Is it Just Me or Should Everyone Avoid Gluten? -- By Dr. Neela Sandal
Gluten sensitivity is an incredibly popular topic right now, and it's a great example of the public watching out for themselves, and saying, “Yes, your doctor is not going to talk to you about this, but it really makes a big difference.” Any of these health trends almost inevitably will become overblown with people saying everyone has this sensitivity, which certainly isn't accurate, but it's a good starting place for have this discussion.
Allergists run tests for allergies and may not notice food sensitivities, which are not allergies in the technical definition. Before gluten sensitivity gained so much press, doctors would routinely test for allergies, and a patient would often find she didn't have an allergy, but she felt better off of gluten. This happened to enough people that an underground movement of reducing gluten gained traction, then producers caught on and said, there's a market in this, so let's cater to it.
While the scientific community tends to discourage individual experience too much, it is at a doctor's peril to deny an individual's experience. That speaks to the fact that our science is ever-expanding, and we can now answer the question of whether you have a gluten sensitivity. There are an enormous amount of people with gluten sensitivities. With any sensitivity, certainly like an allergy, there's an enormous inflammatory component. The problem is that doctors weren't testing for food sensitivities, and there's an importance difference between a sensitivity, and an allergy.
Distinguishing between food allergies and food sensitivities is a very important task. Treatment differs of these two differs because of the severity of the two. A true food allergy is mediated through a different portion of the immune system. These vary in physiological function, and most importantly, in intensity. This is why someone who has who has a peanut allergy and eats a peanut needs an Epi pen while someone with a gluten sensitivity who eats bread may feel bloated, uncomfortable, and his joints may ache, even a few days later. Allergy reaction is very intense, immediate, and strong, and sensitivities are more subtle and harder to tease out, which is why sensitivities are given less attention by medical community. Yet we can also test for food sensitivities so that each of us know what foods to avoid or only eat occasionally.
A food sensitivity can exist in two forms: it can be transient or intrinsic, whereas most true food allergies are intrinsic. A lot of food sensitivities develop due to a combination of inflammation factors combined with a breakdown of gut barriers. If we treat inflammation, and strengthen gut health, we can reduce the frequent sensitization to food sensitivities, and we can enhance this process by reducing those foods temporarily. Over the course of time, our body becomes less irritated by what it encounters.
There's a lot of speculation on why there's just a boon in sensitivities. Some people point out that we're tracking them more, so there might be a sampling bias much more, but there are some studies that indicate that's not sufficient. There's a lot of changes to our immune systems, and the way we're growing and processing our foods. Many good theories indicate that there are many industrial and cultural practices that have increased our sensitization to our foods. When at all possible, it behooves an individual to eat foods as minimally processed and as free of environmental toxins as possible.
So treating food sensitivities takes an integrating approach that often encompassing learning what we're sensitive to, enhancing the health of our gut biome, decreasing inflammation, and also seeking out minimally-processed (which often means more locally-produced and grown) foods. While not everyone may be sensitive to gluten, we can all learn something about our food sensitivities, and use what we learn for more vital health and lives.
Dr. Neela Sandal is the founder of Atma. If you’d like to experience The Atma Approach for yourself, contact us at 785/760-0695.