The Many Faces of GLUTEN… Masquerader of Disease and Symptoms (Part One)

What is gluten?

Gluten is an insoluble protein found in grains such as barley, rye, oats, triticale and wheat. Rice and corn have a different kind of gluten and only need to be avoided if a person is found to be specifically allergic to them (see allergy testing below). In wheat flower, gluten acts to blind the mixture together when added to water. Gluten traps air bubbles created by a levening agent allowing the bread to rise. Gluten-free flowers or flowers with little gluten do not trap bubbles and will either not rise or rise well – they are generally heavy, soggy and flat.

Why should you care about gluten?

It has been determined that gluten can cause a wide-variety of symptoms and diseases. Many of these symptoms and disease states go unidentified by most medical specialists. The health care providers of Advanced Medicine of Mount Kisco, P.C. believe that gluten intolerance is often missed as it can appear as vague symptoms and specific disease states. Extensive testing have been performed on hundreds of patients that have demonstrated that the prevelance of gluten intolerance is far greater than previously suspected. In fact, our clinical suspicions have been studied and confirmed by other researchers and scientists. This paper includes many references to the scientific literature supporting our major assertion; namely, that the protein gluten can trigger the immune system to initiate an inflammatory-autoimmune (self-directed) reaction that can cause cellular and tissue destruction of virtually any tissue of the body. Most importantly, the autoimmune destruction can go unrecognized as caused by gluten intolerance by most medical professionals.

The main reason for the lack of recognition of gluten as the cause of destructive immune reactions against one’s tissues is because the symptoms produced look like the characteristic disease that has been diagnosed. For example, a sub-type of multiple sclerosis, some seizures and even cerebella ataxia can all be caused initially by an adverse autoimmune reaction provoked by gluten. The immune system, in its attempt to deal with the undesirable protein (namely gluten) inadvertently causes destruction of tissues; in the three examples given above the tissues include the white matter of the central nervous system (multiple sclerosis), neurologic and neurotransmitters of the brain (seizures) and the cerebellum (hindbrain).

Allopathic physicians are divided among various medical specialties, some of which are outlined below. The medical profession has traditionally chosen to compartmentalize (separate) the enormous amount of educational materials that is available regarding health and disease into the various branches of medicine. There is little doubt that expert knowledge in a particular area of medical study is necessary on many occasions. This approach also has inherent limitations often preventing a given medical specialist from appreciating the large number of disease states and symptoms that can be caused by a single trigger (i.e. gluten).

Here are some real examples:

A young man who complains of frequent seizures. Over the course of several years and dozens of visits to neurologists finds little relief with anti-convulsive medications. Gluten antibodies were found to be high and the patient learned that he could provide seizures after eating pizza (bread has gluten in it). Removal of gluten resulted in far fewer and less severe seizures. Inherent problem: neurologists are seemingly unaware of the evidence demonstrating that some people suffering from seizures will improve upon its elimination from the diet.

A study in a major medical journal actually proved that gluten given to persons previously diagnosed with multiple sclerosis produced plaques on MRI testing. Removal of gluten caused the plaques to disappear.

A middle aged many suffering from progressive shrinkage of his cerebellum resulting in dizziness, ocular palsies, fatigue and loss of muscle coordination receives no help from neurologists. The medical literature demonstrates that this condition can be caused in some sufferers from gluten – the condition is actually called gluten ataxia.

In order for a health care provider to fully appreciate implications of gluten intolerance he or she would need training spanning several specialties. Furthermore, a holistic-mindedness would be required to piece it all together into a coherent picture – a way of thinking and clinical practice that is found only by complementary health care providers.

Here’s why:

  • Gluten is a food – requiring training in clinical nutritional studies
  • Gluten provokes the immune system (i.e., rheumatoid arthritis, lupus) – requiring immunologic training
  • Gluten may damage the small intestines (i.e., Celiac disease, gluten intolerance) – requiring training in gastroenterology
  • Gluten may affect the hormonal system (i.e., thyroid) – requiring endocrinology training
  • Gluten may affect the nervous system (i.e., multiple sclerosis – requiring training in neurology
  • Gluten may ultimately affect the joints, bones and soft tissues (i.e., osteoarthritis, osteopenia, osteoporosis) – requiring training in rheumatology
  • Gluten may cause depression – requiring training in psychology
  • Gluten may predispose to infections – requiring training in infectious disease
  • Gluten characteristically causes malabsorption – causing iron and B-vitamin and protein anemia’s and resulting fatigue and impaired physiology – requiring training in family practice, internal medicine and hematology

Various medical specialties:
Internal medicine, Family practice, Infectious disease, Dietetics, Gynecology, Endocrinology, Cardiology, Neurology, Rheumatology, Psychology, Pathology, Hematology, Oncology, Orthopedics


Symptoms and associated health specialists

Symptoms Medical or Health Specialists
Diarrhea, gas, bloating, cramping Gastroenterologist
Pelvic and back pain, dysmenorrhea Gynecologist
Joint and muscle pain Chiropractor, Orthopedist
Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis Rheumatologist
Lupus, cerebellar ataxia Immunologist
Unsteady gait, migraines, neuropathy Neurologist
High blood sugar, hyperthyroidism, Addision’s Endocrinologist
Sleep disturbances Sleep specialist
Osteoporosis Internist
Memory disturbances, general fatigue Family practitioner
Malnutrition, failure to thrive Pediatrician, Pediatric endocrinologist
Depression Phychiatrist, psychologist
Dermatitis herpetiformis, psoriasis Dermatologist, Gastroenterologist
Lymphoma Oncologist

Note: This list was compiled through research conducted on MedLine – a medical reference library on-line

For example, a 39 year old women visited our office complaining that since the birth of her recent daughter, she experienced atypical migraine headaches, intestinal cramping and diarrhea, esophageal reflux and eczema. Her Internist and OBGYN prescribed powerful migraine medications and referred her to a Gastroenterologist. The visit to the GI doctor resulted in a prescription for a protein-pump inhibitor (anti-acid medication). The overall results – none of her well-intentioned and qualified healthcare practitioners attempted to look deeper for the cause of her seemingly varied health problems.

At Advanced Medicine of Mount Kisco we hypothesize the following:

Many women experience autoimmune problems after the stress of pregnancy (i.e., MS, lupus, migraines, etc.). We believe that this woman’s immune system was stressed by her pregnancy producing her migraines,
GI complaints and eczema. All of these problems could have resulted from gluten intolerance – even though these were all new symptoms since the pregnancy. We checked for gluten intolerance and – “bingo” she was highly positive and all of her symptoms responded immediately to gluten withdrawal and specific nutritional interventions.

Who’s affected? How about you?

A large percentage of the population has a varying degree of sensitivity (allergy) to gluten protein and perhaps related proteins in non-gluten containing foods (such as dairy and soy). Gluten can be problem some as it may precipitate (trigger) an immune reaction in any number of tissues and organs. Typically it is recognized as the cause of the gastrointestinal disorder Celiac Disease (CD) and the topical (skin) form of CD called dermatitis herpetiformis. Gluten may cross-react with virtually any tissue causing impairment of cellular, tissue and organ function. The chemical structure (amino acid sequence) of gluten may appear (and may actually be) similar to various tissues in the body. The similarity between certain tissues in the body and gluten is known as molecular mimicry or homogeny. As gluten may look similar to body tissues the body’s immune system may react against the related tissues as it reacts against gluten – the perceived stressor.

How gluten causes disease

The antibodies (AB) formed by the immune system against the gluten and other similar looking body tissues (cross-reactivity) evokes an inflammatory and degenerative cascade of biological events. Initially this reaction is meant to be one of protecting the body against what it perceives as a foreign or unfriendly substance (initially the gluten), but may extend to other body tissues. The tissues affected in each individual depend upon the unique genetic predisposition of the person. For example, gluten can often cross-react with the thyroid gland producing thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – forms of autoimmune thyroid disease. This health letter has summarized several dozen medical studies that describe the extent that gluten contributes to nutritional deficiency and various disease states.

Celiac Disease (CD) – a common, but far from the only, problem…

Some of the recognized disorders that may be attributed to gluten intolerance are listed in table below. In certain individuals the gluten causes the CD, a well-recognized malabsorption disorder producing gastrointestinal signs and symptoms such as villous atrophy (degeneration) and diarrhea. CD is known as a gluten enteropathy (gut). CD is a malabsorption disorder resulting in any number of nutritional deficiencies including protein, B-vitamin, mineral (including calcium), hormonal (vitamin D – yes, “vitamin” D is not a vitamin, but a hormone) and many others. As a malabsorption disorder extensive nutritional deficiencies can result – even if you eat a balanced diet and take high doses of nutritional supplements. Remember – malabsorption literally means inadequate absorption. Malabsorption is only the “tip of the iceberg” as the cells, tissues and organs of the body may suffer from degeneration secondary to nutritional deficiencies.

Without proper nutrition tissues cannot heal – it’s as simple as that. The gastroenterologist’s typical approach is to recommend that the CD patient remove gluten from the diet. This approach is usually enough for eliminating or reducing GI symptoms, but not always. The nutritional health care provider who recognizes the multitude of symptoms and diseases of gluten intolerance is most qualified to identify the extent of the associated nutritional problems associated with it.

How gluten causes disease

  1. Cross-reacts (molecular mimicry or homogeny) with body tissues causing tissue degeneration – almost always tissues are involved other than the one’s producing the obvious GI symptoms. The removal or lessening of reactive-gluten symptoms is important, but is incomplete as other tissues may not fully heal unless their nutrition is corrected.
  2. Causes malabsorption in the intestinal tract due to villous atrophy and crypt hyperplasia
  3. Precipitating an inflammatory response that goes beyond and often includes the small intestines
  4. Results in a higher than average need for nutrition for the correction of tissue degeneration
  5. May precipitate many other disease conditions that will require specific nutritional and/or medical interventions
  6. May precipitate other allergic reactions
  7. Causes chronic symptoms that may not respond to conventional medical treatments

Continued in Part Two

Copyright American Health Gastroenterology 2001


One Response to “The Many Faces of GLUTEN… Masquerader of Disease and Symptoms (Part One)”

  1. The Many Faces of GLUTEN… Masquerader of Disease and Symptoms (Part Two) | Healing Base on December 12th, 2011 17:36

    […] The Many Faces of GLUTEN… Masquerader of Disease and Symptoms (Part Two) var addthis_product = 'wpp-262'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true,"data_track_addressbar":false};if (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}Continued from Part 1 […]

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