As of 2012, half of all adults in the U.S. reported one or more chronic health conditions. Approximately 117 million adults (one in four) had two or more chronic health conditions with heart disease and cancer at the top of the list.1 It is also reported that over 50 million Americans suffer from multiple autoimmune conditions.2
Decades of work by scientific researchers to identify commonalities between these pervasive conditions has successfully linked inflammation to many chronic health conditions.3
Recent research has also identified that the components within certain grains, such as gliadin, gluten, and lectins, play a significant role in chronic disease due to the inflammatory responses they cause. In gluten-sensitive and celiac individuals, various degrees of inflammation can occur in and out of the gastrointestinal tract.4,5 The ability to identify these grains as a piece of the puzzle in autoimmunity and chronic conditions6 has been extremely helpful in closing the gap between diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Well documented gluten-related disorders include anemia, infertility, some cancers, and some autoimmune conditions. The New England Journal of Medicine listed over 55 “diseases” which were not commonly known to be associated with eating gluten including osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, most cancers, chronic fatigue syndrome, and most autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. Gluten has also been linked to many psychiatric and neurological diseases, while other controversial research reports gluten connections to autism and schizophrenia with remission by implementing a gluten-free diet.9, 10
Pioneers in the research of gluten-related disorders, like Dr. Alessio Fasano, are very transparent with the fact that the research is still in its infancy. Dr. Fasano explains, “Our research has shown that the immune system responds to gluten in different ways depending on genetic disposition and other factors, such as bacteria in the gut. This is important because, for the first time, we can help people who test negative for celiac disease but still react badly to gluten. In general, reactions to gluten fall along a spectrum that ranges from wheat allergy to celiac disease to gluten sensitivity.”11
Simply bringing awareness to the complexity of gluten’s interaction is offering us new insights in treating a broad range of diseases.
According to Mark Hyman, MD, an estimated 99 percent of people who have notable inflammatory responses to gluten have no idea it is happening.12 Commonly, chronic and mild symptoms are ignored or misdiagnosed with conditions that have overlapping symptoms.13 In other words, celiac disease and gluten sensitivity masquerade as dozens of other diseases with different names, likely representing a significant percentage of our chronic disease statistics.
Focusing on celiac disease diagnosis alone misses the bigger picture. There’s a spectrum of gluten intolerance. Just because you don’t have celiac disease doesn’t mean you’re immune to gluten’s harmful effects. Understanding there is a connection between gluten, inflammation, and disease should inspire anyone with a chronic condition to explore the possibility of gluten as a cause or catalyst, despite previous diagnoses related to gluten.
Tiffany is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and can be reached at (760)285.1221
References upon request.