Lady Gaga Swears by a Gluten Free Diet. But Should You?

Nutrition

By Pauline Jose, M.D. and the pH health care professionals

You may have noticed almost all supermarkets have gluten-free sections now. Why? Because being gluten-free continues to be very popular (even though these items are often more expensive!).

Just like the latest fashion trends, certain diets go in and out of style. On the other hand, eating gluten free seems to be a mainstay. Maybe because some of our favorite stars including Lady Gaga, Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson, Miley Cyrus, Gwyneth Paltrow and more swear by going gluten free to maintain a svelte figure.

The gluten-free diet is more than just a fad. In fact, it seems more and more people are avoiding gluten with self-reported good results!

But what you may not realize is going on a gluten-free diet unnecessarily has its disadvantages. Here are some facts on gluten, the conditions associated with it and some of the downsides of going gluten-free.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, barley and probably oats. It can also be found in processed meat products, pasta and some medications. Wheat gluten is probably the most widely studied. It has a mixture of what is called gliadin and glutenin proteins.

Gliadin is composed of 300 amino acids responsible for its immunogenic properties or what gives it a high potential for allergies and sensitivity. Glutenin makes gluten strong and elastic and also has some immunogenic properties.  

What are the gluten-related disorders?

  • Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine. It is triggered by the ingestion of gluten in those who are genetically predisposed. They are not able to digest some components of gluten. Symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and systemic symptoms like weight loss and iron-deficiency anemia. Some have even reported neurological symptoms. Vitamin deficiency, electrolyte disorders and malabsorption can also occur. Diagnosis is done with blood tests for antibodies to the gluten proteins and a small bowel biopsy to guide treatment. Intestinal damage can be seen in the biopsy. The celiac disease gene runs in first-degree relatives. Celiac disease is present in about 1 percent of the population. Treatment is first and foremost eliminating gluten, specifically wheat gluten.
  • Wheat allergy is an immune-mediated or allergic reaction to proteins in wheat. It has been called Baker’s Asthma, rhinitis and wheat-associated exercise-induced allergy. It can affect the gut and respiratory system as well as the skin with rashes or hives. It is diagnosed using a skin prick test and testing for immunoglobulin (IgE) to wheat protein allergens. Again, treatment is a gluten-free diet.
  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is characterized by gut and whole-body symptoms that occur after eating foods containing gluten but without having celiac disease or a wheat allergy. This condition is common, although not very well-known, with probable prevalence of 0.6-6 percent. It is more common in women than men (5:1) and usually presents in people ages 30-40. Symptoms may occur hours after the ingestion of gluten and may include abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea. There may also be symptoms outside the gut, which include depression, brain fog, anxiety and confusion. Symptoms disappear after eliminating gluten from the diet. Many may have been misdiagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in the past as symptoms overlap. There are currently no test markers for NCGS. Diagnosis includes first ruling out celiac disease and wheat allergy and improvement upon going on a gluten-free diet.

A gluten-free diet may benefit and improve these gluten-related disorders; however, it is not without problems. Some gluten-free foods lack fiber and are rich in fat and can cause vitamin deficiencies, especially in vitamins C, B12 and D and folic acid. Many gluten-free diets are low in minerals like calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron.

If you suspect you may have a gluten-related health problem, it is best to be proactive and get tested. Any person on a restrictive diet, such as a gluten-free diet, should also talk to a health care professional about nutrition testing to check for any deficiencies in minerals and vitamins. Learn more about the vital ways minerals affect our health in our most recent book, Minerals - The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy.

Don’t self-diagnose and self-treat.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.  

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