Think you’re following a gluten-free diet? Not so fast.

A physician who is a pioneer in discovering and diagnosing the problems with gluten says many products touted as gluten-free today are not.  

Dr. Kenneth Davin Fine, a gastroenterologist, and creator of Oro-Intestinal Fitness Products and the Gluten/Food Sensitivity Diagnostic Laboratory brought gluten sensitivity to the public consciousness more than 20 years ago.  

He says during those early years, gluten-sensitive patients usually experienced significant improvement in their health on a “gluten-free diet” but his patients have told him in recent years they have seen fewer improvements.

“Products can now be labeled ‘gluten free’ even if that food contains up to 20 parts per million of gluten,” Dr. Fine says.  “While that doesn’t sound like a lot, a little gluten can go a long way in the reactions of the most active immune systems.”

Gluten is a protein found in the cereal grains wheat, barley, rye, and oats.  It is a mixture of proteins and causes illness in people with either celiac disease, when the immune reactions to gluten damage the intestinal tissues visible on a biopsy, or more commonly non-celiac gluten sensitivity.  This happens when symptoms and intestinal dysfunction are present in the absence of such changes on a biopsy.

Recent studies found that most (but not all) celiacs could eat gluten without resulting in damage to their small intestine. In his research, Dr. Fine has found that only about half of celiacs or non-celiac gluten sensitive patients can tolerate oats. He says “gluten-free oats” is a misnomer and may be responsible for symptoms experienced by people who think they are eating a gluten-free diet.

Dr. Fine believes the gluten sensitivity epidemic is caused by:

• A combination of greater immunoreactivity in most people stimulated by mainly environmental factors (stress, exposure to hormones in food, medicines, pollution, and possibly EMS from electronic devices).

• The way many foods have been altered by producers so they can be manufactured in mass quantities more efficiently.

• Widespread use of stomach acid-inhibiting medicines.

• A general lack of breastfeeding in this country from 1955-1985 (when synthetic infant formula was falsely touted to be more healthy than breast milk).

• Public health directives recommending that the public should eat mostly grains as part of the USDA food pyramid.

• An evolution of agricultural practices leading to hybridization of grains to increase their gluten content, and more widespread use of herbicides and pesticides.

Recently, there also has been a significant increase in the mass marketing of products said to assist the gut microbiome in digesting food. The microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes – bacteria, viruses, and fungi – in the body.

Dr. Fine says the best way to keep a healthy gut and microbiome is to eat the right foods. “Researchers have sometimes detected a different microbiome in obese individuals compared to non-obese individuals; although this has attempted to be the blame for the obesity, it cannot be ruled out that their microbiome is different because they make different, and perhaps less healthful food choices,” Dr. Fine says.

Other reasons for a poor microbiome are frequent exposure to antibiotics, the bactericidal chlorine added to public water, improper sleep, stress, and diets heavy in meat, cooked food (as opposed to raw vegetables/salads and fruit), and “junk food” and other sugar-laden foods.  This is all typical of the modern lifestyle, which Fine says is a primary contributor to poor overall health.

“If you really want to achieve a healthy body, you must have a healthy intestine and intestinal flora,” Dr. Fine says. “And when it comes to immunologic food sensitivities, one must really be more restrictive of antigenic foods than was necessary years ago because of the progression of this immunologic epidemic.”