Is Gluten Sensitivity All in Your Head?

Wheat Sensitivity FinalFirst, non-celiac wheat/gluten sensitivity was a sham and everyone claimed its participants were in a collective mass delusion. Then some actual studies came out, and it appeared to be a real condition. Soon after, researchers offered different theories. Maybe it was FODMAP intolerance. Maybe it was all that wheat fiber messing up the gut. Maybe it was too little fiber and other fermentable substrate, and we were actually starving our gut bugs and compromising our intestinal health. Maybe it wasn’t even the gluten. And maybe it was actually some kind of a placebo. One of the most recent findings was that gluten sensitivity might not even exist. What’s the truth?

The response to the controversy in the media has been predictable. Gluten-free was just a fad and we were “dumb” for following it. Paleo and gluten-free are just “lies we tell ourselves,” and they’re literally destroying us. The one upside is this hilarious viral video, but that doesn’t make up for scaring away the people who might really have benefited from avoiding gluten/grains. Or the people who had already benefited but began doubting themselves and reneging on the diet. I don’t have any hard data on the numbers, but I’ve received enough feedback from confused readers wondering whether the real, measurable benefits they’d experienced were all in their heads.

Maybe it’s not.

A new study just out introduces another wrinkle: people who report having “non-celiac wheat sensitivity” show evidence of systemic immune activation and impaired intestinal permeability. In short, NCWS is characterized by leaky gut, increased translocation of gut contents—including microbial toxins—into circulation, and moderate immune reactivity to a gluten challenge. It certainly seems quite real.

How was the study conducted?

Researchers recruited a group of 160 adults. 80 of them were non-celiac wheat sensitives eating a normal diet. 40 had celiac. 40 were healthy controls. They ran a few tests to determine their baseline inflammatory status. Here’s what they found:

NCWS displayed more immune reactivity to gluten than healthy controls, but less than celiacs. This increased reactivity on the part of NCWS was not mediated by the genes typically associated with celiac.

NCWS had elevated biomarkers indicating damage to the intestinal lining. That’s leaky gut, the condition that “rational” types still insist exists only in your imagination.

NCWS had higher lipopolysaccharide-binding protein (LBP) and sCD14 levels than both controls and celiacs. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is a bacterial endotoxin with some bad health effects if allowed systemic access. Our bodies dispatch LBP and sCD14 to regulate LPS toxicity, prevent systemic dispersal, and maintain a healthy inflammatory response. High levels of LBP and sCD14 indicate elevated systemic inflammation. NCWS also had elevated bacterial endotxin (LPS) antibodies. This suggests that LPS was making it into circulation—perhaps through a compromised intestinal lining—and eliciting an inflammatory response.

NCWS had elevated flagellin antibodies. Flagellin is the principle protein in Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, and flagellin antibodies are typically elevated during infections involving those bacteria. Since NCWS were not infected, a rise in flagellin antibodies could indicate translocation of bacterial products from the gut into circulation (again, likely through the leaky gut).

Elevated systemic inflammation was linked to intestinal permeability. More damage to the intestinal lining, higher inflammation.

After the baseline measurements, researchers placed 20 of the NCWS subjects on a gluten-free diet for 6 months to determine the effect of gluten avoidance on these biomarkers. Wheat, rye, and barley were all restricted. What happened?

Removing gluten-containing grains improved both intestinal permeability and systemic inflammation. LBP, sCD14, flagellin antibodies, endotoxin antibodies, and leaky gut markers all improved. They showed less reactivity to microbial products leaking through the gut. Their symptoms, which had previously included both intestinal (diarrhea, gas, bloating, pain) and extraintestinal (confusion, fatigue, cognitive decline) complaints, diminished. All in all, removing gluten grains had real benefits that were reflected in both subjective and objective measurements.

It’s a pretty cool study that vindicates much of what you guys have been reporting (and experiencing) for years.

However, it doesn’t identify the source of the problem in these patients. They still don’t know what causes the initial breakdown in intestinal integrity.

I might, though. And I think there are ways to fix it.

I won’t go through every one of the recommendations for preventing and healing leaky gut. You can (and should) read the latter half of this post all about leaky gut where I lay out most of the possible causes and solutions for the condition. Nothing will be too surprising. You’re probably doing most of them. But do read it. It’s a solid piece full of research-backed advice.

For what it’s worth, I’ll discuss my evolving relationship with gluten. I don’t eat it often, but I’ll have the odd piece of crusty bread dipped in olive oil or smeared with butter when I’m at a particularly good restaurant. I’ll use regular soy sauce if it’s around. I’ll have a good beer (hey, it’s a traditionally-prepared grain!) a few times a year. I’ll nibble on a piece of quality cake or pie at a birthday party. Those little bits and bites used to give me grief, but not anymore. I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my reaction to gluten, and I think several things have made the biggest difference.

My training: For over a decade I’ve implored folks to make their long workouts longer and easier and their short workouts shorter and more intense. But since working on Primal Endurance, I’ve really embraced it in a way I now realize I wasn’t. Even four, five years ago my old competitive type A elite endurance athlete self was poking through, prodding me to “do another set, Sisson” and “c’mon, you got another hill/game/circuit/sprint in you.” I’m doing way more long slow movement (hikes, walking, paddling) and I’ve made my hard workouts briefer and more intense than ever. I’m avoiding the protracted intense training that induces leaky gut and favoring the easy stuff that improves it. This has likely improved my gut barrier function.

More collagen: I’m making a concerted effort to eat way more collagen through bone broth, my chocolate bars, gelatinous cuts of meat like oxtails and shanks, and even the occasional shake of powdered gelatin to thicken a pan sauce (seriously, folks: add powdered gelatin to coconut curry sauce and be rewarded). Collagen is great for the gut.

Less (and better) wine: Back when I did my no-drinking self-experiment, I found that both my sleep and my gut health improved. Drinking natural, dry-farmed wine lower in alcohol and free of adulterants has preserved those effects while allowing me to imbibe.

More fermentable fiber: Several years ago I began feeding my gut bacteria more regularly with fermentable substrates like inulin and resistant starch. Green bananas for smoothies, unmodified potato starch, dark chocolate, and all the fibrous vegetation I can get have made those gluten dalliances more tolerable.

Now, whether my recommendations will work for you remains to be seen. I’m optimistic, though.

That’s about it, folks. Thanks for reading and be sure to leave your comments, experiences, advice, criticisms, and anything else down below!

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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91 thoughts on “Is Gluten Sensitivity All in Your Head?”

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  1. For me, gluten sensitivity is all in my “hands” as it were–when I eat gluten-grains, I get red hands and feet. If I let it go, the redness will climb the extremities to meet in my chest, when anaplaxis starts occurring, The minute I see red hands and/or feet, I grab the Bendaryl to stop and reverse it–no matter what I eat. Sometimes the odd bit of food can do it for seemingly no reason at all (likely hidden gluten).

    Recently, a rheumatologist told me what I was experiencing with red extremities was an arthritic “flare” and not a food allergy…whatever. I just want to avoid a trip to the hospital that a few Benadryl at home can prevent. Gluten itself used to cripple me to the point where I couldn’t walk before I did the elimination diet–now, it’s like all my joints have been lubed while I slept.

    1. *gasp* I have had that happen, too, with the hands and feet. Sigh. That might mean this gluten thing is real!

      1. My son’s ears turn bright red, and he tells me they feel hot. He would ask me to roll the window down in the car in January, because his ears were burning.

        1. Oh wowzers! I had that happen when I was a kid — NEVER assumed it had anything to do with food… BOY, that explains a lot! Nowadays (61, fat, not always as 80% ({wink} at Mark) as I should be…): When I have wheat, my carpal tunnel returns in about a half hour, and hangs on for a few hours, and my “arthritis in my hip” flares up for a few days… One more log on the inflammation fire to help me stay on the straight and narrow! (I DO feel, after my Doug McGuff “Body by Science” workout once a week, AMAZINGLY wonderful; even after wheat… {shrug} It’s all lessons!)

    2. My problem with gluten/wheat is in my hands too, only it’s not redness, it’s horrible popping pain in my wrists and fingers every time I move them or hold anything that weighs more than 1 pound. Some of my fingers (and toes) go numb too, I lose my hand strength and I have a hard time straightening out my fingers. Plus I generally felt terrible! Avoiding gluten makes it (almost completely) go away. I thought I was really sick or had RA. Reading this website and doing a 21 day challenge led me to discover the problem. THANK YOU Mark!

      1. Mine certainly shows up in my right hand. Swelling and stiffness, usually a day after I have overstepped my bounds. I am still loosey goosey though, I think I get a mouthful of gluten everyday, I just don’t live on bread the way I used to.

  2. Nice to have another validating study. Certainly not all in our heads. My gut is 1,000 times better since I eliminated grains.

  3. re: They still don’t know what causes the initial breakdown in intestinal integrity.


    And they might have mentioned this had they relied on Fasano for more than just CD statistics (footnote 10).

      1. It’s exactly what I wanted to post…gliadin triggers leaky gut in EVERYONE. It means that depending on our immune system, we may have little delayed troubles or big ones soon. Anyway, I think in the long run everyone is more or less affected by gluten, whether it’s a striking issue or simply bad aging due to low inflammatory state.

  4. When I kicked grains, I definitely had an improvement in my allergies. So it makes sense that this study found an immune response in non-celiac wheat sensitive folks

  5. Good study. One day I hope those more “rational” types get on the bandwagon and give whatever label they need to identify what clearly exists: leaky gut. Call it “IPD” for intestinal permeability disorder or something similar. The point is, there are plenty of us with “leaky guts,” and brushing it off as a fringe non-issue isn’t doing anyone any favors

  6. Got off gluten no more migraines, pretty cut and dry in my book.

  7. Thank you for pointing this out. I know both wheat and corn do a number on me. I end up with hives; stiff, achy hands and knees; brain fog; and emotions, primarily anger, come flying up.

    What I’m finding helpful is time and adding in a wide range of pre and probiotics. The prebiotics of innulin, glucomannan, acacia fiber, modified citris pectin, plus four different sources of probiotics have helped immensely. The longer between exposures gives my gut time to heal before the next oops.
    If it’s been a bad week and people have intentionally glutened me (yes, I’ve had coworkers and family purposefully put flour/corn in things to see if I’d react) and multiple exposures happen, hives and anger roar to the surface. Nothing like a few large hives to ‘prove’ my allergies.

    1. It’s amazing how if one kid is allergic to peanuts, the whole entire school is not allowed to have anything with ANY nut in it at all, but if you’re allergic to gluten, people try to slip you some to “prove” that you’re not. Ridiculous.

      When I eat gluten, my ear hurts. I can’t explain it, but that’s what happens. Every time I cheat and have a cupcake or something, almost exactly 24 hours later, the cartilage in my ears becomes inflamed and puts me in excruciating pain for a few hours. Weirdest thing. I thought it was all in my head too, but it caught me unawares the other day. 24 hours after I had eaten a brownie from a charity bake sale. But I still have to convince people that I can’t eat it, so leave me alone.

      1. Yeah actually they do it to the nut allergic too. I’m being anonymous since I’m talking about a minor relative who has had to use an epi pen more than once because of deliberate exposure by other kids. Fortunately family doesn’t mess with her. I think I’d seriously damage them. But they do with me. Motives vary, some don’t believe me, at least one thinks it’s funny.

        One crumb of wheat and all I can do for hours is lie there screaming. We commiserate and wonder what’s worse, an allergy that could kill you but can be treated or one that can’t be treated but makes you wish you were dead. When gluten free first became so high profile it seemed like a good thing, but then it quickly became clear that having all these people for whom it’s just some kind of diet, complete with all the usual cheats, wasn’t really any kind of favor. I gues everyone has the right to run themselves the way they want (I knew someone with another severe allergy who would ocaisionaly indulge, epi pen at the ready!) but I do wish people would be less public with their cheating.

    2. My god, what is it with those people who think you need to prove you have an allergy?! I can’t even begin to understand that. “Oh, hey, you’re sick and in pain because we slipped you a known allergen? Sucks to be you, but at least we know you’re not lying about this thing that doesn’t affect us in any way.”

      I have the same rage problem, plus a host of inflammatory responses when I consume gluten grains in significant amounts (and oats aren’t my friend, either). I went completely grain-free for a year, and can now consume small quantities of gluten grains on isolated occasions–maybe once every other week–without a problem. Most of it comes in the form of soy sauce, which is a double whammy because I’m allergic to soy, but I’m not giving up sushi.

      And I’ve learned that it’s just a lot less trouble to not tell people about it unless they absolutely need to know, because people are assholes and see my dietary restrictions as something to be argued against, thwarted, and put to the test.

      1. I heard of an unfortunate human who had a family member sprinkle some wheat in their awesome primal soup to thicken it up for them when they left the kitchen for a moment. >.> Why do people even bother? is it so hard to fathom this sort of allergy?

      2. Thought I’d just offer this; have you tried coconut aminos instead of soy sauce? It’s quite similar in taste, although my daughter now turns her nose up at soy, after getting used to coconut aminos. It makes a great flavor enhancer for stews etc, without any nasties.

        1. I LOVE coconut aminos. Its not easy on the wallet, but its worth it.

        2. Try tamari sauce too – it’s fermented soy sauce (in essence; don’t remember exactly), but the fermentation lowers/eliminates the soy damage.

      3. I LOVE coconut aminos. Its not easy on the wallet, but its worth it.

  8. I love your chocolate bars Mark! Post-baby, I SWEAR by them for strengthening all that stretched out connective tissue in my abdominal wall! I suppose regular collagen would do.. or maybe it is all in my head? 😀

  9. I am one for whom my gluten reactivity was mostly in my head. I had severe depression since childhood and was on massive doses of antidepressants for nearly 20 years. After going gluten free for a few months, I started to have reactions to my meds as if I were overmedicated. My psychiatrist kept reducing my dose, and I was fine. Happy as a clam.

    Once we got below the lowest dose I had ever been on, my psychiatrist brought me in for a reevaluation. The first question he asked was, “what are you doing differently, because something has changed.” I told him I had been gluten free for 6 months and he concluded that was the cause of my improvement based on recent medical journal research noting that brain swelling from NCGS gluten reactions can be causative for some mental illnesses, including depression. He put me on methylated B vitamins to help and we started weaning me off the drugs at the pace my body and brain set.

    I have now been antidepressant free for almost five years and gluten free for six. You can’t imagine results like that. Anyone who says otherwise can kiss my happy, non-depressed behind!

    1. Lesley, I am so happy for you! I work as a psychiatric RN, and am no fan the gamut of meds I see prescribed to our patients. That being said, you seem like a perfect example of Hippocrates’ statement in action, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Cheers to you; may many, many others follow in your footsteps!

    2. And they can kiss my seizure-free behind while they are at it. The same brain inflammation that causes depression can also cause seizures. Is it any wonder that these two conditions both occur so often in the same people?
      With a gluten free and low carb diet, I have been able to cut my medication by half without any loss of seizure control. Neurological meds are a long slow road to titrate down especially when you have been on them for a long time. I’m hoping to reduce the meds further in the future.

    3. I have been grain-free for 5 years and off of antidepressants for almost as long. It has been a life changer. I don’t care what others think, it works for me!

      1. That is fantastic! I have tried to convince several friends with depression to go off of gluten, but they’ve all said “isn’t it just easier to take the pills?” I feel like I am beating my head against a wall sometime. So glad you are doing better too!

    4. You probably have already read it but if not read “Grain Brain” by David Pulmetter, MD. It explains research that confirms your experience. Congrats on your transformation!

  10. I have a mild gluten sensitivity. My son has a much stronger Gluten Sensitivity which can result in flue like symptoms for several days if he falls to far off a gluten free diet. My reaction is more mild but both of us find our reaction is greater with greater intakes of Gluten.

    We went to Europe and while traveling had a hard time staying on diet. Both of us ate way to much gluten. Neither of us had a single symptom! Afterwards I wondered if it was the GMO wheat in the States versus the GMO free wheat in Italy.

    This would indicate that GMO wheat might have a greater impact on the intestinal wall stability or greater proclivity to leaking into the body. With this in mind, could the initial source of intestinal breakdown be caused by GMO wheat?

    1. I have experienced fatigue and joint inflammation after eating foods with gluten. Bone broth and chocolate will be a welcome addition to my way of life. I prefer not to take to many supplements or other type potions. I like a natural approach to health. Great article!

    2. I just returned from a few weeks in Europe and had no problem with any wheat while traveling, like many people have reported. I bought some organic bread when I returned to the US and within 4 days was back to having problems with it- bloating, aching joints, itching, brain fog. Maybe it’s not the GMOs, but the pesticides (that may contaminate the organic grains) that go with the GMO crops that contribute to and may even be the cause. Why is it so difficult to find out information about this? From what I can see, pesticide use (often glyphosate and dicamba), is very high for the foods that are excluded in a paleo/primal diet: grains, dairy (feed for cows), legumes, potatoes. Is that one of the reasons so many people see real improvements with this lifestyle?

      1. re: Maybe it’s not the GMOs, but the pesticides…

        There is no GMO wheat yet (on the narrow industry definition of explicit gene splicing). Modern wheat was mutated by other means, that are actually less precise, genetically.

        What’s different between European breads and North American breads involves a long list of potential suspects, including:
        ☣ wheat strain
        ☣ insecticide type & uptake
        ☣ fungicide type & uptake
        ☣ herbicide uptake (esp. glyphosate used for staging/dessication)
        ☣ fungicide in transport and storage
        ☣ unwise fortification of flours (folic acid & iron in particular)
        ☣ adverse other additives (bleaches, preservatives)
        ☣ rapid yeast raising vs. naturally aged (fermented) dough

        Organic wheat/bread prepared traditionally only addresses some of that, but even if you address all of that, you still have a sky-high-gly carb, multiple gliadin effects (on everyone), wheat germ agglutinin effects (on everyone), needless phytate exposure, and the list doesn’t even end there.

    3. I know several people in England who had unexpected improvements in mood, health, and healing auto-immune diseases when they stopped eating wheat & gluten-containing foods, all of whom were eating healthy-ish diets before (no fast or proccessed food & no GMs, lots of organic food), one of them was the person who insisted I try cutting it out, and I never ate GM wheat, usually organic bread produced in the UK, so I doubt that’s the only reason, but if the wheat has also been GM’d that may make it worse.

      So we’re not all tucking into our croissants and pizzas on this side of the pond quite happily and without any consequences, and you’re not missing out. 🙂

      The famous post WW2 study where wheat consumption paralleled first-time admissions for schizophrenia (both fell together during the war, then rose as wheat became more available) seems to show that that this problem pre-dates GMOs, and isn’t unique to the USA.

      My name below should link to a paper about this which references the pre-GM studies, and obviously, I’m using schizophenia as a marker for unobserved (and usually unsuspected) systemic illnesses caused by gluten, prior to the advent of GMs and outside the USA.

      1. Anecdotal: I used to think that Italy must have a different kind of wheat, or at least genes that can handle it, considering all the pasta and pizza on offer there – but a friend who spends time in Italy with her Italian husband told me that in her experience gluten-free products are easy to find there due to a high number of people with coeliac disease.

    4. Yeah!! went on 2 cruises in the mediterranian. (disembarked Costa Concordia 3 weeks before it sank). Noticed during the first cruise how great the bread was, no symptoms, Sure was great to dip my toast in the egg yolks again. fwiw I am only mildly sensitive to wheat.

    5. My husband and I are both GF eaters, and have been for several years. I usually don’t eat GF bread or pasta at home, but my husband does. Last fall, we were in Italy for a month and found that we could eat bread and pasta without problems. I still didn’t eat more than a bite or two of pasta, but enjoyed a few pieces of good bread and ate *real* pizza once or twice without IBS or inflammation the next day. Wow! Must be something different between the US and Italy with respect to the quality of the wheat being used.

  11. Everything in my life is better without grains. I really have no desire to eat them. But I’m encouraged by what Mark has noticed with himself. I do a lot of collagen and gelatin which has resulted in visible improvement in my skin (I’m constantly talking about this on my blog) and I’m hoping that it might be having the same guy-healing effect on me as well 🙂

    1. We humans are hopeless…what do we have to wait for before definetly getting rid of grains?
      Gluten, other prolamines, mycotoxins, acellular carbs, antinutrients, lectins, glycemic load, poor nutrient density, too many omega 6, exorfines, unsustainability, etc…if these hubris of reasons are still not enough to ditch grains, what do we have to do?

  12. Check out Amy’s blog, “These Wild Acres,” great paleo recipes! I have tried a few and they are fantastic.

  13. I think there’s something else that the gluten grains involve, and that is mycotoxins. From what I’ve read, wheat, rye, and barley, (as well as corn) are stored in silos which become damp and thus become fungus infected. This fungus can’t be cooked out, and contributes to candida overgrowth and inflammation, the cause of many diseases. This website has a lot of information: Click on the “Getting Started” tab for the program, which is very similar to Paleo. Following their recommendations, I finally got rid of toenail fungus after trying numerous remedies for decades.

  14. I have been fighting this fight for 54 years. Finally I saw an article on Mark in outside magazine last fall and crossed over to Primal. I was previously a Dr Mark Hyman disciple but I have since learned although he recommends high quality carbs , still too many for this neanderthal who needed to become a fat burner. After ADHD, brain fog ,arthritis, sore joints, chronic fatigue , thyroid , treated for lymes disease twice (which I am sure I didn’t have), high cholesterol… I am now being treated for nothing and have none of the former symptoms and maladies . I am working out far less and have completely transformed my body in less than 6 months. Blood work fantastic where my doctor could not believe the results in cholesterol, thyroid , testosterone levels . I think I might have turned him around a little . The libido is off the chart with my wife joking if I want pancakes or waffles for breakfast. For me it is the Gluten and insulin sensitivity combination I believe causing the leaky gut . Conventional medicine seems so off the mark, its about the next office visit , next prescription. It works, Mark is spot on.

  15. Hi:
    I fall into the category of NCWS and have avoided gluten 100% as far as I am aware for about 1 1/2 years. The reason I did this was because I was diagnosed with Hashimotos Hypo-Thyroidism. I read a correlation between gluten and thyroid producing anti-bodies.
    Even though it was not proven to be a cause and effect, there was enough basis for me to avoid gluten. When I recently asked to have my anti-bodies tested which they normally do not due, it was the lowest it has ever been since it was initially tested about 4 years ago. At that time they said that even a small amount of gluten would stay in the body for 6 months so for me it became an all or none choice.

  16. I’ve had planter warts on my feet for over 20 years. Tried the usual remedies and nothing worked permanently. Developed some warts on my fingers, couldn’t get rid of them either. Started the paleo diet and within three months ALL the warts were gone! Don’t know if it was the elimination of grain or the low carb part that did it. But it was amazing.

  17. I used to feel bloated and gassy after meals, and itch all the time prior to ditching wheat and other grains. Once I had been off that stuff for a few months and all of that cleared up without me taking much notice of it, I partook in a big Italian meal with the requisite bread and pasta. Boom, bloating, itching, and bathroom problems I had taken for granted before were back within minutes/hours. I hadn’t noticed the issues were gone when they left, but I definitely noticed when they came back.

  18. I don’t have any sensitivity to gluten, so going gluten-free doesn’t really apply to me. I think the most important problem that should be addressed more would be regarding refined and highly processed grains that are eaten in North America. Primal eating would suggest that grains are actually in our diets. Whole grain wheat products can have their place, the problem really is how much space does it take up on our plates? If it is taking the spot of vegetables and fruit …. Than that is when problems will occur.

    I think Michael Pollan has the right idea. Eat food … Not to much … Mostly Plants.

    1. With respect, that’s not for everyone, Dan – it seems appealing, healthy, maybe even a pinch of humble or whatever, to direct your diet more towards plants, but I was a vegetarian for ages and I was okay-ISH, but had serious depression and various little nagging problems.

      Then I began eating meat, fish, and eggs again, felt a lot better – eliminated gluten, and rapidly got COMPLETELY better. Healthier than I’ve ever been, in fact.

      Last year I trialled the Atkins Diet, 1972 version from the book (except no articifical sweeteners) and because I was aiming for between 15 – 40g TOTAL carbs – not net – I ate, as a result, very little veg.

      And I felt AMAZING – occasional feelings of being bloated had gone, which had been at their worst on a CICO vegetarian diet where I filled up with veg to try and cheat hunger – that & grains, back in the day, actually led me towards eating disordered behaviours in search of some kind of satiety and end to the never-ending hunger,

      During Atkins, I had no GI problems at all (visited the bathroom promptly every morning), and was never hungry. I wasn’t really looking to lose weight, but I lost some, and even more inches.

      I came off it (partly because I did miss eating slightly more veg, and having more options) but as soon as I started eating my former large helpings of veg, noticed I was feeling sluggish after eating, bit bloated, etc.

      I love vegetables, BUT the minimum 5 or 9 x 80g servings thing, that’s past history for me now, far too much and I never realised how much I was weighing myself down with them. I remember being a teenager, veg were more like 2 or 3 tablespoons of two types with meat, and maybe a few potatoes, and I never felt weighed down afterwards then, it was only the CICO “Fill up with tasty low-cal veg!” fairy-tales that got me! 😉

      So I’m happy with that decision – skin, hair, nails, GI health, and mood all seem fine with that after more than one year off Atkins, but consciously eating less plants.

      Long post but when your personal lived experience is so totally contrary to conventional wisdom, AND when you’ve already had CW (“heart-healthy wholegrains”) shown up for a fad and an untruth, I think it’s important to speak out.

      Our grandparents didn’t heap Desperate Dan amounts of veg on their plates, most of the over-consumption of bulky veg seems to be from people (like me) trying to end hunger caused by deficient nutrition, and as someone posted further down, the author of the blog Hyperlipid calls the current fad for enormous amounts of veg into question as well.

      I was reading a vegan blog recently that promoted stuffing oneself at meals with plants to a visibly bloated state – “go to bed like Buddha, wake up like Gandhi”. was the description used. No thanks! 🙂

      1. I have had a very similar experience to that of Mrs. Rathbone. I eat very small portions of vegetables these days, very low total carbs, and no longer have problems with bloating. Feel great, good digestion. Seems like this is what was intended for my body. 🙂

      2. sorry for posting so long after this…..but what vegetables do you eat every day? do you choose those high in nutrition to maximize the benefits when only eating a small amount of them daily?

  19. It’s so interesting, all of it. Rashes, hot feet, depression… My problem is that my inflammation response is not immediate, so I’m never sure what’s caused it. Not like the FODMAP reactions which cause my belly to bloat within half an hour. The inflammation is more subtle. It creeps up, so you never know whether it’s been that little bit of gluten, or the nightshades, or whether the Omega 6 levels have increased because I’ve upped my seed and nut intake. Or all of those things, little by little, an accumulative effect…

  20. I too had loose bowels, gas and sore knuckles after eating gluten. After a couple of years of gut repairing with fermented foods and bone broths I can now eat the odd piece of sour dough bread with lashings of butter or dripping with olive oil with no reaction.

  21. Kinda annoys me how no matter who I tell about this, they act like I’m whacked in the brain. My best friends, my father… Just having it called Paleo or Primal makes it way harder to explain, instant assumption that we’re imitating cavemen diets. “Most cavemen were horribly deficient blabla…” lol
    I don’t tell most people because I know what most think about gluten-free. My coworkers too bitch about the customers who are gluten-free -_-

    Anyway, based on personal experience, the experiences of ppl posting here, the fact that my grandmother was diagnosed wheat-allergic (and a ton of other things), and mother has fibromyalgia, that’s good enough for me.

  22. Dan: I suggest you read the Hyperlipid posts concerning eating plants. Pretty heavy-duty science, but worth a look. We possess an endogenous anti-oxidant system which functions well, as it evolved to, in those with good metabolic health, and thus have no need in our diet for the toxic (to plant pathogens and insects) compounds plants evolved for self-protection. Nor will eating these compounds restore metabolic health to those who are ailing. There is evidence that these compounds are damaging to our DNA. We do need some fermentable fiber to feed our gut microbiome, but I eat fewer fruits and vegetables than I once did. As for gluten sensitivity, I never noticed any problem with eating wheat or rye, but about two years ago I stopped eating all grains, as an experiment, and in about three weeks I lost about fifteen pounds, all belly fat. That was definitely an improvement in overall health. Nor do I feel sleepy after eating, as I once did. I won’t be going back, except for occasional white rice (we like sushi). I just eat the gobs of butter and pretend there is toast under it.

  23. Title: Is Gluten Sensitivity All in Your Head?

    What the Article Says: blah, blah, blah, ad nauseum.

    What the article should say: Yes.

    1. I know, I deeply protest being made to read nauseating WORDS, when in fact a simple infographic, or better yet a lolcat, is obviously the best way to make critical decisions about the health and longevity of myself and my loved ones.

      That’s how I know to trust those smiling tigers and cartoons on those yummy carb-packed breakfast cereals – they don’t ask me to do anything unnatural, like use my own judgement, they just tell me to pop them in the trolley, and feeeeeel goooooood. 🙂

      1. LOL! Thank you so much for this comment! You made my day!
        -another person thriving on a non-grain diet. 🙂

  24. This really isn’t rocket surgery:

    Avoid certain foods, feel better.

    The end.

    1. Well, I’ve heard of rocket science, and brain surgery, but this is the first time I’ve heard of rocket surgery! What a great mixed metaphor!

      I’ll be sure to use it next time I’m up the creek without a saddle…..

  25. Mark – always appreciate that you correct yourself when you discover new science that indicates what you wrote about before may be incorrect. Helps those of us who read your blog to know that you have values and integrity, and also I think keeps the whole movement healthy

  26. My grandmother was “allergic to wheat” decades before “gluten” was a realized thing, let alone a fad. After an elimination diet years ago, I discovered gluten was causing my achiness & shortness of breath i.e. could not get a deep, satisfying breath. Went strictly gluten free for 2 years, resolved those issues. Then slowly began allowing the occasional gluten treat to creep back in- still no issue. Until now, too consistent with the “gluten treat” and guess what is back – the shortness of breath and achiness. Starting the Whole30 to reset everything and get back on track and then plan to transition to paleo.

  27. All this makes sense, and I think there may be different triggers for different people such as zonulin, gliadin, molds, etc. However, it is all sprayed with Round Up as well. I know I can eat organic GMO free corn from my weekly local vegetable service, but get achy and stiff with stomach pain if I eat conventional. Wheat is out of bounds probably for several reasons. Anyway, we who have been laughed at and teased for years are finally being validated.

  28. I eliminated gluten in 2005 and my Psoriasis cleared up. I would experiment and it came back. It was cut and dry for me and this was a time when most people didn’t know what gluten was. I stopped eating grains a couple of years later and never went back.

    1. When your psoriasis would come back, how long would it take to clear up again after you would go back off gluten? Thanks!!

      1. I get swollen sore hot wrists/fingers about 24hrs after eating gluten(not an instant reaction), and then it usually takes 4-6 DAYS for all this to go away! So I completely avoid gluten and have no joint problems.

  29. Gluten sensitivity was so much in my head that I didn’t want to be here anymore. On the planet. Waking up to my life everyday was extremely painful. I was anxious, OCD, had panic attacks, withdrawn, sad to the point of utter despair. I cried or was angry almost daily. It was a very dark time and I felt trapped in my own life and I didn’t know how to change it. On the outside there was nothing wrong with my life, but I couldn’t see that and I couldn’t handle it. Changing my diet NEVER occurred to me. During my time in the military I lived on junk. When I learned about going gluten free in ’98 and tried it, it was nothing short of a miracle. It was as though a fog had lifted and I was actually happy and calm for the first time in my life. For no reason. I just was. I’ve welcomed every day since then. I enjoy being here now. I finally had an answer to my questions. I’d been depressed my whole life and didn’t even know it. It’s all a distant memory now. Screw the naysayers. I know it’s real.

  30. My skin under my breasts becomes so red the skin comes off like a scald. That can happen as i sleep. So I doubt it’s in my head. I have to go back over my day to see what triggered it.

  31. I would have liked of the researchers of that study had also put some of the wheat sensitives on fructan free (a carbohydrate in grains, gluten is the protein) diet. And some on a low fiber diet.

    The thing is, that when you avoid gluten, you also avoid fructans. So it is hard to tell if gluten is the culprit or other substances in grains.

    One reason Low FODMAP diet (an elimination diet primarilyto relieve symptoms in people with IBS) have taken off is that many people have realised that it is the fructans their bodies react to.

    I do believe many also react to gluten even though they are not celiacs, I don’t dismiss it at all. But there are more bad to grains than gluten.

  32. NO, it is not all in your head. I had a problem with NCWS about 20 years ago long before I ever heard about celiac, gluten, or NCWS. I developed chronic hives that got worse and worse until I had a constant fever, felt like I had the flu, and then my face and lips started swelling off and on; I was afraid my throat would swell shut next. No help from the doctors except take an antihistamine like Zyrtec which helped somewhat. Finally found through trial and error it was wheat. It took so long to figure it out because it was a delayed reaction; the hives and/or facial swelling would always come 4 or 5 hours after each time I ate wheat, which is consistent with abnormal substances getting into general circulation through a “leaky gut”. Interestingly, the other gluten grains caused no problem. I went strictly wheat-free for about a year which is actually rather difficult because it hides in weird places like canned tuna and some ice creams and other packaged foods. Celiac web sites helped educate me in avoiding all wheat. After about a year I discovered I could eat wheat again with no problem and no hives or swelling since. I have cleaned up my diet a lot although I am not really paleo, I am not strictly wheat- or gluten-free but I have cut that way down and have regular gluten-free days. So I guess laying off the wheat for awhile let the leaky gut heal, and eating better quality has helped prevent recurrence.

  33. Lets be honest, all of the growers and manufacturers of grains don’t WANT this to be true and I would guess are spending a largish amount of money to debunk any real science about it.

    I do far better without grains in my life, The systemic inflammation of my nerves and muscle is down almost 50% in the last year, and my need for pain medication is down by over 1/3 and dropping. I have real hope of getting off the meds completely. I feel and look better and honestly, I don’t care if they think its in my head it WORKS and that’s all I really care about. I’m far far more healthy that I ever was since I stopped eating grains.

  34. Primal 4 years. Prior to that bad hay fever/allergies my whole life. Up to 2-24 hour allergy pills per day. No meds for 4 years. Allergies reappear after big beer weekends. No beer no allergies. N=1 works for me.

  35. That is for the most part since individuals who go sans gluten are helping themselves and have found that is the most ideal approach to treat their issues. Clearly the same strategy can’t be brought with different ailments.

  36. Nice Post Mark.
    That is for the most part since individuals who go sans gluten are helping themselves and have found that is the most ideal approach to treat their issues. Clearly the same strategy can’t be brought with different ailments.

  37. “Gluten Sensitivity All in Your Head?”; my fat aunt it is. I know from my own experience that gluten grains in any amount, wheat in particular, seriously disagree with me. A heaped teaspoon of seasoned flour to coat stewing meat before browning it, I can get away with, but that’s about the limit.

  38. I have been reading the various discussions with great interest on this website for the last few months. I have noticed over the last five years that I have changed physically, mentally and emotionally from someone who was active, happy, positive and felt healthy, to someone who is miserable, tired, overweight, sad, and with a feeling of, the only way I can describe it as, ‘flat’. I feel my old self is still there, but very much hidden.

    I am on anti depressants and have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I am on medication for both. I do not want to take medication, I have never felt right about taking it and feel there is another way (hence reading the posts on this site), but feel so tired that I don’t have the energy to do anything else about it at the moment, which is what I want to talk about. When you have felt in a similar situation to what I am describing, how do you have the strength to take that step to make these changes in your life, as I am struggling with this at the moment. I have spoken to friends and family and have been met with negativity about what I want to do, and have at times had my efforts deliberately sabotaged.

    You have all done so well, and deserve to be congratulated.

  39. For years I have felt like crap – constantly tired, bloated, and depressed. Then three months I tried a keto diet and removed sugar, wheat, milk, etc and have felt really well for the first time in…well…forever it seems.

    Then at a friend’s house I was served pizza with an organic wholemeal base and I very quickly started to feel like crap again. After a few days I started to feel more human again but then I tried eating natural yoghurt with raw honey and I felt terrible: joint pain and brain fog.

    So, I suspect that I may be intolerant to gluten and casein (which seemed linked). I really hope the symptoms go away soon as I feel very poorly. But the brain fog is the worst thing – my performance and focus at work are suffering. Does anyone have a suggestion to how more quickly recover after exposure to gluten/casein?

  40. I stopped eating grain 4-1/2 years ago after reading “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis. I wanted to lose those last stubborn 15 pounds. Within 2 weeks, my IBS and reflux were gone, and my severe life-long allergies to pretty much everything that grows outside as well as dust and animal dander completely vanished! I also soon lost those 15 pounds! In addition, a few months later, I found myself singing again, something I didn’t realize I had stopped doing years before due to depression. The depression was also gone!

    I’ve since been able to add some grains back in with no problems, but I’m too nervous to try actual wheat yet.

  41. Thank you for this post. Although I am late to the comment party, I feel the need to add my viewpoint. I find adequate science to support the “leaky gut” theory and the role of wheat and other grains in the inflammatory process. Nonetheless, EVEN IF all that could account for such remarkable improvements were the “placebo effect,” that is enough! If changing one’s diet makes one healthier physically or emotionally, just do it! Evidence-based medicine is one thing, but so is common sense…

  42. What if a person is not celiac nor has leaky gut as result of gluten consumption? I have bee gluten free more than five years. When I have been cross contaminated (meaning very small amounts-never intentional or unintentional consumption of gluten products) I have heart palipitations, anxiety attacks, furious outrageous anger, lower abdominal cramping, and vaginal bleeding. I have learned to never eat anything without asking where all ingredients come from and the process. The gf diet has relieved me of severe pms, anxiety, irregular menstuation, and insomnia. Are there others who experience similar symptoms?

  43. according to my knowledge If you have been suffering from symptoms that seem related to gluten, it may be possible that you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (‘gluten sensitivity.)