Ask a Doctor: Going Gluten-Free

March 11, 2014 Updated: March 12, 2014

Is there any risk or downside associated with following a gluten-free or grain-free diet if you are not highly sensitive to or allergic to gluten? Is there any benefit?

Dr. Ann Corson: Anyone can benefit from removing wheat and all glutinous grains from their diets. Gliadin is the portion of gluten that causes intestinal damage in genetically susceptible people with celiac disease.

But, gliadin is not the only part of wheat that damages health. Seeds of the grass family, e.g. rice, wheat, spelt, and rye, have exceptionally high levels of defensive glycoproteins known as lectins. These lectins are particularly resistant to degradation, surviving cooking, fermentation, and digestion.

Wheat lectin, also called wheat germ agglutinin, is particularly inflammatory. Wheat germ agglutinin is tiny and passes easily through the intestinal wall creating inflammation in the body and negatively affecting the pancreas, thyroid, gonads, and intestines. It may also damage the immune and nervous systems. Wheat germ agglutinin itself also appears to, independent of gliadin, contribute to the development of celiac disease. Grain lectins also seem to create insulin and leptin resistance, thereby contributing to the obesity epidemic.

These negative effects of gluten and lectin are magnified after anyone has been ill with common viral or bacterial infections and has taken prescription or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen or aspirin, as these cause increased intestinal permeability or “leaky gut.”

People who refrain from grains often see a dramatic reduction in body weight, better blood sugar control, a significant decrease in arthritic pain, relief of intestinal symptoms such as irritable bowel and reflux, as well as an improvement in mood, sleep, and energy.


Dr. Ann Corson is a board certified family medicine and integrative holistic medicine doctor who specializes in treating chronically ill patients. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ann Corson)


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