Wheat Woes: All In Your Head?

Gluten free is without a doubt, one of the newest “fad diets”, and the issue is being hotly debated in the blogosphere and medical communities alike [1,2].  Gluten free is being criticized as trendy, and as an option for individuals who “just want to lose weight,” or believe that a gluten free diet will make them feel better. “Self-diagnosis” of a gluten sensitivity igluten frees common and shunned upon by most of the medical community, even though a diagnosis by exclusion is still the best and only way to diagnose non-celiac gluten sensitivities. The reaction by some when you chose not to eat a particular food group is shock and concern for your health, as if not eating bread will cause you more harm and this concept that you could end up with “severe nutritional deficiencies“. Let’s be clear, so long as you replace the gluten in your diet with healthy alternatives, you are likely not going to “miss out” on any nutrients, which are usually artificially added to wheat, anyway.  Check out The Paleo Mom for a great article on the subject here.

When I first became gluten free, you either had biopsy-confirmed celiac disease or it was all in your head. I had the good fortune of having a doctor trained in Greece, who was more a fan of “if it made you feel better, then do it.” I did a rotation diet under his guidance, and discovered a severe sensitivity to wheat, although I was never diagnosed with “celiac disease,” (nor do I have the most commonly recognized susceptibility genes for it).

Initially in the literature, many scientists and practitioners argued if “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” was even a real thing. Apparently, many doctors had experienced people insisting they were sensitive to gluten, without any trace of official celiac disease on their medical records or diagnostic exams. For the last 3-5 yearsthe health community at large did, and still does to a considerable degree, consider non-celiac gluten sensitivity a fad-diet.  Even still, perception and opinion persists among the medical and scientific communities, that if people don’t have “markers” for celiac disease, “there’s no evidence that the protein can do any lasting harm,” and only individuals with biopsy-confirmed celiac disease can benefit from a gluten free diet. There are even some with biopsy-confirmed celiac disease who have grown resentful of the “gluten free craze” and can’t wait for it to end.

Fortunately, very recent literature has done two things for us. In the first case, a study was conducted to determine that individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity weren’t just a bunch of liars with personality problems — whew, what a relief!

Secondly, current literature has refuted the fad-hypothesis and identifies non-celiac wheat sensitivity as a distinct clinical condition, which may present as a spectrum of related complications — from migrane to skin rashes to psychosis or depression.  What’s more is that wheat/gluten sensitivity looks different in different individuals.  Moreover, you’re talking about a patient population of 18 million Americans (compare that to only 100,000 American narcoleptics)

That’s not to say that there are probably people adopting a gluten free diet that don’t necessarily need to. These people are otherwise healthy, are completely gluten tolerant, get no (obvious) positive benefits from removing gluten from their diets and are really getting ripped off by a lot of companies trying to make a buck.

However, there are many ways that gluten can cause ill-effects outside of classical celiac disease. Indeed, gluten sensitivity often lies outside of intestinal pathology, per se, and rather manifests with extra-intestinal symptoms, including neurological issues. Take the case of celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity in schizophrenia, for example.

Sleep architecture has also been shown to be impaired in those with celiac disease, but whether these same disturbances occur in “non-celiac” sensitivities are not yet fully reported. Anecdotal evidence would suggest yes. Reports of hypnagogic hallucinations, sleep paralysis, and nightmares are common in people who have discovered an underlying gluten intolerance.

So, how could this be?

Firstly, you can’t find what you aren’t looking for.

It is apparent that non-celiac disease gluten sensitivity is not celiac diseaseIn that way, if you go looking for classical diagnostic markers of celiac disease, they won’t be there. Does this mean that you aren’t still gluten intolerant or wheat-sensitive? Absolutely not.

At the end of the day, elimination diets are still the clinically best way to determine if you have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. After you have determined with your doctor that you do not have celiac disease, remove gluten for three weeks. If you feel better after removing it, you are likely sensitive.

Narco Biohack – environmental modifications

A few weeks ago, I was scouring the internet for devices that could help narcolepsy.  stumbled upon a fake invention (presumably it’s a college website design class or something of that nature) advertising The Narco Ring,an anti-narcoleptic ring you wear to “The Narco-Ring – Helping Narcoleptics Remain Alert During Critical Awareness Moments.”  Although to my despair it turned out to be a fake product, you can see why I was excited:

mood ringFirst it had to be powered by some source. For a ring since it is small we knew something as double A batteries would not work. However the battery called coin cell or button cell battery that operates on small electronics such as wrist watches, calculators, hearing aids, or on the central printed circuit board we figured would do just fine to operate the Narco-ring.

Then what needed to be done is to figure out how much of the force of a vibration or shock is needed and for how long. For each person it would more than likely differ, because it would depend on how sensitive their finger is to the vibration and if they are a deep sleeper or not. Also the vibration may not be enough to wake them up with even the highest vibration, so then a shock would be used.

A new sensor would need to be created for this ring. Motion senors have been created where if someone or something moves then it triggers an alarm and it goes off letting someone or something know that there is something making motion. For our ring we need just the opposite of that where there is a sensor on the Narco-ring that detects when your finger isn’t moving.

Pretty clever, huh?

In all seriousness, though, there are a few devices that people are using to help narcoleptic symptoms.  I haven’t personally tried any of these yet, but have just placed an order, and very confident they work based on testimonials I’ve received.

Blue Light Blocking Glasses blue block

The idea behind using amber lenses to block blue light to improve sleep is basically that:

  • Blue wavelengths are important for circadian rhythms
  • When and how much light (especially blue light) you receive affects sleep
  • Blocking blue light mimics “physiological darkness” and could lead to improved sleep cycles, which is impaired in narcolepsy.

Blue light evolutionarily should only really come from the sun, fires, and other natural sources of light. So, your body has evolved to use these light cues to signal when it is appropriate to sleep, and when it is appropriate to wake up.

Much of the blue light we receive at inappropriate times (mainly when it is dark outside) are coming from not only articficial lighting systems within the home, but from electronic devices.  Even over the past 10 years, the number of people using the internet, and presumably using computers and surfing the web, phones, or iPads has increased dramatically. Internet adoptionIn the study linked above, patients (non-narcoleptic) wore blue light blocking glasses for three hours prior to bed time.  They demonstrated that those wearing blue light blocking glasses:

  •  had significant improvement in sleep quality compared to the control group
  •  had significantly improved mood relative to controls

Phototherapy a.k.a. Light Boxes

Light therapy is essentially waking up in the morning and sitting in front of a light box for about 1/2 an hour to “reset” your circadian clock. The idea is basically the exact same aslightbox the blue light blocking glasses, except this time you’d like to have it. Receiving cues that it is morning time (a time to be awake and alert) may be able to help, especially if delayed awakening is a problem.

These products can be a bit of an expense ($70-$140), but it might be worthwhile if you can rouse yourself enough to go take a walk outside, or if you don’t live in the Sunshine State.