“Should I really give up gluten or is that just a fad?”
“If I don’t have celiac disease then gluten is fine, right?”
“I don’t have digestive symptoms, so I can’t have a problem with gluten…can I?”
These are questions I hear all of the time. The truth is that gluten wreaks havoc on way more than your digestive system, and there is a lot of quality research linking it to serious health concerns.
Let’s look at 4 ways gluten affects your health and then tackle the million-dollar question of whether or not you should give it up.
1. Gluten Triggers Inflammation
First, you need to know that the gluten we eat today is very different from the gluten our grandparents ate. Wheat crops have been hybridized and deaminated, making for hardier wheat that can be made water-soluble and added to processed foods, lunch meat, sauces, condiments, and more.
This modern gluten is far more immune reactive and we’re getting a lot more of it, so when we eat it our inflammation levels go way up.
That widespread inflammation can cause a long list of frustrating symptoms, including headaches, skin issues, brain fog, fatigue, joint pain, and hormone imbalances.
But the effects aren’t just short term. Chronic inflammation is at the root of virtually every chronic disease, including autoimmunity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
2. Gluten Leads to Leaky Gut and Autoimmunity
When you eat gluten it triggers the release of zonulin, a chemical that signals the tight junctions of your gut lining to open up.
This is a good thing when you’re absorbing nutrient-dense food. But it becomes a problem when you’re eating foods that are inflammatory or your food isn’t being digested properly.
With zonulin keeping the gates open, these inflammatory and undigested particles flood your bloodstream and bombard the immune system, worsening that inflammation I talked about.
Eventually, your immune system becomes too stressed, starts misfiring, and attacks your own tissues by mistake. That’s when autoimmune diseases develop, such as Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and others.
3. Gluten Causes Thyroid Dysfunction
The majority of thyroid dysfunction is caused by Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease and these are autoimmune conditions. So everything I just talked about with gluten causing leaky gut and autoimmunity is bad news for your thyroid.
But that’s not the only problem. Gluten proteins are structurally very similar to your thyroid tissue. So your immune system can confuse the two in what’s known as molecular mimicry.
This causes the immune system to attack your thyroid by mistake, leading to inflammation, tissue damage, and poor thyroid function.
4. Gluten Impacts Brain Health
Gluten can also be a major source of neuroinflammation, which is a primary cause of depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, dementia, ADHD, autism, and other cognitive conditions.
The good news is that the damage can be stopped and sometimes even reversed.
And a small study in adults showed that a gluten-free diet led to a quick improvement in depression symptoms.
Should You Give Up Gluten?
So what’s the final verdict?
Do I believe that every single person should give up gluten forever? No.
Never and always are risky words when we’re dealing with the human body. What’s right for one person or even the majority isn’t always right for everyone.
That’s why personalized care is at the core of functional medicine. You need to figure out what works for you as an individual.
But I do believe it’s important for each person to do a trial off of gluten for at least 30 days and then add it back in and see how you feel.
Nine times out of 10 you’re going to feel a lot better off of it than on it. And you’ll probably see an improvement in lab markers and chronic disease symptoms. But it’s something you have to try for yourself to know.
I’ve seen so many patients transform their health just by making lifestyle changes like giving up gluten. That’s why we work with every patient to find out what strategies will be most effective for you as an individual, and provide the accountability you need to get real results.
About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.
Want to work with Dr. Osgood and the GrassRoots team? Become a patient in our West Lebanon, New Hampshire Functional Medicine clinic, our Burlington, Vermont Functional Medicine clinic, or our Austin, Texas Functional Medicine clinic!