When Christine asked me to write about gluten for this issue I was a bit surprised. The first thought that goes through my head is, “doesn’t everybody know about gluten already?” I have been bringing up gluten for over ten years in my talks. So if it is ok with you I am going to assume that you know gluten is bad for you. I am also going to assume you are doing your best to either eliminate it or avoid it. I am going to assume that you treat gluten like any other of the food poisons we have educated ourselves to avoid. No trans fats, no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial dyes and artificial sweeteners, and no gluten. Can I just call this common sense eating?
If you are like me however, that common sense was hard won after years of trial and error. I myself had years of colitis before I was able to discover this common sense. So it is possible that you did years of damage before trying a gluten free diet. Often these symptoms continue after eliminating gluten. Those years of eating gluten were like punching holes in a bucket of water. The leaks can be stopped by giving up gluten, but that does not fill the bucket back up. It is possible to live a life of disease even if you stop all gluten.
To understand why gluten can create these lingering problems we need to look at what an allergic response to gluten does to the body. The first response is that the body releases adrenaline. You make know this as the fight or flight hormone. This is the signal to the body that there is an invader. Remember that an allergy to gluten means that the body sees gluten as a bacteria that it needs to fight.
After a while of releasing adrenaline then the cortisol system kicks in. Cortisol is the water that is used to put out the fire. Remember the body is still thinking that it is fighting a bacteria, so it knows to start the next step. This next step is to turn down the immune system and start repairing the damage. The damage occurs because when the body fights against gluten the inflammation that it uses to do this job also hurts our own body.
So what happens with chronic, long term gluten reaction? The body is constantly putting out adrenaline (fight of flight) and cortisol. So when stopping gluten a person is often left in a state of high adrenaline and high cortisol. Another word for this combination is anxiety and inflammation. Chronic insomnia and weakness can result from this state even if gluten has been stopped. The body gets locked into this pattern in the same way that a truck going down a steep mountain path can loose control. The brakes wear out after a long time of being applied. In the same why the brain chemicals that put on the brakes get depleted.
One of the worst effects of this chronic high cortisol is that it blocks the release of growth hormone. For growth hormone to be released cortisol needs to go down. Of course with the body stuck in a high cortisol pattern this is not going to happen. In children this will block their growth hormone and you will see that they will be short. I have seen a lot of kids spring up in height after giving up gluten including my own children. In older people this block of growth hormones will cause them to be fat and tired. It is amazing the amount of money that I have seen people spend on growth hormone replacement when their own growth hormone was right there waiting for them.
Another sign that gluten has created an empty bucket is chronic anxiety. I experienced this myself and even after being off of gluten for several years it had not corrected itself. My body had corrected it’s symptoms but my anxiety was actually worse! It was worse because the patterns that the allergic immune response to gluten had created were still the same. So as my system got stronger it just pushed me harder in the wrong direction. It was not till I actively tested and used a specific approach to balance my brain that I began to feel better. This was the process of filling the bucket instead of just patching the holes, hence this article. I would have never been able to focus and write like this in the state that my gluten allergy left my brain.
As is often the case the opposite can happen also in cases where the body has had a chronic inflammatory response to gluten. I call this a case where a person both has no brakes and no gas for fuel. The person in this state can experience the worst of both worlds, both anxiety and depression. The person can either be in the state where anything throughs them off, or nothing moves them. This can be corrected also.