Monday, October 19, 2009
Immune response to wheat
Sorry to my awesome blog followers, I have not fallen off the face of the earth, it just seems like it!! The weekend of the 3rd I was in Costa Mesa, CA for the TACA Real Help Now conference. What an AWESOME bunch of parents there. Loved that group to pieces and they had a phenomenal line up of speakers including Dr. Jerry Kartzinel and Dr. Doris Rapp.
October 9th - 11th was the DAN! conference in Dallas, TX. That was amazing as always. And it will fuel many blog posts. Ever since the conference I have been trying to find time to blog about it and pass on the latest and greatest.
We finally made some family time during fall break with a trip to the mountains camping last weekend. So, that is why there has been such a lack of posts. Between traveling and fall break, it has been quite busy!!
So on to the good stuff. Dr. Alessio Fasano is a professor of pediatrics, medicine and physiology and director of the Mucosal Biology Research Center and the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He joined our New Beginnings dinner on Saturday night but I did not have the chance to speak with him there. What a pity because his talk on Sunday blew me away and changed how our family will eat from now on. He presented data on the immune response stimulated from wheat ingestion that leads to many common auto immune disorders we are seeing become more and more prevalent. I will skip the technical terms and put it this way, we were born eating nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies and some meats. People had to be nomadic because of that, moving to where they could get food. Once they discovered the secret of seeds, they learned to domesticate crops which allowed things like food storage and meant they could settle in one spot. Long, long before this was a recognizeable disorder, people were dying from this (more often small children). A Dutch Pediatrician named Willem-Karel Dicke noticed that a war-related shortage of bread in the Netherlands led to a significant drop in death rate amonth children affected by an immune response to gluten, from greater thank 35% to essentially zero! Once wheat was once again availabe, the numbers returned to previous levels.
So, how does gluten hurt us? When gluten is ingested, the body mobilizes an immune response, it thinks it is under attack. When the body is under attack, inflammation is generated at the site to aid in healing. When there isn't really an attack and there is prolonged exposure, you can see how this leads to chronic inflammation and bowel dysfunction so often seen in children on the spectrum along with people suffering from Celiac Disease (CD). The immune system harms healthy tissue in any attempt to destroy what they perceive to be an infectious agent. Why is this important? Eating this compound leads to impaired nutritional absorption. Poor iron absorption leads to anemia for example, poor folate uptake can lead to a variety of neurological problems. So, you can see how a person not acutely impacted i.e. without severe gastrointestinal problems like chronic diarrhea and persistant indigestion as a result of wheat exposure, can still be suffering from some form of CD, however slight. Many people DO have a strong response and suffer with chronic GI distress. The estimate is that 1% of the population has this immune response to wheat ingestion, 100 more times common than previously thought. The study that was done looked at 13,000 people and found 133 apparantly healthy subjects were affected! Many times the inflammation is mild and only a small segment of the intestines is dysfunctional. But, inflammation is inflammation and on a chronic basis = no good. We are seeing a dramatic rise in auto-immune related and inflammation related disorders. Here is a great study to pinpoint how impactful our diet is in our health or lack thereof. We all need to sit up and take notice.
After the DAN! conference my whole family when gluten free, not just my son with Autism. He's been GFCFSF for years, now it is time for the rest of us. Another doctor spoke about skin conditions like eczema being a key indicator for leaky gut. I know all too well about leaky gut, this chronically inflammed gut that has been compromised and lets larger peptides through that would not normally be allowed. It creates chaos and havoc for a body and especially a young, developing mind and body. My daughter (and husband and mother in law) all suffer from very bad eczema. Ding, ding, ding, the bells went off. After just a couple of days without gluten my daughter and husband were significantly better. I even noticed a HUGE difference in how I felt after a few days gluten free and then an infraction. I thought I was going to be sick, all that after just a couple of days GF and then eating gluten again! And, this really needs to be driven home to those with kids on the spectrum, EVEN ONE BITE CAN HURT!!! I am not even talking about behavioral reactions. I know there are enzymes out there that are wonderful. They may help break down the proteins for ease in digestion but that is NOT GETTING AROUND THE IMMUNE STIMULATION THAT IS OCCURRING. I have heard way too many people at conferences tell me that they give their kids their "pizza" enzymes or "ice cream" enzymes. I have to tell you, I cringe when I hear that. I am a huge proponent of enzymes but after hearing this new info, it shows me that this immune activation is still occurring. So, if you are really trying to heal your child's (or your own) gut, complete adherence is necessary. You are stoking those fires of inflammation which is just contributing to more damage and auto-immunity. But the good news is that when this is found out early and a strict Gluten Free diet is adhered, the structure of the gut almost always returns to normal or close to it and the gastrointestinal symptoms disappear.
So there you go. You will be getting more GF recipes from me as we make gluten free living a larger endeavor in our house. I urge you to look at your own families and see if this could be an issue for you as well.
This article was published in the August 2009 issue of Scientific America if you'd like to read the full version.