Months ago I was thrilled to be invited by wellness guru Dr. David Blyweiss to speak at a conference on the nexus between the GI tract and health.
I had no idea what lay ahead, and soon learned that I'd be joining the top docs in the world on this topic: Dr. Alessio Fasano is the head of the Center for Celiac Disease Research and Treatment at Harvard Medical School. His research lab has been unlocking biochemical secrets of this disorder for 20 years. Dr. David Perlmutter, world-renowned neurologist, MBG contributor, and author of the soon-to-be released Grain Brain, was speaking. And Dr. William Davis, a colleague of mine in cardiology and author of the phenomenal book Wheat Belly was on the program.
And me. Oh my. No wonder my wife could only shake her head and smile when she saw the lineup.
The conference was superb. I spoke on the connection between gluten and heart disease, reviewing data on a weakness of the heart called a cardiomyopathy, an abnormality of heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, and damage to arteries called endothelial dysfunction—all linked to gluten sensitivity.
Even more interesting were the dinners after the speaking events. Conversation flowed as fast as the wine—one night a Super Tuscan and the next an Amarone. The waitstaff took great care to take the orders carefully. As you might expect, serving some of the world’s experts on the relationship between food and health required some extra note-taking. My vegan requirements were met with ease.
And the $64,000 question: When the bruschetta arrived loaded with tomatoes and oregano, did all of us shun the bread and feast only on the toppings?
I'll never tattle on anyone, but there was a clear split at the table, with some adhering to a rule of "never have gluten" while others took the position that "it's sufficient to reduce our wheat consumption without enforcing a total ban."
I learned a lot from observing the dynamic at the table, and I wanted to share some of my takeaways with you.
Dr. Davis (interviewed by MBG in May) described seeing improvements in cholesterol profiles and cardiac risk in patients following a completely wheat- and gluten-free diet. He emphasizes that a partial reduction in these food items is not enough. He also stresses that it's not all about gluten. Other components of wheat, such as amylopectin A, are highly addictive and cause a tendency to overeat bread and related food items. He is not a fan of the gluten-free food craze and stresses a return to farm-to-table eating.
Dr. David Perlmutter has observed that wheat, carbs and sugar can all have adverse effects on brain function and are to be avoided in order to reverse or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurologic degenerative disorders. He advises a ketogenic diet high in healthy fats and protein and low in carbohydrates of all kinds, including whole grains, to feed the brain its preferred fuel. He has seen malignant brain tumors shrink on a diet very low in grains.
Dr. Fasano does not recommend a wheat/gluten-free life for all, stressing quality of life. He has said that if there are concerns for wheat sensitivity, celiac disease must be excluded by blood tests and intestinal biopsy. If celiac is excluded, then a trial for days to weeks of a gluten-free diet is reasonable and a rapid response is expected if sensitivity is present.
Not sure what to do about gluten? Here are some tips for dealing with wheat and gluten in your life:
1. Cut back on gluten. Breakfast cereals, bagels, muffins and donuts are the Breakfasts of Champions, but provide calorie dense, nutritionally poor starts to our days. Sandwiches at lunch and dinner continue that trend. Explore breakfast smoothies with greens and berries. Sample lunches made on collard wraps or gluten-free tortillas. Say no to the bread basket at a restaurant.
2. Get checked. If you are experiencing unexplained medical issues, consider whether undiagnosed Celiac disease is to blame and get checked. Antibody testing and intestinal examinations can determine if you have the full disorder.
3. Consider a gluten-free elimination diet after the above steps have been taken for several weeks to a month. Avoid highly processed gluten-free products and opt for whole foods.
There's a quote I like from author Nischala Joy Devi. She says that “whatever disturbs the mind and body disturbs the spiritual life—it’s all one energy.”
The Kings of Gluten taught me to consider whether or not wheat and gluten were disturbing my body and spirit. I hope you consider this too.