Do you suspect that you might have a gluten sensitivity? If so, you are not alone. Gluten sensitivity is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It can cause a variety of symptoms, such as digestive issues, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, skin problems, and more. But you’ve tested for celiac and don’t have that, so you should be fine with gluten right? Not always.
The old-school thinking is that if your intestines aren’t damaged, you’re good with gluten. But that’s not the whole story! Gluten can still mess with your immune system and cause symptoms, even if your intestines are fine. This means you could test negative for celiac disease but still be gluten intolerant. Plus, there’s solid proof that gluten is linked to other autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves' disease.
In the US, we’ve messed with wheat’s genetics through farming practices leading to a bunch of health issues. Wheat has a protein called gluten, and these genetic tweaks have upped the gluten content in the wheat we eat. Gluten is tough for the body to break down, and sometimes it doesn’t get fully digested. When these half-digested gluten bits get into our blood, they can set off an immune response causing vague symptoms like brain fog, tiredness, inflammation, and achiness in muscles and joints. Some people even get clear gut symptoms like gas and bloating.
So how do these gluten bits get into your blood? Certain things can damage the lining of your gut. Stuff like antacids, antibiotics, serious long-term stress, not enough good bacteria, or too much bad bacteria or yeast (a condition called dysbiosis) can all make the gut lining more permeable. The lining gets “leaky” and the gluten protein sneaks into the body, causing a red alert from the immune system. And to top it all off, the gluten protein “looks” like our own tissues, so the immune system can get mixed up, attacking the body and causing an autoimmune reaction.
But how can you know for sure if you have a gluten sensitivity? The best way to find out is to do an elimination diet. An elimination diet is a simple and effective method to identify foods that trigger your symptoms and inflammation.
What is an elimination diet?
An elimination diet is a dietary intervention that involves removing certain foods from your diet for a period of time, usually 3 to 6 weeks, and then reintroducing them one by one to see how your body reacts. By doing this, you can pinpoint which foods cause you problems and which foods are safe for you to eat.
An elimination diet for gluten sensitivity involves avoiding all sources of gluten, such as wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, triticale, and oats (unless they are certified gluten-free). Gluten is a protein found in these grains that can trigger an immune response in some people. You also need to avoid any processed foods that may contain hidden sources of gluten, such as sauces, soups, dressings, marinades, seasonings, and baked goods. You can use this list of gluten-free foods to help you plan your meals.
To do an elimination diet for gluten sensitivity, follow these steps:
- Choose a start date and mark it on your calendar. Make sure you have enough time and motivation to commit to the diet for at least 3 weeks.
- Prepare your kitchen and pantry by removing or storing away any foods that contain gluten. Stock up on gluten-free foods that you enjoy and that are nutritious and satisfying.
- Follow a strict gluten-free diet for 3 to 6 weeks. Avoid any cross-contamination by using separate utensils, cutting boards, and cookware for gluten-free foods. Read labels carefully and avoid any foods that may contain traces of gluten.
- Keep a food diary and track your symptoms during the elimination phase. Note any changes in your digestion, energy, mood, sleep, skin, joints, or any other aspect of your health.
- After the elimination phase, reintroduce gluten gradually and monitor your reactions. Start with a small amount of gluten (such as half a slice of bread) and wait for 3 days before adding another source of gluten. If you experience any symptoms or worsening of your condition, stop the reintroduction and resume the gluten-free diet. This means that you are sensitive to gluten and may need to avoid it on a regular basis.
- If you do not experience any symptoms or worsening of your condition after reintroducing gluten, you can continue to eat it in moderation. However, be aware that some people may have delayed or subtle reactions to gluten that are not noticeable right away. You may want to repeat the elimination diet periodically or limit your intake of gluten as a precaution.
Doing an elimination diet for gluten sensitivity is important for several reasons:
- It can help you identify if gluten is causing your symptoms. If so you can eliminate it from your diet while you work with a functional medicine doctor to fix your gut.
- It can help you reduce inflammation and heal your gut. Gluten can cause damage to the lining of your intestines and increase the permeability of your gut barrier. This allows toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles to enter your bloodstream and trigger inflammation throughout your body. By avoiding gluten, you can restore the integrity of your gut barrier and lower the levels of inflammatory markers in your blood.
- It can help you prevent or manage autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases are conditions where your immune system attacks your own tissues and organs by mistake. They are often triggered by environmental factors such as infections, stress, toxins, and food sensitivities. Gluten is one of the most common food triggers for autoimmune diseases because it can mimic the structure of some of your body's proteins and cause cross-reactivity.
We recommend doing our full elimination diet recommended by Dr. Susan Blum. This is the gold standard in functional medicine and can help you identify your food sensitivities to eliminate from your diet while on your healing journey.
To make elimination diets easier you can choose any of our Dr. Blum's Healing products.