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Gluten Free FAQ’s with Dr.Vikki

Dr. Vikki Petersen weighs in on some common questions

I was diagnosed with celiac disease/gluten sensitivity and am following a gluten-free diet, but I still don’t feel better. Why?

There are one of two things occurring for this individual. The first is that they “think” they’re being strict with their diet when they continue to ingest gluten. I’ve been treating a patient for a decade who has mostly done fabulously well under care. However, about every two or three years he manages to add something into his diet that he has “decided” should be fine when it’s actually far from it. The most recent infraction was eating oatmeal at a healthy grocery store’s breakfast buffet. Because the grocery store is so gluten savvy, he “assumed” their oatmeal was gluten-free. It wasn’t and he is now paying the price. Patients who are following a gluten-free diet have to be particularly alert and vigilant to everything they put in their mouths every day. It’s work, but the good health that results makes it worth it!

The second reason for this problem is that the secondary effects of gluten are not being addressed. While it is critical to remove gluten from the diet, that is rarely sufficient to restore optimal health. Either patients feel better for a while and then relapse despite maintaining their gluten-free diet, or they don’t feel much better after removing gluten initially.
It’s not that it was wrong to remove gluten. It was wrong to stop after that first step. This is the most common issue we see in those who are diagnosed. What’s missing? Isolating and removing the secondary effects of gluten. What are they?

  • Infections.
    These must be isolated with a lab test because it’s impossible to guess what organism may be affecting someone. While I wish there was a “one size fits all” antibiotic or herbal supplement, there isn’t. These infectious organisms are typically silent, meaning you cannot tell they’re there. They continue to inflame and create a leaky gut. With an infectious organism present, you won’t feel better despite a gluten-free diet.
  • Cross-reactive foods.
    These are foods that mimic gluten, even though they aren’t gluten. Unfortunately your body reacts as if you’re eating gluten and therefore you continue to feel badly. A lab test will determine if these foods are a problem.
  • Other food reactions or a poor diet.
    You cannot ignore the importance of eating a healthy diet that excludes any other food reactions beyond gluten. Eliminating gluten but not isolating other food reactions or continuing to eat the typical American “junk food” diet will cause continued symptoms.
  • Hormonal imbalance or adrenal gland problems.
    Hormones and the stress gland are areas of the body affected by gluten in many people. Not taking the steps to normalize these imbalances (a natural, drug-free program works best) can result in continued symptoms despite a gluten-free diet.
  • Probiotic, enzyme, and nutritional deficiencies.
    Due to gluten, the health of the GI tract can be quite compromised. Imbalances of the “good guys” called probiotics, diminished enzyme capacity, and resultant nutritional deficiencies can all prevent an individual from feeling better. A lab test can provide the answers to whether these issues are occurring.
  • Toxicity, Lyme disease, and heavy metal issues.
    Sometimes another stressor is impacting the body so intensely that the benefit of removing gluten is overshadowed. Your doctor must determine if this is the case.

If I don’t notice a difference in how I feel on a gluten-free diet, is it okay to cheat occasionally?

This is an extremely common question – or should I say “confession,” because that’s how it often comes out. I’m struggling to help someone who seems to be a bit stalled on their program, only to discover that they are being “mostly” good on their gluten-free diet.

Having done this for two decades I can tell you that the moment someone states that they are “mostly” good on their diet, they are cheating way too much.

It’s human nature to cheat. We like to push the envelope to see how much “bad stuff” we can do before really paying the price. I get it. I’m human too! But here’s the problem: gluten can kill you. No exaggeration. It may be slow but it’s still doing the job and moving you towards disease and a shortened lifespan. Some people don’t care. If you’re an adult and that’s your decision, fine. It’s your body. But if you do care or the patient is a child, then understand that sometimes you don’t feel the negative effects of gluten. Odd, I know, but many people just can’t tell that gluten is creating a problem. I feel for them because it’s much more difficult to be disciplined when you don’t feel bad. But that doesn’t make those effects any less hazardous. If you’ve been tested and you know you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, don’t cheat!

How long does it take to feel better and heal a leaky gut?

This is a very common question and I wish there was an easy answer. If you haven’t read the answers to the previous questions in this article, I encourage you to do that first, because the data about secondary effects is pertinent.

Commonly, people feel better fairly quickly when they remove gluten. But as mentioned previously, continuing to feel better and healing a leaky gut requires addressing the secondary effects of gluten.

It is a rare individual who removes gluten from their diet and that is all that’s required. The vast majority are required to remove gluten and address the secondary effects of gluten.
If those effects are addressed, one can start to feel better quickly and maintain feeling well while the gut heals over the course of about a year. That doesn’t mean that it takes a year to feel better, but it can take that long or longer to completely heal a leaky gut. Remember, we’re talking about an organ that has the surface area of a tennis court. It’s big!

How can I avoid autoimmune disease? It’s in my family.

If you have celiac disease, you already have one autoimmune disease, so what’s key is to try to prevent others from being created. New research in the area definitely supports my approach, which is to remove gluten and dairy from the diet while rapidly healing the leaky gut and addressing any other weak areas of the body. The idea is to remove stressors while supporting the healing of the immune system through natural means.

Autoimmune disease incidence is skyrocketing. You don’t need to become a statistic if you understand the importance of utilizing a natural approach to heal the gut and the immune system that is advocated by many researchers.

I was tested for celiac disease and told I don’t have it, but I feel terrible when I eat gluten. What should I do?

Testing is not foolproof. One can test negative for celiac disease and still have it. Perfect tests just don’t yet exist for the disease. But let’s assume the celiac test was correct. That doesn’t rule out gluten sensitivity, something that many doctors are still not familiar with.

While mainstream medicine will quickly state there is no approved test for gluten sensitivity, researchers around the world have provided irrefutable evidence that the condition exists. It puts us in the unenviable position of knowing that the condition is present and having ill effects, while unable to clearly test for it.

But don’t dismay. In this question also lies an answer. When an individual knows that they feel better when they don’t eat gluten that alone is considered a valid test. And that’s not just my opinion, but one that is shared by leading researchers worldwide.

I would caution you against following any advice that encourages you to eat gluten when you know that you feel better without it. Remember, the best testing environment can be your own body. If it lets you know it doesn’t like gluten, listen to it.

Eliminating gluten is too hard. I’m not sure I can do it or if it’s worth it to be so different (or have my child be different).

The above is more a comment than a question, but it occurs often. Personally, I think when you’re dealing with a child it’s unfair to ruin their health because you’re worried about them not eating pizza at a friend’s party. I raised three children without gluten and none of them today would tell you that they felt their childhood was compromised in any way by the experience. They are happy they enjoy such good health.

To adults, I ask my patients to just hang in there a little while until they start to feel better. When they have regained a level of health, energy, and vitality they haven’t enjoyed in years, I then ask them if they think it’s worth it. Typically they answer yes. The trick with some is getting them to follow the diet and my recommendations long enough to get to that point, but it isn’t typically a problem.

Do you have a question for Dr. Vikki? Email it to us at and it may be answered in a future issue!

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