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Could Cutting Out Gluten Unnecessarily Increase Your Rick Of Cardiovascular Disease?

June 9, 2020

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Be honest: how many people do you know who have decided to ditch gluten and follow a gluten free diet? 10? 15? 20?

Chances are, if you’re someone struggling with IBS, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, or gas, you’ve probably cut out gluten at one point or another in your life, or, you know someone (or many others) who have.

Gluten free is the new diet craze, and despite the evidence to suggest that very few people actually need to cut out gluten, rates of those who are following a gluten free diet are surging.

But before we can go into whether or not a gluten free diet is the right choice for you, let’s clear the air on what the heck gluten even is.

Gluten is a type of protein that is found in grains such as barley, wheat, and rye, among others. It’s important to note that some people do have a good — and medically necessary — reason to avoid it.

This includes people with an autoimmune condition called celiac disease. In these individuals, gluten creates an intense immune response whereby the body attacks the intestines when they consume gluten, even in the smallest quantities. Over time, severe damage can occur to the intestinal wall and inflammation and cancer both become a very real possibility if it goes undiagnosed. Despite the understanding that intestinal permeability (leaky gut) is at play and very likely the main culprit in the development of celiac disease, unfortunately, these individuals have to avoid gluten. There’s no cure for Celiac disease.

On the other hand, a less severe condition called gluten sensitivity is becoming more and more common. But unlike in celiac disease, gluten won’t actually damage the intestines. It does cause some pretty unpleasant symptoms, including cramping, tiredness, stomach pain, and gas, but no real damage is occurring. The reason these symptoms occur is usually because these individuals have something called dysbiosis: an imbalance of the bacteria in the microbiome (the “good” guys have outnumbered the “bad guys”). Dysbiosis can be the result of antibiotic use, chlorinated water, a poor diet or a history of a poor diet among other things.

There are many things that could contribute to gluten sensitivity via dysbiosis, but it’s important to know that once dysbiosis and intestinal permeability are addressed, gluten can be added back in the diet with no issues. In fact, this is something I work with my clients on specifically. It’s important to note, however, that often times, gluten is not the issue, but the number of processed foods we eat that contain gluten, as well as chemicals, preservatives, colourings, additives, etc. You see what I mean?  I’m usually quite cautious about pointing my finger at gluten for this very reason. Most of us are NOT consuming whole wheat kernels, rye kernels or pearl barley.

Back to celiac disease. For most women, the chance of developing or having celiac disease is low. Only 1 in 3 people have the gene, and even then, dysbiosis has to occur before the gene manifests itself. Only 1% of the population has celiac disease worldwide. 

Yet while only a small number of people actually have a medical condition that makes it difficult for them to tolerate gluten, the number of people on gluten-free diets is surging. Many people stop eating food containing gluten because they think it’s healthy to go gluten-free or because they mistakenly think they have gluten sensitivity. Some are even told by their doctors to cut it out even before they present any symptoms suggesting it should be investigated.

Lots of claims, little evidence.

You may have heard claims that going gluten-free can do everything from improve your mood to help with weight control or reduce your cancer risk. The problem is that researchers haven’t confirmed whether any of these claims are actually true.

While there isn’t much evidence that eliminating gluten brings any special health benefits for the average woman, a new study suggests that it may actually be less healthy. Researchers focused on information collected from 64,714 women and 45,303 men in two different studies. None had a history of heart disease.

Participants in the studies were asked to complete a food-frequency questionnaire every year from 1996 through 2010. Researchers then analyzed who went on to develop heart disease. They found that people who ate gluten weren’t more likely to develop heart disease than those who didn’t. But researchers also noticed that people who cut out gluten ended up eating a smaller amount of whole grains. 

Gluten consumption has been found to be inversely associated with coronary heart disease risk and cardiovascular mortality. These findings point to the idea that people who severely restrict gluten intake may also significantly limit their intake of whole grains, which may actually be associated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes.

The golden rule is this: we need to first figure out if gluten really in the problem.

Gluten-free diets should be reserved for people who have a health reason to avoid gluten, such as celiac disease. If you have symptoms that you think are triggered by gluten, ask your doctor to test you for celiac disease (an antibody blood test).

I also recommend investigating whether or not intestinal permeability is at play (hint: it almost always is, but more on this soon).

Be skeptical.

In the diet world, “experts” are always promoting the next big thing, but science often doesn’t back them up. I think the take-home message from this study is that we should approach any diet that has very restrictive features with caution, including the low FODMAP diet.

Seek balance.

A well-rounded, whole food, plant based diet is one of the most health promoting diets you can follow for gut health.

Unsure of where to start? I encourage you to book in for a free 15-minute phone call with me to understand how you can strategically get to the bottom of your symptoms for good.

Reference: https://celiac.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/gluten.pdf

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