Autoimmune Disease and Gluten Sensitivity

© 2014 Dr. Sharon Norling

Do you have an autoimmune disease (AD), a chronic illness or unresolved conditions? You may have gluten sensitivity or intestinal permeability. Intestinal permeability can lead to gluten sensitivity and gluten sensitivity can lead to intestinal permeability.

Gluten sensitivity can develop antibodies which create tissue autoimmunity and has been shown to create autoimmune diseases. Perhaps you have been tested for gluten and the test came back negative. Often conventional labs are not comprehensive enough and report false negatives. New comprehensive specialty labs can now diagnose gluten sensitivity with much more accuracy.

According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA), one out of 12 men and one out of 9 women have AD. The statistics represent cases of actual AD.

Through laboratory testing and research we know that autoimmune disease can exist in the early silent stage with positive antibodies but without any significant loss of self-tissue. Identifying the cause of the inflammation and treating it can help prevent serious illnesses.

What Is Gluten All About?

We hear so much about gluten today. Why now? The problem is related to our food and lifestyle! Our foods have been genetically modified, hybridized and processed. We are also exposed to more toxins, pollutants, and demanding lifestyle schedules.

Gluten is a protein found in many grains which is sticky, gives elasticity to dough and makes food products chewy. Most people identify breads and pasta as sources of gluten. When they avoid these, they may think they are gluten-free but in truth, gluten is almost everywhere.

There are no requirements for gluten-containing food products to be labeled as such.

Gluten is found in ketchup, beer, alcohol, bran, imitation seafood, chewing gum, soy sauce, commercial salad dressing, sauces, salsa, artificial food colorings, canned vegetables, horseradish sauces, instant hot drinks (coffee, tea, hot chocolate), rice syrup, soups (both canned and frozen), bouillon cubes, MSG, sausages, food stabilizers and the list goes on.

In addition to wheat, other grains such as spelt, kamut, barley and oats contain gluten. Other foods can cross-react with gluten causing our body to react.

Gluten may also be found in some cosmetics, hair products, other dermatological preparations and envelope glue.

What Should You Do?

If you have been diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, I highly recommend you seek support and information from a nutritionist who can guide you through the maze of the gluten food territory. The risk of continuing to be ill, developing severe brain and body dysfunction or getting an autoimmune disease is not worth guessing what items contain gluten.

A person may have gluten sensitivity and not have celiac disease. Celiac disease is defined as a genetic disorder with HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8 (two major celiac disease genes) and gluten intolerance affecting one in 133 people.

Many people have severe reactions to gluten but do not have the gene variation. The classic symptoms of celiac include diarrhea, weight loss, bloating and malnutrition. If a person with the disorder continues to use gluten, they increase their risk of gastrointestinal cancer by 40 to 100 times that of the normal population.

An individual can have gluten sensitivity and not have gastrointestinal symptoms or enteropathy. A recent article in Lancet Neurology (2010) reported gluten sensitivity can be not be associated with celiac disease or intestinal destruction but can cause harm to the brain and nervous system leading to diverse neurological malfunction.

About Autoimmune Diseases

Our immune system protects us from invasion by infections, abnormal cells and foreign substances. However, it can malfunction and autoimmunity is the result.

Gluten sensitivity can cause tissue autoimmunity in the brain, thyroid, pancreas, cardiac, joints, liver, skin, adrenals and stomach. The antibodies can be diagnosed using specific specialty labs such as Cyrex Laboratories (www.cyrexlabs.com). The longer the person with gluten sensitivity continues to eat gluten the more likely they are to develop other ADs. The need to avoid gluten is not an option.

Autoimmunity is progressive. First, people lose tolerance to their own tissue and elevated antibodies can be detected. Then destruction occurs that causes subtle symptoms but not enough to be diagnosed as AD. Finally, the tissue destruction is significant enough to cause loss of function. At this point, labs and imaging detect changes and AD is diagnosed. The earlier the diagnosis and the earlier the intervention the better the outcome.

According to AARDA, “The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates 23.5 million Americans suffer from AD and the prevalence is rising. In comparison, cancer affects up to 9 million and heart disease up to 22 million. Researchers have identified 80 to 100 different ADs. These diseases are chronic and can be life-threatening. AD is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in female children and women in all age groups up to 64 years of age.”

Further, “Commonly used immunosuppressive drugs lead to devastating, long-term side effects. According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ office of Women’s Health, autoimmune disease and disorders ranked number one in a top 10 list of the most popular health topics requested by callers to the National Women’s Health Information Center.” .

Common ADs include:

  • Hashimotos thyroiditis
  • Diabetes
  • Lupus (SLE)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Scleroderma
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Antiphospholipid  syndrome

Tips for Prevention

AD is complex but there are some things you can do to help prevent it and keep the symptoms from recurring. First, avoid or remove the triggers. Monitor your antibody testing. Importantly, avoid excess stress, physical overtraining, insomnia, low blood sugar, gluten, infections, and toxic relationships.

A lifestyle that includes laughing, loving and appreciation is the best prescription. Enjoy a positive attitude, some exercise, good sleep, stable blood sugar, hormonal balance and healthy social interactions.

All these help to decrease inflammation which supports a healthy immune system. Use appropriate supplement support and consider glutathione, an antioxidant which is critical for a healthy immune system as indicated by recent research.

Get tested for gluten sensitivity using Cyrex Labs or another specialty lab. The conventional routine labs often report false negatives. If you are positive for gluten sensitivity have a lab test that tests cross reactivity so you are not using other grains as a substitute such a quinoa or millet if  you are reactive to them, too. Importantly, also test for specific autoimmune antibodies before you develop serious health conditions and full-blown ADs. Don’t overlook this and don’t be overlooked. There is a root cause to your symptoms. The answer is first in the testing and then avoiding gluten.

Written by: Dr. Sharon Norling, MBA