Gluten-Free Diet: Fad or Fix?
In recent years, the gluten-free diet has become incredibly fashionable. However, 98% of the population is NOT diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, or wheat allergy. For the majority of us, going gluten-free might actually do more harm than good!
Before you go gluten-free, please read this article.
Gluten + Wheat Build Immunity
The Hygiene Hypothesis, or hormesis, is the idea that our immune system developed over millions of years from eating hard-to-digest foods that may irritate the intestinal lining. That irritation from anti-nutrients that protect the seed, nut, grain, bean of fruit provide the gut stimulation responsible for gut immunity which makes up 70% of the body’s total immune response.
Emerging science shows removing these gut irritants may severely compromise our immune systems. While nightshades and lectins, like gluten, phytic acids, and other anti-nutrients, are irritants and hard to digest, they have also been found to be extremely therapeutic.13
Just taking wheat, dairy, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, or fruits out of the diet without addressing the underlying imbalance in digestion that has created the food intolerance is like sweeping the real problem under the rug. The symptoms could return aggressively in the months or years to come.
Gluten Decreases Bad Bacteria + Supports Beneficial Bacteria
In one study, 10 healthy 30-year-olds were put on a gluten-free diet for one month. Analysis of their food intake and stool indicated their numbers of healthy gut bacteria decreased. More surprisingly, the numbers of unhealthy bacteria increased.
Based on their findings, researchers concluded that a gluten-free diet, even for just one month, could alter microbes and compromise the immune system.1
Gluten Boosts Immune Response
In another study, involving nine healthy individuals, five were given three grams of concentrated wheat gluten per day for six days, and four followed a gluten-free diet. The gluten group saw a significant increase in natural killer cell activity.
This is significant, as NK cells are our bodies’ frontline defense system—incredibly important in individuals with autoimmune conditions and cancer. The group on a gluten-free diet saw no increase in NK cell activity.2
Gluten Lowers Cholesterol
Many studies link a diet rich in whole wheat to lower cholesterol levels. Wheat fiber, specifically, has always been assumed to be responsible for this health benefit.
However, in one study, folks who ate a diet high in fiber and gluten saw lower triglyceride levels than the control group, who ate diets high in fiber.31 This suggests that gluten, not wheat fiber, may be the factor responsible for lowering triglyceride levels.
Gluten-Free Diet Raises Mercury Levels
In one recent study, mercury levels were compared in three groups of people:
- Celiac patients on a gluten-free diet
- Celiac patients who had not yet started a gluten-free diet
- Non-celiac patients who ate wheat regularly
The group of celiac patients that had been on a gluten-free diet had FOUR TIMES the amount of toxic mercury in their blood than the other groups.4
As we can see, while removing gluten from one’s diet may seem like a healthy idea, there may be unintended consequences.
Another study of more than 10,000 children in 14 countries in Europe, Scandinavia, and Australia compared those who grew up on farms to those who grew up in suburbia or the city. They found that children who grew up on farms were:8
- 54% less likely to have hay fever
- 57% less likely to have nasal allergies
- 50% less likely to have asthma
Researchers found that farm kids were exposed to more dust, mites, and respiratory irritants. Rural kids had more white blood cells (WBCs) than urban kids, suggesting the immune system does indeed respond to stimulation.
When we take digestive stimulation out of the diet by removing foods that are somewhat harder to digest, we may also remove an immune-boosting stimulus that we have developed to benefit from over millions of years.
The concept that our overall health and immunity is determined and boosted by irritants and certain toxins is called the hygiene hypothesis. This theory is gaining much traction: certain harder-to-digest foods, like wheat, may actually turn out to be important immune-boosters! 5
Gluten-Free Diet Increases Risk of Heart Disease
In a Harvard study that followed more than 110,000 adults from 1986 to 2010, the relationship between gluten intake and heart disease was evaluated. In this study, they found that the difference in heart disease risk was about the same for the folks who ate the most gluten and those who ate the least amount of gluten—suggesting that the amount of gluten you ate does not play a role in heart disease risk.
When the researchers dug deeper and adjusted the study for the amount of refined grains that were eaten in the high-gluten group, the heart disease risk soared. Refined grains lack heart-healthy fiber, which abounds in healthy whole wheat.
When the researchers adjusted their findings for intake of refined grains vs whole grains, the group that ate the least amount of gluten had a 15% higher risk of heart disease. 10
Gluten-Free Diets Increase Risk of Diabetes
In a 2017 Harvard study evaluating the diets of almost 200,000 adults for some 30 years from 1984 to 2013, the results were striking. In this study, in the participants who were in the highest range of gluten intake (around 12 grams of gluten per day), a 13 percent reduction in type 2 diabetes was observed.11, 12
The average intake of gluten was about 6.5 grams a day, and those who ate less than 4 grams of gluten per day had the highest rates of type 2 diabetes.
The major dietary sources of gluten were pastas, cereals, pizza, muffins, pretzels, and bread.11, 12
Gluten-Free Nutrition Concerns for Celiac Patients
For celiac patients, gluten-free diets have been linked to nutritional deficiencies, and even weight gain. Numerous studies demonstrate that gluten-free products are poor sources of minerals (such as iron), vitamins (such as folate, thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin), and fiber.6
One study on adolescents with celiac disease found that following a gluten-free diet led to greater nutritional imbalances, weight gain, and obesity, compared to the control group.7 The key to solving these issues is to fix the cause—likely found in a simple digestive imbalance.
For more compelling research (over 600 studies!) on this topic, check out my book Eat Wheat: A Scientific and Clinically-Proven Approach to Safely Bringing Wheat and Dairy Back Into Your Diet.
Join me as I take you on a journey of reintroducing wheat and other hard-to-digest proteins back into your diet. Eat Wheat reveals hidden science on the benefits of wheat and dairy and helps you navigate around food toxins. You will also learn how to flush congested lymphatics linked to food intolerance symptoms.
Ultimately, you can retrain your body to digest wheat and dairy again, and enjoy the digestive, immune, and overall health benefits!