Gluten is nasty stuff, folks. We’re not just talking about sufferers of celiac disease, who have a heightened allergy to this food substance. Gluten, and grain-based carbs in general, is being accused of causing almost every modern neurologic malady. That includes dementia, decreased libido, depression, chronic headaches, anxiety, epilepsy, and ADHD. This is the conclusion of Dr. David Perlmutter whose best seller, Grain Brain, is a scathing indictment of the dietary effects of most grains. Perlmutter is among the more high-profile shooters at gluten, but he’s hardly alone.
Promoters of the Paleo Diet also point an accusatory finger at grains. Dr. Loren Cordain has spent almost thirty years documenting the damage done by wheat to the human body. The most serious form of allergy to gluten; celiac disease, affects one in 100 people, or three million Americans. But milder forms of gluten sensitivity are even more common and may affect up to one-third of the American population, according to Dr. Mark Hyman. The New England Journal of Medicine identified 55 “diseases” associated with a gluten allergy, including osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, canker sores, (v) and rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases. Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric (vi) and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, (vii) schizophrenia, (viii) dementia, (ix) migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage). This is serious sh__! I’ve investigated the Paleo Diet and found much to commend it. For those people who live in Southern California, you might want to try out a food delivery service called Paleo Delivers.
About three years ago, I was urged by a friend just to try going without gluten for a month to see whether I felt different. I had been eating wheat my entire life and was quite convinced that I could not be allergic to it. But a wheat-free diet resulted in dramatic changes that I could not have anticipated. Recently, I paid it forward, convincing a friend who suffered from a series of maladies to try going gluten-free for just 30 days. He reported back to me that most of his nagging health symptoms disappeared and he had lost 10 pounds in just one month. He was clearly among the one-third of Americans who didn’t know they had an allergy.
Dr. Perlmutter goes one step further than gluten; all humans are “allergic” to gluten and to carbs, in general. He promotes a carb-free diet. This is a bit more ambitious, but I expect that I’ll be there soon enough. I’ve found eliminating gluten was easier than it would have seemed and I’ve never felt so good. Gluten is prevalent, so you’ve got to do some serious label reading. (Gluten-laden grains includesbarley, rye, oats, spelt, kamut, wheat, triticale-see www.celiac.com for a complete list of foods that contain gluten, as well as often surprising and hidden sources of gluten, like soy sauce.)
Perlmutter may not have science to back him up quite yet. Like processed sugar, gluten has not been subject to warranted long-term testing. Both crops are mainstays of American agriculture and the respective lobbies would fiercely resist any serious efforts to test health impacts of these crops. Science remains skeptical, as is its role. Dr. James Hamblin recently authored an article in The Atlantic, in which he challenges the scientific basis for Perlmutter’s conclusions. Due to the absence of rigorous testing, it isn’t too difficult to challenge Perlmutter’s thesis. But while science is right to be asking the questions, too many people who are experimenting with diet and lifestyle changes are finding very clear answers.
So let’s not say that gluten is a killer — yet. But I urge you to take the Carb Challenge and eliminate gluten from your diet for 30 days. See how you feel. I’m willing to bet that the difference will be notable enough to realize that there may be more to Perlmutter’s position than science is able to currently assess. Science is slow — and that’s not a bad thing — but most of us can’t afford to wait for science to catch up to what is becoming anecdotally obvious to an increasing number of people. And while you are at it, just 30 minutes of exercise a day will round out any major lifestyle changes you need to make to fully enjoy life. Again, science may not subscribed, but some interval training and daily exercise will make a dramatic difference. “Exercise is the best preventive drug we have, and everybody needs to take that medicine,” says one doctor.
But, increasingly, people are finding what science has not yet discerned; grains are not helping us. And for many of us, they are surprisingly hurtful. Get off gluten, get on that elliptical and get on with your life!