Just as I never expected to write a best-selling diet book ten years ago, I never expected to be writing a book about gluten today. But thanks to revelations from observations of patients, an extensive review of the medical literature, and many remarkable clinical experiences, I knew I had an amazing story to tell.
For years I had noticed that many individuals on Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet, which was intentionally created to be grain-free (but was also unintentionally gluten-free), not only lost weight but also had more energy, fewer aches and pains, and no longer complained of stomach problems or brain fog.
When they reintroduced gluten-containing grains on Phase 2 of the diet, their health problems often returned. I began asking these patients to switch to eating gluten-free whole grains, such as millet, brown rice, and quinoa, on Phase 2 and they quickly felt better again, while continuing to lose weight.
Why is gluten so much of a problem now?
When you take into account that possibly 50 percent of Americans have some degree of gluten sensitivity—and this includes children—and that most don’t know it, the first question you might ask is: Why now? Why, all of a sudden, is gluten a problem?
It’s really a perfect storm of factors. First, we're consuming much more gluten today because of the vast amount of highly refined wheat products in the American diet, beginning in childhood. Our addiction to highly processed starches—doughnuts, white breads, cookies, crackers, chips, and other unhealthy snacks—has led to gluten overload. And, to make matters worse, gluten is often added to breads and baked goods to increase protein and to help with texture. Gluten is added to many other products as well, including self-basting poultry, prepared salad dressings, prepared soups, broths, gravies, marinades, and more.
In addition, there’s the fact that the good microbiota (gut flora) in our small intestine that help us digest gluten are being destroyed due to our overuse of antibiotics. Furthermore, many of our baked goods today present more gluten to our intestines because we've eliminated the step of fermentation in their preparation. Until the last few decades our bread was invariably fermented before baking, which predigested gluten in the dough. Finally, damage to our small intestines due to our increased use of pain relievers in the form of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) is another factor likely contributing to our current epidemic of gluten sensitivity.
So, the more we can educate both physicians and the public about gluten-related disorders, the more people can be spared from needless misery and the risk of potentially serious complications. My hope is that I can shed more light on the “Gluten Trifecta,” the three primary ways gluten can negatively affect our health. The components of the “Gluten Trifecta” — inflammation, diminished nutrient absorption, and an autoimmune response — are all induced by incompletely digested gluten proteins and our system’s reaction to them.
How does the Gluten Trifecta affect our health?
Intestinal inflammation can trigger symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, and reflux, and can also cause system-wide reactions ranging from skin rashes and migraines to fatigue and muscle aches. In the case of celiac disease, the inflammation destroys the fine architecture of the intestinal villi, limiting the nutrient absorption function of the small intestine.
Poor absorption of nutrients can lead to various deficiencies and present as anemia, hormone imbalance, mood disorders, neurological issues, and osteoporosis, among many other conditions.
The autoimmune response is perhaps the most serious component of the Gluten Trifecta, because our immune system mistakes the incompletely digested strands of gluten protein—called peptides—as invaders and sets out to destroy them. Because the gluten peptides can, in cases of mistaken identity, look like proteins that make up many of our body’s tissues, there is practically no organ in the body that may be spared from potential attack. The autoimmune reaction is thought to be the major cause of type 1 diabetes and it can lead to rheumatoid arthritis, thryroiditis, and many other conditions.