Gluten and Chronic Diseases
Lecture by Dr. Mark Hyman
Dr. Mark Hyman: Hi, this is Doctor Mark Hyman. Welcome back. You may be eating something that’s killing you and not even know it. You know, if you eat a cheeseburger or French fries or drink six Cokes a day, you likely know you’re shortening your life. But eating a nice, dark, crunchy slice of whole wheat bread, how could that be bad for you? What is it in bread that could kill you? It’s gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut and oats, and it’s hidden in most processed foods. You see, gluten is the staple of the American diet, pizza, past, bread, wraps, rolls, you name it. And the scariest finding is that ninety-nine percent of people who have a problem with eating gluten don’t even know it. They ascribe their ill health or their symptoms to something else, not gluten sensitivity, which is one-hundred percent curable.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with diagnosed, undiagnosed and latent celiac disease or gluten sensitivity had a higher risk of death, mostly from heart disease and cancer. This study looked at almost thirty thousands patients from 1969 to 2008 and examined deaths in three groups, those with full blown celiac disease, those with inflammation in their intestine but not full blown celiac, and those with latent celiac or a gluten sensitivity which meant elevated gluten antibodies but a negative intestinal biopsy. The results were dramatic. There was a thirty-nine percent increased risk of death in those with celiac, seventy-two percent increased risk in those with gut inflammation related to gluten, and a thirty-five percent increased risk in those who had gluten sensitivity but no celiac disease, that’s remarkable. This is groundbreaking research which proves that you don’t have to have full blown celiac with a positive intestinal biopsy, which is what we used to think. Our conventional thinking tells us to have serious health problems and complications from eating gluten, even death.
What’s even more shocking is that another study comparing the blood of ten thousand people from fifty years ago to ten thousand people today found that there was a real increase in full blown celiac disease by four-hundred percent based on elevated TTG antibodies or autoimmune antibodies. If we saw a four-hundred percent increase in heart disease or cancer this would be headline news, but we hear almost nothing about this.
Not diagnosing gluten sensitivity and celiac disease creates needless suffering and death for millions of Americans. I’m going to explain why I think we have seen that increase in a moment, but first let’s explore economic cost of this hidden impact. Undiagnosed gluten problems cost the health care system oodles of money. Doctor Peter Greene studied ten million subscribers at Cigna and found that those who were correctly diagnosed with celiac used less medical services and reduced their health care costs by over thirty percent. The problem is that only one percent of those with actual celiac disease were diagnosed. That means that ninety-nine percent are walking around suffering without knowing it, costing the health care system millions.
Why haven’t you heard much about this? Well actually you have, but you just don’t recognize it. Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity masquerades as dozens and dozens of other diseases with different names. A review paper in the New England Journal of Medicine listed fifty-five diseases that can be caused by eating gluten, that protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and oats. These include osteoporosis, arthritis, irritable bowel, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, canker sores, and almost all autoimmune diseases. They also include many psychiatric and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy, neuropathy, or nerve damage. Gluten has even been linked to autism.
We used to think that gluten problems or celiac disease were confirmed to those children who had diarrhea, weight loss and failure to thrive, but now we know that you can be old, fat and constipated and still have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Gluten sensitivity is actually an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the whole body with a wide ranging set of effects, including effects on your brain, heart, joints, digestive tract, and more. In order to fix many of these diseases you don’t need to treat the symptoms but treat the cause, which is gluten in so many.
That’s not to say that all cases of depression or autoimmune disease or any of the other problems associated with gluten are caused by gluten in everyone, but it is important to look for it if you have any of those chronic illnesses or any chronic illness in fact, I believe. Gluten can be the single cause behind many different diseases. These diseases are not treatable with better medication, but simply one-hundred percent elimination of gluten in the diet. The question then is why are we so sensitive to this staff of life, this staple of our diet? Well the reasons are many. They include our lack of genetic adaptation to grasses, particularly gluten in our diet.
Wheat was introduced into Europe during the middle ages, and thirty percent of those of European descent carry the gene for celiac disease, which increases susceptibility to health problems from eating gluten. Now keep in mind that American strains of wheat have a much higher gluten content, which is needed to make those fluffy light Wonder Bread and giant bagels. This super gluten was recently introduced into our agricultural food supply and has now infected nearly all wheat strains in America.
But how many people does the problem really affect? Well more than you think, especially in the population who is chronically ill. Problems with gluten are widely under-diagnosed. The most serious form of allergy to gluten, celiac disease, affects one in a hundred or three million Americans, most of whom are not diagnosed. Milder forms of gluten sensitivity are even more common, affecting up to one-third of the American population. Now while tests can help you identify this condition, the only way you’ll really know if it’s a problem for you is to eliminate all gluten for a short period of time, like two to four weeks, and see how you feel, but you have to be one-hundred percent gluten-free, not exceptions, no hidden gluten, and then eat it again and see what happens. This teaches you better than any test. If you feel badly in any way, then you will need to be permanently off gluten.
Now there are some tests you can do, and I encourage you to go if you have any of these symptoms to test for gluten antibodies, antigliadin antibodies as well as a bunch of others that I documented in the blog which you can read. Now remember, you don’t have to suffer from these chronic problems if you have any of these diseases if they’re related to gluten, and all you have to do is find out and eliminate the gluten.