What to Do When You’ve Been “Glutened”

The holiday season is upon us and while there is much joy associated with this time of year, it can also come with trepidation for those of us avoiding gluten. Traveling and eating out can be a problem at any time of year, but parties, traveling, and eating at the homes of friends and relatives are ever more present around the holidays. Each of those opportunities can present a hazard of hidden gluten.

Anyone who’s avoiding gluten strictly lives in fear of inadvertently eating gluten. For some, the trace amount of gluten from an errant crouton crumb can be enough to make them ill for weeks. Others, while not that sensitive, can still be rendered quite ill from a small gluten exposure.

Reactions to a gluten exposure, in their overt form, can last days or weeks. Sadly, on a cellular level, it is estimated that a gluten exposure can exert its effects throughout the body over a period of three months! For those who are already diligent, I’m not telling you anything new. For those who have been more recently diagnosed or tend to cheat a little without noticing much change, this is important information for you to know.

Gluten can be overt in its effects, or quite covert. Obviously, those who are exposed to gluten and quickly get ill are, believe it or not, the lucky ones in my estimation. Why? Due to the severity of their symptoms they are more likely to be careful in avoiding any gluten. When symptoms are milder or even silent on the surface, the individual may not even know they’ve been contaminated. Their immune system still registers the exposure and will still create deleterious effects within the body on some level, but the entire process can proceed silently for years until “suddenly” they are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, cancer, or another illness. Do you see now why I consider those with dramatic symptoms luckier?

The moral of the story is that complete diligence is a must. Personally, I have left restaurants, despite being hungry, when my confidence level was low that they could provide me with a safe gluten-free meal.

Tip: Always have something you can snack on in your purse, pocket, or briefcase. Whether it’s a protein bar or a small bag of raw nuts, always have something that will sustain you in a pinch. It will save you from a poor choice made from extreme hunger.

We know that avoiding gluten at all costs is something we have to strive for, but what should you do in the unfortunate circumstance of a mistake? I recently spoke to a woman with celiac disease who, despite her due diligence, was given the wrong pasta at a restaurant. They provided gluten-free pasta on their menu and she made every effort to ensure that pasta was cooked in water that was not shared by their wheat pasta, but despite all her efforts they completely erred and gave her wheat pasta. She was bedridden for two weeks.

A new product on the market, Similase GFCF by Integrative Therapeutics, Inc. (available for purchase online), may have helped her. It contains an enzyme called dipeptidyl peptidase IV, or DPP IV for short. This enzyme is particularly good at breaking down proteins that are high in an amino acid called proline, which is present in both gluten and casein (the protein found in dairy products). The theory is that if you can break down the protein faster, you will hopefully have less negative effects.

This particular product also contains general enzymes to assist in the digestion of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. It is also plant-based for those avoiding animal products. It is effective in both acid and alkaline environments, an aspect of its design that I particularly like. This is important due to the pH variabilities of the digestive tracts of individuals suffering from gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. These people tend to have unhealthy digestive tracts and therefore their acid/alkaline balance can be abnormal. This product is effective regardless, something other products of its type cannot promise.

What is critical to understand is that this enzyme is only designed to assist in the digestion of gluten and casein. It in no way makes any claims that it fully breaks down gluten in such a way that one could cheat with impunity. Far from it! And while we are on the topic, the drugs that are currently being worked on for those with celiac disease also fall into this category. None are designed to be “cheat-worthy.” They are simply trying to facilitate the breakdown of the gluten protein more rapidly when it inadvertently enters the diet in small amounts such as cross-contamination.

The other issue is that the supplement is best taken before or with food. This means that if you ate a meal and several hours later began to feel ill and suspected gluten contamination, this product would unfortunately not be particularly effective. Sadly, I know of no measure to be successfully taken after exposure, once a period of several hours has passed.

While one never plans to accidentally ingest gluten (or “get glutened”), there are those of us who travel frequently or are forced to eat outside our own kitchen due to work or family commitments. If you fall into this category and you notice that there are times you feel poorly after eating, this enzyme could be helpful. You would take it just before or with your meal. If you become suspicious of cross-contamination within an hour after eating it is still probably worth taking the enzyme, but after several hours you probably won’t notice much benefit.

What can you do if time has passed and you only just start to expect a gluten contamination? The best approach at this point is to assist your body in its general detoxification abilities. Drink plenty of water, get extra rest, eat nine servings of organic vegetables and fruits throughout the day, and take an excellent multiple vitamin and fish oil, the latter for its anti-inflammatory capabilities. Further, if you know that you sustain a very particular reaction when exposed to gluten, you can look to supporting that particular system.

For example, if you tend to get ill from a weakened immune system after a contamination, consider increasing your vitamin C, vitamin A, and zinc. If your joints tend to get sore and achy, take bromelain, turmeric, and fish oil. In other words, it would definitely be helpful to add some nutrients that would assist the particular system that you know gets hit the hardest from a gluten exposure. This will be different for everyone.

I wish I had a magic bullet, I truly do. Currently there isn’t one, so we are left with the duty of being extremely diligent in avoiding this pesky little protein.

One last important point I’d like to make is that if you find yourself feeling “glutened” despite every effort to avoid gluten, you may be suffering from one or more of the secondary effects of gluten. One in particular that can create such a reaction, despite successfully avoiding gluten, is cross-reactive foods. These foods have a protein structure that mimics gluten and causes the body to react as if it has eaten gluten, even though it hasn’t. These aren’t difficult to address and most are not permanent, but if you are experiencing such a reaction, it is critical to discover that fact. (For more on cross-reactive foods, see the July/August 2013 issue of Simply Gluten Free Magazine or click here.)

Infections in the gut are another secondary effect of gluten. These infectious agents can be quite inflammatory in their own right and can perpetuate a leaky gut. The increased permeability allows partially digested foods and the hostile organisms themselves to gain access to the body’s circulation, creating reactions of ill health, despite no gluten being present.

As always, please seek the advice of a medical professional before starting any new protocol. Feel free to contact me with your questions and comments. I love to hear from you.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN

Tags: Glutened Magazine
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