It’s so exciting to live in a time when so many new discoveries are occurring in brain health, and our health in general. There have been momentous discoveries in the last 20 years. Not all have made it to our mainstream news or press. So we continue to do what we have always done. But it’s time to take notice of the new research. Much of it you’ll find here on this website, and there will be more. The discovery of gluten and our health is one of those new discoveries.
Most of the newer philosophies of the heavy hitters in brain health (Dale E. Bredesen, M.D., David Perlmutter, M.D. and Dave Asprey) are promoting low carb diets and prescribe to the elimination of gluten in the diet theory. Does Gluten Cause Inflammation? Let’s find out.
The more I’ve delved into memory and brain health, the more I’ve read about low-carb and no gluten diets. So I decided to try it. I went lower carb in my diet and actually did feel my brain was sharper and my gut happier. There are a lot of choices in the gluten-free grocery and frozen food aisles these days. (I love some particular gluten-free frozen burritos.)
As you may have read in other articles here or elsewhere, chronic inflammation is a huge enemy of the brain (and body in general). A normally functioning immune system responds to a cut or common cold by activating an immune response, sending white blood cells to the scene of the crime. They absorb and attempt to get rid of the new invader. Chronic inflammation is when there is a constant (or perceived) attack in the body.
Let’s explore the research on gluten and whether it causes inflammation and its relationship to dementia and Alzheimer’s. And diabetes!
- 1 What Gluten Is and Why It Matters
- 2 The High-Carb, Low-Fat Diet We’ve Been Prescribed
- 3 The Myth We’ve Lived By
- 4 But Gluten Doesn’t Bother Me
- 5 We Have A Choice
- 6 How to Get Started
What Gluten Is and Why It Matters
As you are undoubtedly aware, gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye grains. It’s a group of proteins including glutelin and gliadin. Gluten is Latin for ‘glue.’ It holds dough together, illustrated by tossing pizza dough, making a crust for pizza.
Celiac (or coeliac) disease was discovered some years ago as a complete intolerance of gluten and is an autoimmune disorder. The symptoms are severe. Even in non-celiac gluten sensitivity, symptoms can be
- abdominal pain
- lactose intolerance
- peripheral neuropathy
- brain fog
and even more. But now, science has discovered that gluten is not good for anyone (Perlmutter, 2018). Many, many studies show that gluten actually promotes inflammation in the body. Dr. Perlmutter states gluten is a ‘dietary toxin’, period.
According to David Perlmutter, M.D. in Grain Brain (updated in 2018), our shift to a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet in the last half-century is wrecking our brains. The brain is the fattiest organ in our bodies and requires fat to function properly. This is in line with Dale Bredesen’s book, The End of Alzheimer’s (2017) and Dave Asprey’s books, The Bulletproof Diet (2014) and Head Strong (2017). I have read these books and this is where I found out about the brain benefits of low carb diets and started my low to no gluten journey. You may want to read one or more of them.
David Perlmutter, M.D., is a Board-Certified Neurologist and serves on the Board of Directors and is a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. We’ll be talking about the low-fat, high carb diet we’ve been brainwashed to think was so healthy and prevented heart disease.
Why We Became So Dependent On Wheat
Humans in Asia and northern Africa discovered wheat about 75,000 years ago. Cultivation and farming of wheat began about 9,000 to 10,000 years ago. That’s when humans adapted from being hunters to gatherers. When animals to hunt became scarce, humans could always make bread. No wonder it’s such a staple in our cultures. In addition, wheat can be grown around the world and at different times of the year.
It’s a staple product that can be consumed en masse in times of famine. With automated production and milling invented in the 1700s, more and more wheat could be produced with greater efficiency. It’s reasonably easy to store and the species were cross-bred and refined to what is now the six wheat classes available today (encyclopedia.com, 2019). These new strains are genetically modified from the original wheat early man stumbled upon. As David Perlmutter points out, this wheat we consume so much of is nothing like the original wheat strains and our bodies aren’t equipped to handle it.
Read on to see if and how gluten causes inflammation.
The High-Carb, Low-Fat Diet We’ve Been Prescribed
Friends, we’ve been duped. Probably not intentionally, but the diet we’ve been told to follow for the last half-century is killing us.
We live longer than ever before, but our quality of life is lower and the level of preventable, noncommunicable diseases is alarming. Diabetes, dementia and Alzheimer’s, and obesity all point to inflammation caused by diet. And what is at the cornerstone of the Western diet these days? Gluten and refined carbohydrates. We are eating about 60% carbs, 20% protein and 20% fat (Perlmutter, 2018). Early man ate about 75% fat, 5% carbs, and 20% protein. And they didn’t have diabetes or dementia and were lean and fit.
Dr. Perlmutter says there is a pattern showing the increase in people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It seems that people with diabetes have an increased risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease. Additionally, there seems to be a connection between insulin resistance and both diabetes and dementia and Alzheimer’s. People with higher blood sugar (even spikes), whether they have diabetes or not, have a higher rate of cognitive decline than those with normal blood sugar.
Researchers are finding one culprit for the inflammation talked about extensively here and elsewhere is gluten and a high-carb diet. Gluten and refined carbs are the biggest stimulators of inflammation in the brain (Perlmutter, 2018). And, the brain is made of mostly lipids (fat), so by eating low fat, we are reducing the nutrient it actually needs to thrive!
Many, many studies show that people who consume higher levels of fats have healthier brains. Not only that, their risk of mortality is lower! This is not at all what we’ve been led to believe.
Simple inflammation, such as having a cut or catching a cold, is the body’s way of fighting infection. Chronic inflammation is inflammation that doesn’t go away because something is continuously ‘inflaming’ the body.
Dale Bredesen (2017) remarks that most of us may have damage in our guts and to the ‘tight junctions in the cells’ of our gastrointestinal systems. This is what keeps toxins out of our bloodstreams. Gluten is one of the things that can cause that. Damage to the gut lining causes increased inflammation all over our bodies.
The Myth We’ve Lived By
The high-carb, low-fat diet is a myth, according to Dr. Perlmutter. What we need are good fats: DHA (Omega-3s), monounsaturated fats known as oleic acid (as in olive oil and avocados) and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) to nourish our brains and actually control and optimize our cholesterol levels. It’s really hard to wrap one’s mind around this after we have it ingrained in our minds we are supposed to eat low-fat and high-carb for much of our lives. But look at the epidemic levels of diabetes, dementia, and Alzheimer’s in the world today.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 30 million people have diabetes in the U.S. and 7.2 million adults are not even diagnosed yet. There were 50 million people worldwide living with dementia in 2017 and if the trend continues, it will reach 75 million people in 2030 and 131.5 million in 2050. If that’s not an epidemic, I don’t know what is.
As you are probably aware, carbohydrates, especially highly refined carbs, and gluten turn into glucose (sugar) in our bodies. Even if you have a short spike in blood sugar and don’t have full-blown diabetes, it is wreaking havoc on the brain, according to Dr. Perlmutter.
The reason that ‘plaque’ builds up in arteries isn’t because of the fats we consume, but that the fats become oxidized. The risk of oxidation is higher with the presence of sugar or glucose. So fat is not the problem, sugar and glucose are the real problems.
But Gluten Doesn’t Bother Me
The inflammation of gluten and highly processed carbs is often silent (Perlmutter, 2018). Sometimes, the only way to know is by having some blood work done to show any inflammatory markers. There is a gluten sensitivity test but Dr. Perlmutter doesn’t even order that anymore. He found Everyone had some level of gluten sensitivity. (And in Everyone, carbs turn into glucose). On the contrary, some people get frequent headaches or migraines, some just can’t lose that belly fat and some, even though exercising and eating low-fat, just can’t seem to lose weight at all. Sound familiar?
If you have diabetes, feel foggy or have memory problems, or have other chronic illnesses, you might be affected by gluten. Gluten can take you on a rollercoaster ride of anxiety, depression, and moodiness. It’s certainly worth trying to cut down or eliminate gluten from your diet and increase the good fats! I highly recommend reading David Perlmutter, M.D.s book, Grain Brain.
We Have A Choice
What this means to all of us, is we have a choice to prevent diabetes and Alzheimer’s and dementia. We can keep doing what we’ve been doing, eating all the things TV commercials and the food industry tell us is ‘good’ or we can choose health. You now have control. Gluten does cause inflammation, not only in our gut but in our brain.
When I added a tablespoon of MCT Oil and sometimes a teaspoon of ghee to my coffee in the mornings, it started mild ketosis, burning fat instead of glucose. I actually lost 7 pounds in a little less than 2 months, without even trying. (Yes I was happy to get back to my weight of 10 years ago, lol). I also went mostly gluten free and low-carb. If you’re worried that adding good fats to your diet will make you gain weight, it won’t. If you still eat a lot of carbs, you probably will. The key is to cut down on carbs, and increase those good fats. Your brain and body will love you for it.
What’s actually even more amazing to me, is my triglycerides went down to about half of what they’d been the last 5 years. While increasing good fat!
Dr. Perlmutter also recommends other habits that you’ll find articles on here at mywellbrain, like sleep and exercise. These are the three pillars of health. No gluten/high-fat diet, adequate sleep and regular exercise which will help your brain health amazingly and help prevent future cognitive decline (or repair damage already started).
How to Get Started
First of all, you may want to start monitoring what you’re eating. Just keep track and pin down the foods that have gluten in them. Start cutting down on processed foods and fast food. Opt for gluten free and eat Lots of meat and as many vegetables as you want. Potatoes are high in carbs so you’ll want to be conscious of that. They will undermine your low carb goal.
Add in the good fats. Use real grass-fed butter. Use MCT (coconut) oil in your coffee or for cooking.
Notice how you feel. Weigh yourself. Keep track of changes.
Related Article: Gluten-Free Diet Food List
I really hope you found some value from this article and that this helps to enlighten you about brain health in general.
Please feel free to leave any comments, suggestions, questions or your experience with gluten and carbs below. I wish you a very wellbrain day! Thanks for reading.
Bredesen, D. (2017). The End of Alzheimer’s. [Book]. Published by Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Perlmutter, D. (2013, 2018). Grain Brain. [Book]. Published by Little, Brown Spark, Hachette Book Group.
“The Natural History of Wheat.” Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. Retrieved November 03, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/natural-history-wheat