What we understand about gluten now after decades of research and tens of thousands of published studies is overwhelming.  You can find information that definitively backs up the fact that gluten is the devil and everyone should avoid it. You can also make the argument that gluten can be extremely harmful to some people, but most people are OK with it.  With all this information and all these opinions, what are you supposed to do?

What is gluten?

Here’s the official definition from the Celiac Disease Foundation:  

‘Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale – a cross between wheat and rye. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected.’

So basically gluten is a protein found in a large percentage of the standard American diet. It is in bread, pasta, bagels, pizza, cereals, sauces, pastries and much more. It is even used as a filler in countless packaged foods.

What does eating gluten do to us? That depends upon you as an individual AND how much weight you put on some scientific research compared to others

Symptoms of gluten intolerance & celiac disease

There are literally hundreds of symptoms associated with both gluten intolerance and celiac disease, which is why it is so difficult to diagnose. Some of the more common symptoms of gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity include:

  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation
  • Itchy skin and rashes
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Chronic headaches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Brain fog

Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that tends to be genetic.  People with celiac disease need to follow a strict gluten free diet forever, no ifs, ands or buts.  About 1 out of every 100 people have celiac disease, but unfortunately most don’t know it. Many more people have a gluten sensitivity, or gluten intolerance.  You can learn more about these differences on my food sensitivities page. The percentage of people who are walking around with at least a sensitivity to gluten is huge. From my clinical experience at least 40-60% of people have some inflammatory response to eating gluten.

Most people, and unfortunately most doctors, are also unaware that only one-third of people who react to gluten develop actual digestive issues. Since we eat gluten, one of the most common places the inflammation shows up is in the gut, but there have been thousands of studies that confirm gluten reactions can affect your heart, joints, muscles and even your brain.  The brain is actually a very common place for this inflammatory reaction to gluten to show up. Think of all the brain-based disorders that are becoming more prevalent including Autism, Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Anxiety and Depression. There are studies that link the cause of all of these problems to inflammation in the brain.  One of the more common drivers of inflammation is gluten.

How do you know if you should avoid gluten?

There are three paths to figuring out whether or not you should avoid gluten.

  • Food sensitivity and food allergy tests–just keep in mind that these tests are not definitive and are only meant to give you more information.
  • Genetic testing: There are two genes associated with Celiac Disease–get tested!
  • An elimination / reintroduction diet:  Eliminate gluten from your life for a minimum of 90 days, eat it again and look for any negative reaction

The problem with only eliminating gluten is something called gluten cross reactivity, or molecular mimicry.  In short, there are many foods that sort of “look like” gluten when you break them down to their amino acid chains. When you eat these foods your immune system can mistakenly believe that they are actually gluten and you become inflamed even though you were actually eating a gluten free diet.  Here is a list of foods that our bodies can potentially mistake for gluten:

  • All dairy (whole milk and every isolated protein)
  • Milk chocolate (not cocoa)
  • Instant coffee (not regular coffee)
  • Oats
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • Rice
  • Yeast (brewers and bakers)

The problem with going on a gluten free diet is that if you also have a reaction to one or more of these foods, or even if you simply have another food sensitivity or allergy unrelated to gluten, you may not feel better.  You would need to eliminate all of the potential foods that bother you to get a clear picture of how good you could feel. This is why I generally recommend my Leaky Gut Diet which is a comprehensive food elimination and reintroduction program designed to help you understand your relationship with foods.

That being said, I have had many patients over the years simply go gluten free and feel a difference.  If you haven’t tried it then you need to. Want help? Contact my office! I would love to help you get better.


Dr. Jason Piken is a Chiropractor, Certified Nutrition Specialist and Health Coach in NYC offering a unique holistic and whole body approach to nutrition and wellness. Since starting his practice in 1996, Dr. Piken has taught people how to heal from various problems ranging from chronic pain to digestive disorders. When you walk into his office, you know you are in an environment where you are going to be personally cared for. His midtown Manhattan office, Innate Wellness Group, functions as a primary source for healthcare without the use of drugs or surgery.


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