. The majority of Gluten sensitive people will have a negative result upon tests for Celiac disease so it has been suggested that the correct term for these people should be Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitive (NCGS). Up until very recently it has been believed that some people were simply genetically predisposed to Gluten intolerance and would not develop symptoms until later in life, or when the intestinal wall becomes damaged. However, more recent science is leading us to believe that the immune system is indeed responding in these NCGS people, however, it is not specifically attacking just the intestines but other parts of the body as well including the liver, heart, joints, or even the brain.
Gluten sensitive people can experience many of the same GI symptoms as Celiac Disease people do such as diarrhea, alternating diarrhea and constipation, gas, bloating, and abdominal cramps and pain. However, more often they experience symptoms like headaches, mouth ulcers, skin problems like Eczema, malnutrition, anemia, chronic fatigue, brain fog, muscular aches and pains, to name just a few.
An additional issue that often needs to be dealt with is that Gluten intolerance causes the gut wall to become damaged and leaky. This leads to passage of intestinal particles into the bloodstream that creates a virulent allergic reaction and an over revving of the immune system, where the control switch is always in the “on” mode. This results in the patient often becoming sensitive to many other foods in addition to the Gluten itself. These additional food reactions result in further or overlapping symptoms and are often the culprit in such illnesses as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Asthma, Eczema, Autism, Depression, as well as such learning difficulties as ADHD.
The Need for Probiotics and Gut Healing
In order to digest complex proteins, like Gluten, a healthy gut micro-flora is necessary. A person needs a balance of about 85% “friendly bacteria” to about 15% “unfriendly” bacteria in the gut. The friendly strains of bacteria are the primary digestive activators for the complex Gluten protein. In case you are unaware of what probiotics are, they are the opposite of antibiotics. They are the natural, beneficial, “friendly” bacterial organisms known to help maintain a proper intestinal balance of the gut micro-biological organisms. Gut micro-flora are often destroyed and the balance damaged from the use of antibiotics, poor diet, harmful pharmaceuticals (e.g. steroids, chemotherapy, antacids). This imbalance results in an overgrowth of the unfriendly bacteria in the gut (a good reference book on this subject is by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride called “Gut and Psychology Syndrome”, Cambridge, England). Additionally, the presence of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) has been linked to the common symptoms seen in IBS, CFS, Fibromyalgia, Crohn`s disease, depression, ADHD, and some auto-immune diseases (e.g. multiple sclerosis, lupus.) by Dr. Pimental at Cedars —Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, California (See Pimental et al, 2000, Am.J.Gastroenterol.95(12):350-6.)
A healthy gut is full of many, many organisms but the friendly bacteria are among the first in the gut to be depleted so the Gluten sensitive person has a very real need for supplementation of these essential friendly organisms to not only help replenish their gut microflora but also to prevent bacterial species that would harm them from colonizing the gut—a barrier effect. Probiotic are known to induce certain cells to produce cytokine cells, that can either “up-regulate” (turn on the immune system) to fight infection, or “down regulate” the immune system when not fighting infection, so that auto-immune diseases are not so easily developed (Aubrey A. 2006.National Public Radio. Dec 10. “Your Health. Pros and cons of Probiotics”).