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Gluten Allergy, Wheat & Corn Allergy

by   Dr. Manik G. Hiranandani

(Updated 1st February 2013)

Introduction

Harish, a 10 year old boy was brought to see me with complaints of constant coughs and colds. He had been treated intermittently with antibiotics, homeopathy and Ayurvedic treatment, but his problems persisted in spite of treatment. I asked his mother if he had any other problems, she said he wets his bed every night, he is always tired, he is not doing well in school and had just failed his last examinations. I examined him, found him underweight and underdeveloped. I diagnosed that his problems were a result of a gluten allergy, and that this allergy had  caused all these problems including  dyslexia. I advised that he should not eat any wheat or corn or their products like flour, bread, biscuits, cakes or chapathis' and instead he should be fed rice, Jowar & bajra (millet) only.

I  saw  Harish again after 2 weeks, he was rebellious at having to give up wheat and biscuits which were his staple foods. I explained to him again the advantages of the diet and explained to his mother how she could make him substitutes for his favorite foods. Harish agreed to try it for 3 weeks. When he returned he was happier, his colds were less, his fatigue was less and his bed wetting had reduced. Six months later, his colds had almost cleared up, he was doing much better in school, at his last school examination he had moved up into the top half of his class and the bed wetting had stopped.

Three years later I saw Harish again. He said "Doctor I am all right now and sometimes I eat a few Chapaties". I asked him what was the result. He said every time I eat chapati's  my hand writing goes really small and spidery and I can't remember things in class any more for the next month. His homework books clearly showed a significant deterioration in his writing and his marks every time he had eaten gluten. When I next saw Harish, 5 years had passed, he was in college, off gluten and doing well both in health and in his studies.

The abstention from Gluten helped him to recover his health and gave him a better quality of life.

Food  allergies today are a significant cause of illness, especially in the developed world. Some western clinicians estimate that almost 50% of the problems for which patients consult doctors are related to food allergies.

Milk and gluten allergy receive a significant mention in all recent textbooks of medicine as overwhelming evidence has accumulated about the many problems these allergies can cause. This article presents some of the problems a gluten allergy can cause. After reading this article, if you have a gluten allergy you need to assess, whether it is a worth while risk for you to continue consuming wheat and corn and their products.

Gluten allergy is more common in North India and in the United states where wheat is the main cereal in the diet and pesticide use is high. The Green Revolution in North India, has made available large quantities of hybrid wheat which have a good appearance and taste, unfortunately contain lots of pesticide. Those people who eat traditional strains of wheat, rarely have gluten allergy as traditional strains of wheat,  have over the years reached an equilibrium with local pests and do not require significant applications of pesticide. However indiscriminate use of Pesticides in these areas has contaminated groundwater and most grains grown in these highly irrigated and intensively cultivated areas contain significant quantities of pesticides. Pesticides are carcinogenic (cause cancer) and kill people.

Types of Gluten allergy

There are 2 types of gluten allergies. In type 1 gluten allergy the patient is allergic to the gluten in wheat and corn and can tolerate the gluten in oats, barley and rye. This is usually acquired later in life and is due to pesticide residues in the wheat and corn.

Type 2 gluten allergy is the more severe type. In this the patient is allergic to the gluten in wheat, corn,  oats, barley and rye. All these substances need to be avoided in this condition. This type of allergy usually begins in the early months of infancy, when wheat based foods are introduced and usually lasts through life.

Gluten allergy is rarely suspected or diagnosed, and can cause a wide range of  problems like indigestion, gas, flatulence, stomach pain, hyperacidity, diarrhoea, Ulcerative colitis, peptic ulcers, Hashimoto's disease, hypothyroidism, hyperactive or aggressive behavior, dyslexia, backaches, diabetes, fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, muscle pains and cramps, cancer of the muscles (Sarcomas), cancer of the lymph nodes, asthma, infertility, eczema, depression, epilepsy, loss of memory, and abnormal behavior including depression and schizophrenia. The effects of gluten allergy can have profound effects on the life of the individual and should be checked for and treated appropriately if you have any of the symptoms mentioned above.

When we eat food containing wheat or corn which contains pesticides, the body may create antibodies to certain specific segments of their main protein called gluten. As the body can choose which segment of the gluten molecule to create anti-bodies the type of antibodies created tends to vary from person to person. This makes testing for gluten allergy difficult or very expensive as multiple antibodies have to be tested. Every grain has it's own type of gluten. The gluten in wheat and corn are similar and usually a cross allergy exists between them. Gluten is also present in other grains like oats, barley and rye. Fortunately as pesticide usage in these grains is less than for wheat and corn, allergy to these types of gluten is less common and these grains may often be safely used as a substitute for wheat and corn. Your physician can advise you about whether these grains are appropriate for you to eat.

Allergy to wheat and corn is increasingly seen both in adults and children, due to the widespread use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in growing these grains. In contrast people who eat organic grain have a much lower incidence of gluten allergy. With safe inputs in agriculture, the grains too will be safe to eat.

In my experience with food allergies over the last 20 years, I have found gluten allergies to be associated with a wide range of illnesses (some of which are mentioned above). Coeliac disease also called Ulcerative colitis or Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is often associated with gluten allergy. 

Fatima was a young lady who had been suffering from bleeding in the stools for over a year. Her haemoglobin was constantly low she was being treated with iron supplements and steroids without much improvement. I examined her, diagnosed a gluten allergy and advised abstinence from wheat and corn. Over the next year she recovered fully. The only times her symptoms returned over the next 20 years was when she strayed from her diet.

Problems due to gluten allergy,  respond well to the complete stopping of wheat and corn and the patient recovers promptly without needing any drugs.

Prognosis in patients who totally abstain from gluten.

When patients with a gluten allergy stop taking wheat and corn along with all their products, the symptoms, specially the gastro-intestinal symptoms like hyperacidity, heartburn, flatulence, bleeding and abdominal discomfort show a discernible improvement in 3-4 weeks. A marked improvement in other problems follows in the next 2- 3 months. It usually takes 18 to 24 months for all the symptoms to resolve with total abstinence from all wheat and corn products. In people who do not completely abstain from wheat and corn products this recovery process is longer. Every exposure whether intentional or accidental, minor or major, causes a recurrence of the symptoms which flare up for 3-4 weeks and then gradually resolve.

Problems with early introduction of wheat and corn for babies. It is well known that feeding a baby with wheat and corn early (prior to 8 months) can cause problems like diarrhoea, indigestion, colic, colitis, constipation, anorexia, eczema, asthma, ear infections, tonsillitis and developmental problems including autism like symptoms. This led to a strong movement worldwide, spearheaded by pediatricians, promoting breast feeding as the perfect and only food necessary for babies until they are weaned onto solid foods. This weaning should usually commence at 6 months with soft fruit and vegetables and be more or less complete by about a year.

The new born baby's intestine is porous allowing proteins to be absorbed intact without being broken down. This is beneficial for the baby's immunity as it is able to absorb immunoglobulins from it's mother milk and thus boost it's own immunity. However early introduction (earlier than 8 months) of wheat and corn allow absorption of the undigested protein into the blood stream and predispose to development of a gluten allergy in later life.


Substitutes

Commonly used substitutes for wheat and corn are products based on rice, millet, lentils, rye, arrow root, tapioca or potato flour, lentils, chick pea flour, buckwheat, oats,  and quinoa. In Western countries, health food shops usually carry a large range of gluten free substitutes for most foods. Allergy associations also exist which help people to deal with gluten allergies.

A sample of gluten free recipes is available on my web site which explains how to make many items which usually require wheat flour or cornflour as ingredients. Potato starch, tapioca starch, coconut flour, grated coconut, Pea protein and Xanthum gum are often added to rice flour to thicken it, add texture and make it easier to make bread, cakes etc .

Products containing gluten which may cause an allergic reaction when eaten, drunk or applied on the skin include sweets and ice creams, breads, biscuits, cakes, pizzas, pies, noodles, pasta, pastry, roti's, chapati's, naan, margarines, soups, gravies, curries, mayonnaises, canned foods. Prepared meats like hamburgers, pates, hot dogs, sausages can contain wheat or corn which are used to stretch the quantity of meat. Products derived from wheat or corn and used as ingredients in prepared foods are cornflour, (often used in Chinese food, gravies and soups as a thickener,) wheat germ, refined flour, whole wheat flour, self raising flour, cake mixes, wheat bran and wheat bran oil, corn oil, glucose and sweeteners. An inadvertent source of contamination are vegetable oils, & hydrogenated fats made from wheat bran oil or corn oil,

Many people add bran to their food to increase the fibre content of their diet and reduce the risk of cancer. If you are doing this ensure that your wheat bran is from organic wheat. As the pesticide content is higher in wheat bran, whole wheat breads and American corn; eating these foods is more likely to cause a gluten allergy and in fact can increase your risk of getting cancer.

Other foods to avoid are bread crumbs, often used to coat meats or ready to cook meals, bran, cereal extract, cereal protein, couscous, bulgar or bulgur wheat, cracker meal, enriched flour, gluten, semolina wheat, high protein flour, malt, malt vinegar, starch, rusk, baking powder. Other things to be cautious about, although they may be wheat free are: gelatinized starch, spelt, kamut, anything from the Triticum (wheat) family, modified food starch, modified starch, hydrolysed starch, soy sauce, vegetable gum or vegetable starch, MSG, citric acid, mustard powder, beer, ale and root beer, malted milk, dextrins, and miso.

Cosmetics often contain flour, wheat starch, wheat germ or wheat germ oil as an ingredient which can cause allergic reactions on the skin and in the body Vitamin E oil is often contaminated with gluten. Always check the ingredients of all your cosmetics before using them.

Gluten Allergy testing and diagnosis.

The general gluten antibody test conducted by most laboratories, test only a small portion of the gluten protein called alpha-gliadin. A negative test is therefore not an indication that you do not have a gluten allergy. An individual can have an immune reaction to any part  of the gluten protein, which is a very large protein and so many types of antibodies to gluten exist. Tests are available for measuring antibodies to some of the segments of the gluten molecule including omega-gliadin, gamma-gliadin, wheat germ agglutinin, and deamidated gliadin. A gluten assessment panel called the Wheat/Gluten Protein Sensitivity and Autoimmunity test is carried out by Cyrex Laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona. The panel also provides testing for trans glutaminase antibodies, the marker for autoimmunity against intestinal tissue. This marker strongly suggests celiac disease or at least an autoimmune reaction in the small intestine in response to gluten. 

A negative test does not exclude gluten allergy, as tests are still not available to test most of the different types of antibodies to different segments of gluten. If your immune system is depressed and exhausted, you may not  make enough antibodies to register positive on a lab panel, even though an immune reaction is taking place. In this instance, restoring immune health will often then produce a positive antibody response to gluten on a lab test.

The fastest, cheapest and usually the most accurate assessment is by consulting a competent iridologist who can within a few minutes tell you if you have a gluten allergy. If you do not have access to a good iridologist and you suspect you may have a gluten allergy, total abstinence from gluten for 3 months should bring about an improvement in your symptoms. If your symptoms improve you are then sure you have a gluten allergy and no further testing is required.

Conclusions

Gluten allergy is today the second most important allergy after Milk allergy and is a serious problem which   affects an increasing number of people all over the world.
It causes a wide range of problems which can be alleviated or cured by not eating wheat and corn and all their products.
If you have been diagnosed with a gluten allergy you need to completely abstain from all products containing wheat and corn to allow your health to recover.

Always check the ingredients of the products you are buying if you have an allergy.

To avoid getting a gluten allergy eat organic (biological / ecological) food.