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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

The Downside of a Gluten-Free Diet: Dr. Marianne Marchese guides us on who can benefit from a gluten-free diet

Feb 28, 2014 08:57AM ● By By Dr. Marianne Marchese

Gluten-free foods are all the rage right now. Every grocery store is rushing to stock the shelves with gluten-free bread, pastries, cereals and more. But does everyone really need to avoid gluten? How do you know? Is it based on symptoms, blood tests, an endoscopy, or do you need to have celiac disease? Is a gluten-free diet healthy, or do you end up deficient in certain nutrients? It can be confusing for the average person simply trying to improve their health or prevent a health condition that runs in the family.

A gluten-free diet excludes the protein gluten, which is found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Some people build up antibodies to gluten, creating a condition called celiac disease. This is an actual immune reaction and antibodies can be tested for in the blood. Some people with celiac disease have negative antibodies, and diagnosis is made via an endoscopy. Celiac disease would be considered a true allergy or immune reaction to gluten.

It is possible to have sensitivity to gluten and not a true allergy. This applies to people that test negative for celiac disease, but have symptoms that improve on a gluten-free diet. There is a blood test for the IgG antibody to gluten to help make this diagnosis. Conventional doctors rarely offer IgG food allergy testing, but it is useful. Gluten sensitivity has been linked to other health conditions such as hypothyroidism, endometriosis, infertility and multiple sclerosis. Patients with multiple sclerosis, with or without celiac disease, improve on a gluten-free diet.

Whether or not someone has celiac disease, certain symptoms seem to improve on a gluten-free diet, including anemia, usually resulting from iron deficiency; loss of bone density (osteoporosis); skin rash; headaches and fatigue; numbness and tingling in the feet and hands; joint pain; acid reflux and heartburn; digestive issues (constipation and diarrhea); chronic colds; fatigue; leaky gut syndrome; infertility; and multiple sclerosis.

There can be a downside to eating gluten-free, which is why it is not recommended if we don’t have celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity or a health condition known to be worsened by gluten. We may become deficient in certain nutrients by eating gluten-free. Many grains with gluten are enriched with vitamins. We may become deficient in iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate by eating gluten-free. People end up exhausted, constipated and have low bone mineral density. There is a simple blood micronutrient test to determine the current level of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. This test will help determine if someone is following a proper gluten-free diet or if they need some dietary advice, counseling and recommendations.

Dr. Marchese is a naturopathic physician in Phoenix who focuses on women’s health, cancer care and hormones. She is the author of the book, 8 Weeks to Women’s Wellness. Marchese is giving a free lecture at her office, Longevity Medical Health Center, from 6 to 7 p.m., Mar. 20, on the Ins and Outs of Gluten Sensitivity. For more information, visit and

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