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Gluten-Free Diet May Lead to Poor Gut Health
Kim Hopkins

Kim Hopkins is the founder of Food Sensitivity Resources. She is a licensed social worker and someone that "lives to eat" despite having multiple food challenges. Her mission is to combine her thorough, personal knowledge of food safety concerns with her lengthy counseling, training, & consulting experiences to help people live fully despite dietary restrictions. She offers personal coaching, an informative blog, the Safe Suppers Dining Club, as well as consultation for businesses & schools.

By Kim Hopkins
Published on 06/5/2009
Recently, the British Journal of Nutrition reported that following a gluten-free diet may be detrimental to gut health, which may also affect immune health. This article discusses the signs of decreased gut health and what steps to take to make improvements.

Celiac.com 06/05/2009 - Recently, the British Journal of Nutrition reported that following a gluten-free diet may be detrimental to gut health, which may also affect immune health, according to a new study from the Spanish National Research Council. The Spanish researchers analyzed the gut microflora of ten healthy subjects with an average age of 30 assigned to consume a gluten-free diet for one month.   Analysis of the participants’ feces showed that populations of healthy gut bacteria decreased following the gluten-free diet, while populations of unhealthy bacteria increased.

It has been previously documented that gluten can cause leaky gut, even without celiac disease.  Chronic gluten exposure has been shown to activate zonulin resulting in increased intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) even in the absence of celiac disease. Intestinal permeability with malabsorption has been described in celiac patients and their relatives who don’t have atrophy of the intestine on biopsy but only increased inflammatory cells.  An imbalance of intestinal bacteria has been cited as one of the main causes of leaky gut syndrome.  This study could be the beginning of discovering the missing components of the known link between celiac disease (and food sensitivities), leaky gut syndrome, inflammation, and immune health.

If you have celiac disease and/or other food sensitivities, your risk for a bacteria imbalance is high.  What can you do to protect your health?

  • Know the signs of bacteria imbalance:  abdominal pain, asthma, chronic joint pain, chronic muscle pain, confusion, fuzzy or foggy thinking, gas, indigestion, mood swings, nervousness, poor immunity, recurrent vaginal infections, skin rashes, diarrhea, bed-wetting, recurrent bladder infections, poor memory, shortness of breath, constipation, bloating, aggressive behavior, anxiety, fatigue, feeling toxic.
  • Consider dietary changes:  Limit foods that feed bad bacteria – all forms of sugar, vinegars, and moldy foods like mushrooms.  Eat foods that promote intestinal healing, including high fiber foods rich in antioxidants (cabbage, cauliflower, beets, and onions) and omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and flaxseed.  Healthy bacteria found in yogurt (read the label to ensure that it contains live cultures) has also been recommended.
  • Think about chemical exposure:  Eliminating or reducing substances that promote intestinal permeability, such as avoiding antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, pesticides, herbicides, and meat contaminated with hormones.
  • Talk to your doctor:  More research needs to be done, but it seems as though probiotics may be protective against leaky gut and bowel inflammation.  Clinical research shows that oral supplementation of probiotics enhances the immune system's ability to fight foreign organisms.  Digestive Enzymes can also help to restore intestinal permeability.  Herbs and botanicals with anti-inflammatory properties, and those that reduce congestion and/or eliminate waste may also be helpful.
  • autoimmunedisease.suite101.com
  • About.com   Leaky Gut Syndrome/Intestinal Permeability, Cathy Wong, July 23, 2007
  • www.Foodnavigator-usa.com
  • Crook, William; Dean, C.; Crook, E (2003).  The Yeast Connection and Women’s Health
Author's Note:  I apologize for the confusion a poorly-worded sentence caused - it has since been removed.  Obviously, this study is very flawed - it can barely be called a study.  What prompted me to write about it was the very small glimmer of hope it gave me, and many of the people I work with...so many celiacs feel good on the diet for a long time, then don't feel good anymore.  Many are told that it's in their heads, or they must be consuming gluten.  Come to find out, it's a yeast overgrowth due to bacteria imbalance.  The relief that I, and many that I know, have felt from the suggested steps in the article has been incredible.  I'm just glad this connection is being looked at!  I'm hopeful more in-depth, meaningful research is to come!