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The Real Deal About Gluten (and Other Ridiculous Diets)

From someone who has been in the thick of alternative medical diets for five years. Here are the real, legitimate reasons for avoiding that annoying little protein...and other seemingly healthy foodstuffs.

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Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and sometimes oats (if they are grown in a field which previously grew glutinous grains). Most people are familiar with gluten because they have or know someone who has coeliac (or “celiac” in the States) disease. It is an auto-immune disorder which causes temporary and permanent damage to the small intestine due to a reaction with a broken-down form of gluten called gliadin. Because there is a small amount of gluten in all grains, some coeliacs must go onto a grain-free diet in order to get a complete abatement of symptoms. The grain-free diet is not usually permanent, as usually the patient can return to certain types of grains (like rice and millet) after a year.

There is no cure for coeliac disease, but a gluten-free diet can stop symptoms. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and fatigue. In children this can cause failure to thrive. While there have been no official studies done on the relationship between coeliac disease and other auto-immune disorders it is generally accepted that most patients who have the disorder also have other AI conditions. People with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, asthma, eczema, and certain mental health conditions should be tested for coeliac disease.

If you think you have coeliac disease, you must see a specialist. Your regular doctor is not usually qualified to identify, diagnose, and treat coeliac disease. Get a referral, get tested. It should be noted that the blood and biopsy tests for coeliac disease are dependent upon a reaction being present at the time, so unless your symptoms are severe you should continue to eat gluten until you get tested (with your specialist’s permission, of course).

Gluten and Casein (treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorders)

Some people cannot digest gluten for other reasons. In individuals with autism, leaky gut syndrome can cause the inability to completely break down the protein. Instead of a complete breakdown, gliadorphin (which resembles morphine) passes directly into the bloodstream and goes to the brain, causing a drug high. These individuals also cannot ingest casein for a similar reason (although that tends to be more because of a lack of enzymes rather than leaky gut syndrome) as it partially breaks down into caseomorphin, which goes straight to the brain and causes a similar reaction. While casein removal will ease symptoms within three days, gluten removal will take six months to a year to completely leave the body. If a parent or individual with an Autism Spectrum Disorder wants to try this diet, they must follow it strictly for an entire year to see best results.

There is much debate about why individuals with ASD have this disorder. Did the leaky gut cause the autism or is it simply part of ASD pathology? If it caused the autism, then what caused the leaky gut? These are things science has no answer for yet.

Intolerances (milder forms of gluten issues)

There is a subset of people who simply cannot handle gluten, for one reason or another. Twenty years ago it was considered “silly” to be lactose intolerant. After all, you weren’t allergic to the stuff! Now we know that if certain enzymes are not present, you simply cannot digest milk and you will be sick when you drink it.

In the same way, we also now know that some people have mild to severe allergies to gluten and/or wheat or other grains, and others might simply not have enough of the enzymes necessary to digest those same foods. People are eating more carbohydrates than ever and especially in the States we have such an assortment of people with differing genetics material that it makes sense that we cannot all be able to eat the exact same diet.


Dysbiosis is a condition which affects many people to some degree or another, even if they don’t know it. We have all seen commercials for those yogurt products that promise to make you “regular”. Most people know someone who has Irritable Bowel Syndrome without coeliac disease. That’s dysbiosis.

Everyone has bacteria in their guts. There is no good or bad bacteria, as is commonly thought, just a balance of bacteria. When we eat a lot of carbohydrates/sugar, we are feeding one kind of bacteria and killing another. This causes an imbalance, which causes all kinds of havoc.

Because of our Standard American Diet, which is high in carbohydrates, Americans tend to have one kind of dysbiosis. We take probiotics and eat special yogurt and take anti-diarrheal and stool softener medications in order to combat the imbalance, not really knowing how or why it happened to us in the first place. Some people have killed off so much of their balancing bacteria that they get an H. Pylori infection, which causes them quite a lot of pain and requires expensive antibiotics to treat.

There are three diets that combat this kind of dysbiosis. Only one of them has been scientifically studied, which is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). It is a very old diet, developed in the 1920s by Dr. Sidney V. Haas. It has become popular by way of a biochemist named Elaine Gottschall who wrote the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle. This diet is used to treat a range of gut disorders such a coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and dysbiosis. It has also been extremely helpful for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, auto-immune disorders (including asthma, arthritis, and eczema), learning disorders, and neurological conditions.

The second diet is The Candida Diet. This diet varies depending on where you get the information on it, and it tends to focus more on candida albicans (a fungus) in the gut rather than the entire bacterial system. It is far less encompassing than the SCD diet, but more popular because of clever marketing. I do not personally recommend it. If you have dysbiosis, choose one of the other two diets.

The third diet is called “GAPS” which stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. This diet was made specifically for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. Like the SCD diet it was expanded out to include anyone who falls into the “syndrome” list which includes various neurological, gastrointestinal, auto-immune, and mental health disorders. This list of syndromes also includes ADD/ADHD, bi-polarism, OCD, and schizophrenia—which is helpful for those who have these disorders and cannot handle medication very well. This diet is extremely restrictive, difficult to do, and can sometimes require the supervision of a doctor who has received special training on the use of this diet. It is based on the SCD diet, but is expanded to include not only foods you should not eat, but foods you should eat (relying heavily on fermented foods to treat dysbiosis and lots of animal fat to induce ketosis, which is beneficial for neurological and gut disorders).

Herxheimer Reactions

All three diets can cause what is called the “healing crisis” or, more commonly, the Herxheimer Reaction (“herxing”). This occurs when bacteria dies and releases too many toxins for the liver to be able to process and dispose of at one time. The symptoms include headache, body ache, fever, vomiting, diarrhea/constipation, various mental symptoms (depression/anxiety/insomnia), and fatigue. It is usually short-lived, but can be quite intense. It is also sometimes called “die-off”, a phrase coined to describe what exactly is happening inside the body during this time. If die-off is too intense, some people must stop the diet they are on and ease back into it so the reaction is not as intense. Herxheimer is not deadly, just very, very unpleasant.

Other restrictive diets

Besides what you are obviously allergic to, some people have to avoid lesser-known ingredients in foods. Most doctors are unfamiliar with these diets, so if you feel that one of these might be beneficial to you, find a doctor who has not only heard of the diet, but that knows how it’s used. Realize that most physicians and nutritionists receive very little training on medical diets (besides diets for diabetes or ketosis). If you get a blank stare from your doctor when you ask about using a low histamine diet for your intense environmental allergies, then move on. Most naturopathic physicians and holistic dieticians have more open minds and have done far more research into dietary interventions, and so you may need to turn to them for help with the following diets. Even if you don’t believe in all that “hullabaloo” if a diet that removes pork/coconut/cheese from your diet can get you off your statins that cause brain damage, it’s worth it.


There is a subset of people who, for whatever reason, cannot release histamine from their body. It builds up in their bodies, causing all kinds of symptoms that mimic intense seasonal allergies. They seem to be allergic to everything despite their allergy tests coming back negative: dust, pollen, grass, cats, etc. However, when a histamine panel is done, they find that they are way off the charts!

These people have a condition called histadelia. (There is a sister condition called histapenia, in which people must not avoid but seek out histamine. It’s very, very rare.) These people must avoid histamine in foods, and also must use dietary supplements to lower histamine levels in the body. Mainstream medicine has not yet developed a medication for this condition—even anti-histamine medications cannot do what high doses of vitamin C and calcium do (although that is not the only regimen available, it is the most popular).

Other symptoms of high-histamine levels include IBS, low pain tolerances, asthma, anxiety, Meneire’s Disease, and even bi-polarism. Over time extended exposure to histamine has been shown to damage the CNS, which can cause fibromyalgia and other related disorders.

If you think you’re suffering from histadelia, find yourself a doctor who knows what it is and how to treat it and get a histamine panel done.

I should reveal that I have this condition. Being around histamine triggers gives me panic attacks. For a long time I thought I had agoraphobia because I would have attacks while outside, especially during spring, summer, and autumn. I had to be inside with the windows closed in order to be at peace. Now that I have been treated I no longer have agoraphobia. It literally magically disappeared.


The “Feingold Diet” was developed by Dr. Ben F. Feingold to treat ADD in the 1970s. This diet restricts all artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives (including the nitrites in bacon). It also restricts phenols and salicylates, which occur naturally in most foods to varying degrees, and also in certain medications. Some people cannot handle these chemicals, including phenols and salicylates, and their intolerances manifest as ADD and ADHD. The list of foods which contain these chemicals is extensive—and even foods that are extremely healthy, such as apples, can be on this list. This diet is difficult because these chemicals are difficult to avoid, as they are in almost all packaged foods, and the phenol/salicylate lists are difficult to manage. There is also emerging evidence that phenols/salicylates are very integral to Sensory Processing Disorder.


People who have vaginal pain or constant gallstones or bladder crystals will sometimes go on this diet. These people do not have the ability to release oxalates from the body, which turns a normally healthy foods into painful hospital visits! These people usually carry around their list of banned foods since it is extensive and has no rhyme or reason. You cannot simply say “I cannot eat green vegetables”—as they could eat spinach but not arugula, for example. Oxalate listings on the internet are often inaccurate and so low-oxers generally have to get the latest information from an obscure Yahoo group called “trying low-oxalate” where one of the members has an in with a science laboratory which regularly tests new foods.


Most people benefit from a bit of mold and fungus in the diet—through cheeses, potatoes, tomatoes, and mushrooms. They are good for you! However, some people are allergic to these things or cannot release mold/fungus from their bodies the way others can. These people must avoid certain foods like legumes (including peanuts!), the entire nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers), and all mushrooms.


People who take MAOI inhibitors must avoid high-tyramine foods in order to avoid a sharp blood pressure spike. However, some people have genetic conditions which cause high blood pressure even without the inhibitors. These people may be misdiagnosed as having high blood pressure or heart disease when they in fact do not. Once they remove high-tyramine foods from their diet (like cheese and pork and coconut) their blood pressure returns to normal and they can get off of medications. There is some emerging evidence that tyramines may also cause schizophrenia and various mental disorders in these same people. If mental illness runs in your family you may want to avoid these chemicals to prevent or reverse them in yourself.


This is a ridiculously restrictive diet that avoids pretty much anything that could bother you. I must admit I do not know much about it. Go on and Google it, I’m sure you can find all kinds of information.

In conclusion

As you can see, none of these diets are about losing weight or silly notions of made up intolerances. Some people may lose weight on these diets, but it is because their health is improving, not because the foods themselves cause you to lose weight. None of these diets are low-carbohydrate. Even the Specific Carbohydrate Diet is not low-carbohydrate. This is a common myth that should be ended right here and now. You need carbohydrates to live! I would not recommend Atkins or Paleo for anyone, ever.

There are real medical conditions which respond to specific chemicals or molecules in food. So much in our first-world countries can damage our immune system and guts, which in turn damages our nervous systems and brains.

We are a country that consumes most of the world’s prescription drugs yet we are also the sickest. While people in other countries may die quickly from some rogue virus, we die slowly and painfully from chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, coeliac disease, and severe mental illness (most people who commit suicide are already on prescription drugs, unfortunately). If you can find a diet which makes you feel good and gets you off of medication, then do it. Even if you cannot understand it, or not very many studies have been done yet; if it is safe, do it.

I have no qualifications, I admit. That is why I constantly explain that you should find a doctor or other medical professional who knows and understands these diets and their uses. In this day and age, information is easy to come by. Find information about dietary interventions for whatever is ailing you!

Watch out for diets that require you to buy a book (while SCD and GAPS do have books available for purchase, you do not need them to do the diet—all information in the books are available for free online, as both doctors who developed them wish for those diets to be available for even the poorest patients). Do not do diets that are for weight-loss rather than treatment for legitimate medical conditions (like the HCG diet, which tricks your body into thinking you’re a starving pregnant woman—use some common sense). Remember, a healthy body that eats healthy food tailored specifically to its unique genetic makeup will not be overweight. Exercise also helps, of course.

I personally follow a gluten-free, low-histmaine, low-tyramine diet. That is the perfect combination for me. My son, who has ASD, follows a far more restrictive diet which resembles GAPS. My husband simply follows the Feingold Diet for his ADD (which he has no symptoms of as long as he follows the diet)—but he eats tyramines, histamine, and gluten freely. So, as you can see, there is no one diet that is good for everyone. You may find that you only need to avoid high salicylate foods and your intense migraines are magically gone! You will never know until you try.

I hope this has cleared up a few things. Science into dietary interventions is embarrassingly sparse. For a country that boasts such high medical advances we are extremely lacking in basic understanding of how food interacts with the body. If you are a person who needs to see definitive science before doing a diet, you are going to be disappointed and stay sick. Get over it. Do your own science. I put my ASD son on dietary interventions years before they were generally accepted into mainstream medicine. Only this year are there now peer-reviewed studies on the benefits of the GFCF diet in ASD—but luckily my son’s mother did not wait for those studies. The diet was safe to do, so I did it. I saw results. I did my own science.

You can too.

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