The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 964: Should You Go Gluten Free?

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Should You Go Gluten Free?

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Gluten has become a household name in the last few years, with many crackers, cereals and other food products advertised as gluten free.

What is gluten, and should you be avoiding it?

In the past, the only people who paid much attention to gluten were those with celiac disease. This condition was thought to be common in Europe, but rare in the United States. Careful research published ten years ago revealed that celiac disease is just as common in the US as in Europe, but that it is too often neglected.

People with celiac disease suffer terribly if they consume foods made from wheat, barley and rye since those contain the compound referred to as gluten. Their immune systems attack and destroy the lining of the intestine when gluten is present. This can lead to a wide range of nutritional deficiencies and a number of not-so-obvious symptoms.

Now, scientists are finding that some people who do not have celiac disease are also sensitive to gluten and react badly to this protein. Could you be among them?

This Week’s Guest

Alessio Fasano, MD, is Director of the Center for Celiac Research and division chief of the Department of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. He is also a visiting professor at Harvard Medical School. He is the author of Gluten Freedom, a research-based book that separates fact from fiction about how gluten affects health. His websites are www.celiaccenter.organd and

Listen to the Show

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free for four weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs of the interview may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

Purchase the CD of the interview

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Thank you. This was one of the best Dr. Fasano interviews I have heard. He is a hero of mine. I have been GF for over 12 years because of gluten sensitivity. It totally turned around my health relieving so many problems such as peripheral neuropathy, headaches, joint pain, reflux to name just a few. I now eat a paleo diet that is based on nutrient dense foods. I am glad that I found the information and support on internet forums. The medications my docs wanted me to take were really scary.

I have celiac sprue. Proven through physical scraping of my intestine.

Not only do I have problems with the usual gluten, potato starch is just as bad if not worse for me! And it is in everything, including many “gluten-free” packaged products!

My husband, a type 1 diabetic had chronic constipation for years , several cases of being impacted. Someone suggested going gf and he immediately became regular. We always ate plenty of fiber so that was not the problem. It was easier for me, as the cook, to follow the same diet. I immediately lost weight and had more energy. I have always had a weight problem and now do not have the desire to overheat. We do not understand the science aspect but we know our lives have improved since going gf.

Count me among the skeptics. I have never had any noticeable effects from eating foods containing gluten. The medical problems I have at age 73, are attributable to a host of factors from genetics to hormones not to mention age. I tried going gluten-free for a while, before testing eliminated celiac disease as a cause of my IBS ( more likely genetic). I found the gluten free diet boring and impossible to maintain. If my life is cut short a couple of years due to gluten, at least I will have enjoyed my food, and that’s important to me. And likely we will never know what role gluten played in my death, if any.

Many years ago when I boxed I was very lean and muscular and a very good athelete. I noticed that when I ate a bowl of the then popular breakfast cereals, Malto Meal or Cream of Wheat, that I would wake up the next morning a little puffy and my chiesled abs would be gone.
I stopped eating wheat in the 60’s, for this reason, though I am not wheat intolerant.
I am wondering if today’s fitness people are down on wheat for these reasons rather than celiac.

I wonder if the real problem is Monsanto’s promotion of round-up sprayed on the wheat. If it blows up the stomach of bugs, might have some consequences for us. I do not buy agribusiness products.

Right. The RoundUp residuals of pre-harvest spraying of wheat (and other crops) may be the major cause of the 400% increase or more of celiac disease. See my other post to see why this is common to hear at cocktail parties. Stick to Kansas wheat where RoundUp is not needed just prior to harvest – organic producers are even better.

From the work of Professor Fasano it can be deduced that everyone who eats gluten is at some undefined risk of an autoimmune reaction as a result of gut permeability directly created by gluten’s effect on zonulin. How this exactly works is described in this paper by Professor Fasano, et. al: “Zonulin and Its Regulation of Intestinal Barrier Function: The Biological Door to Inflammation, Autoimmunity, and Cancer”: . Here, as well, is a link to an informative youtube video about this, by IHMC, titled: “Alessio Fasano – Spectrum of Gluten-Related Disorders: People Shall Not Live by Bread Alone” , which is fairly technical, as there are slides presented, in a lecture format.

Although I don’t have any gluten-caused conditions, that I know of, I feel it is wise to avoid the risk, so I have given up gluten foods, entirely, in my diet. I have, for many years, avoided refined carbs, which already included almost all of the gluten foods.

Thank you (all 3 of you; Terry, Joe and Dr. Fasano) for understanding how important this information is concerning celiac and the extremely profound aspect that gluten exists ( much of which is so not and so misunderstood, especially in the apparently unlimited ways that it has or could affect peoples lives. I simply had no idea! Thank you all 3 of you for all your work and for your professional ethics that your discipline guided you to put show #964 on the air.

You are all very positive, forward thinking, rational and sensible individuals for which we all could stand just thay much better of quality of life.

I can hardly wait to wake everyone that I know up so I can tell them about this show (#964) and all of the facts and information.

I am sure that you have at least, profoundly and permanently changed my life for the better!

Thank you all ever so much!

Timothy G
Pierre, SD

My son who is now 16 was diagnosed with Celiac at age 14. He has switched to a GF diet, which has been difficult for a teen, especially with pizza and cake being staples of his peers. His doctors were concerned that negative reaction to gluten may delay the inception of adolescence and his development during this period of transition. I am interested in Dr. Fasano’s perspective on the impact of Celiac on adolescents.

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