Gluten: Is Going Cold-Turkey the Only Option?

Teresa Lau's picture

In recent years, gluten has been the object of much negative public attention. The attack on gluten has gone mainstream, where even celebrities like Miley Cyrus tout the benefits of going on a gluten-free diet. These benefits include reduction in digestive discomfort, better energy, and even clearer skin. And now, the food industry has responded by offering more gluten-free food products on grocery store shelves and in restaurants. What is the big fuss about gluten, and is going cold-turkey to cut it out of your diet the only option to deal with it?

Gluten is a protein found in products made from wheat, barley, or rye. Not only is gluten found on store shelves in products like breads and pastas, but it is also a common ingredient in many processed foods. People with Celiac disease must avoid gluten because it triggers an autoimmune response causing inflammation and damage in the gut wall. This inflammation then leads to impaired absorption of nutrients from food. But now, experts believe that an even wider spectrum of gluten intolerance exists, from Celiac disease at one extreme down to gluten sensitivity at the other end. Unlike Celiac disease, there is no definitive test for gluten sensitivity as it is not autoimmune and symptoms typically include bloating, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and/or constipation. Hence, those who do not test positive for Celiac disease still end up trying a gluten-free diet in hopes of attaining some relief. But going gluten-free is not easy since it's ubiquitous in processed foods, dressings, and condiments. It can be overwhelming for dieters to have to read every label and possibly give up entire categories of foods to be truly gluten free.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, there may be options other than to go cold-turkey, particularly if one has mild gluten sensitivity.  The general principle of TCM is to identify imbalances in the body. From this big picture view, the practitioner can then follow the imbalance to the affected system or organ for further assessment. In many cases, this is more effective than focusing on the offending agent like gluten because each body reacts differently based on varying degrees of sensitivity. Through TCM, a practitioner can effectively identify the root cause of the sensitivity, and then target and address the pattern of imbalance through specific treatments.

In an upcoming post, I will discuss in more detail the gluten-free diet from a TCM perspective.