There has been so much back and forth in the media and even among researchers in the last few years regarding whether or not those of us without celiac disease or a identified wheat allergy can actually react to wheat, with some claiming it’s all in our heads.
Gluten is the protein that makes up wheat. It’s what helps bind and create that elastic texture in bread. Back in 2012, I tested mildly sensitive to gluten. However, when I removed gluten from my diet I realized that mild was an under-statement. Completely removing gluten from my diet is what took me from barely getting off the couch to being able to return to life, finish school, and generally feel normal again.
I would love to believe it was all in my head, or better yet I’d love to find out I’m no longer reacting to gluten. Unfortunately, the few times that I’ve really tested the theory I’ve found that I do still react to gluten. The good news is that because I don’t eat wheat, the rare times when I do ingest some the symptoms aren’t nearly as bad and don’t last nearly as long. But, I do still react to it, so I still avoid it. I continue to attribute my improved fibromyalgia symptoms to avoiding wheat/gluten.
When I ran across this study it was nice to see that a) researchers are still digging and b) there may be an answer. According to a 2016 study published in GUT Journal, you don’t have to have celiac to have a gut reaction to wheat.
The researchers sought to determine if a biomarker could be found for those of us who react to wheat but who do not have celiac. What they found was that wheat sensitivity in the absence of celiac was associated with significantly increased levels of solubable CD14 and lipopolysaccharide-binding protein. Patients also showed antibody reactivity to microbial antigens, indicating systemic immune activation. Additionally, the patients showed elevated levels of fatty acid-binding protein 2, correlating to compromised systemic immune function.
The researchers believed that this compromised immune function and increased antibody response may be the result of ongoing defects to the intestinal epithelial barrier. These defects may also lead to imbalanced microbiota leading to peripheral immune activation. Simply put, for some of us, wheat causes intestinal cell damage, messes up the microbiome of our stomach and causes an immune reaction.
They don’t know why it is but it’s obvious that for those of us who do experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity we do have differences in the gut to show for it. There’s a reason we feel this way and it’s not all in our heads. This is just the beginning and more research is needed to help determine the cause, but the important thing to note is that if you are one of those who experience non-celiac wheat sensitivity you aren’t alone and it’s not all in your head.
Even if this study didn’t find any differences, all that really matters is does removing gluten from your diet make you feel better? If so, it’s worth doing. I’ve found removing gluten to be key in helping me feel better and live a normal life, so I’ll continue to leave gluten and wheat our of my diet.