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In a new study, mercury levels were compared in three groups of people:
- Celiac patients who have been on a gluten-free diet
- Celiac patients who have not yet started a gluten-free diet
- Non-celiac patients
The group of celiac patients that had been on a gluten-free diet had 4 TIMES the amount of toxic mercury in their blood compared to the other two groups. (5)
All patients in this study were evaluated for fish consumption and a number of amalgam fillings – so the increase in mercury in the gluten-free group was not environmental. Somehow, this group was not detoxifying the mercury like the other groups. Let’s investigate how…
Enter the Hygiene Hypothesis
In 1989, the hygiene hypothesis suggested that a sterile environment, a clean house with fewer kids and no pets would severely compromise the immunity of the family living in these homes. (3) When the microbiome was discovered a few years back, the researchers basically said that we are in pre-school when it comes to understanding the impact of the trillions of microbes that live inside our guts. They all agreed that kids should be allowed to play in the dirt and get dirty, and we should stop the anti-microbial attack on all bacteria.
More and more evidence is suggesting that our immune system works much better when it is stimulated and is, in fact, inhibited by a sterile environment. Amish children, who have cows as their pets and run barefoot in barns, have the lowest rates of asthma on the planet. To compare, Hutterite farmers, who originated in the same areas of the Alps, have traded their Mennonite roots for industrial (more sterile) farming techniques. Their kids have some of the highest rates of asthma in America. (2)
Certain anti-microbial ingredients, specifically triclosan and triclocarban, have been banned by the FDA, for use in commercially available hand soaps. (4) While the research is still ongoing, preliminary studies have shown that these chemicals have the potential to disrupt reproductive hormones (6), inhibit a healthy immune response (7), rapidly alter the structure of the microbiome (8), and may even be contributing to antibiotic-resistant superbugs. (9) Finally, we are getting the message that killing all the bugs on the planet – antibacterial everything – is a bad idea.
The Potential Risk of a Gluten-Free Diet
The theory behind why celiac patients on a gluten-free diet would have 4 times the mercury levels as non-gluten, celiac-free patients, is that once you start taking harder-to-digest foods out of the diet – such as gluten, nuts, seeds, all grains and beans, as many of the gluten-free experts are suggesting – the digestive and immune systems will be negatively impacted. Remember, we have been eating hard-to-digest foods and breathing dust from animals for millions of years. Once we stop that, a diverse microbiome that is responsible for robust immunity is put at risk.
To take this theory to its logical conclusion, with as much as 80 percent of the immunity of the body residing in the intestines (10), we must also provide stimulation to the gut by feeding it a diverse food supply. Replacing a whole food diet with a more sterile, gluten-free diet appears to compromise the body’s ability to detox mercury efficiently. Could gluten and whole grains, which we have been eating for some 4 million years, also be the pearl to a robust immune system?
If we continue to solely treat the symptoms of our digestive woes and do not address the underlying breakdown in our digestive systems, and thus our immunity, we may be setting ourselves up for major problems down the road. If eating a so-called “healthier” gluten-free diet can raise your mercury levels four-fold, perhaps we should re-think our global attack on wheat and look more closely at why we cannot digest it anymore. Could it be that our digestive microbiome is under attack as well?
Stay tuned for more on this topic in my upcoming article, “The Dangers of Gluten-Free Diet.”