by Dr. Vikki Petersen
I speak often about autoimmune disease. My fascination stems from a few different factors:
1) The increase of autoimmune diseases in our society is on a downright scary trajectory.
2) Autoimmune disease sufferers are told “there is no cure for their disease”.
3) The treatment for autoimmune is, in my opinion, barbaric and exactly the opposite of what treatment should be.
4) Research is, more and more, supporting what I feel is the truth and most important, this new approach opens the door to diminishing why autoimmune diseases have increased so dramatically.
Gotta Look to the Gut!
If you follow my blogs or videos, you may have heard that newer research strongly correlates the health of the GI tract with susceptibility to autoimmune disease. This is exciting and promising as compared to those who state “it’s all in the genes” and “if you’re destined, there’s nothing you can do about it”. I don’t know about you, but I feel better when I can take action. Being told it’s hopeless, especially when it comes to disease, can be downright depressing.
Research has linked gluten as being a potential culprit in the weakening of the gut and it’s important resident, the human immune system.
This new study, just released last month, gives further support to that premise: that gluten can be an absolute link to autoimmune disease.
New Research Points the Finger at Gluten Causing More Than Just Celiac Disease
The journal that published the paper was Hormone Research in Paediatrics The paper was entitled, “Prolactin May Be Increased in Newly Diagnosed Celiac Children and Adolescents and Decreases after 6 Months of Gluten-Free Diet”.
What’s prolactin? It’s a hormone produced predominantly in the brain (the pituitary gland to be exact) but also in the immune cells of the body…something that wasn’t known up until fairly recently and a key aspect underlying the research we’re about to discuss.
Prolactin is traditionally thought of as the hormone necessary for lactation and therefore only produced when a mom is nursing her newborn. However, that is far from its only function. It’s associated with decreased sex hormones in both men and women and has been proven to have, in fact, over 300 separate actions—that’s one busy hormone! And of course, anything that alters its production would affect the body in a vast number of ways.
A Hormone, When Elevated Signals Autoimmune Disease
What is now understood about prolactin is that it is a marker for autoimmune disease, something that wasn’t known in the past. But research now supports that a number of autoimmune conditions are associated with elevated prolactin levels—specifically rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
What they set out to prove is that the elevation of prolactin was due to the production of increased inflammatory agents in the blood (called cytokines). These particular agents that can be measured in the blood are seen in celiac patients who are not following a gluten-free diet and are decreased when the patients are following a gluten-free diet. They therefore set out to test this hypothesis by measuring prolactin levels in newly diagnosed celiac pediatric patients.
67 pediatric patients newly diagnosed with celiac disease were compared to 39 healthy control children. As expected, prolactin levels were statistically higher in the celiac patients than in the controls. After 6 months of a strict gluten-free diet the prolactin levels decreased.
The researchers felt that the decrease in the inflammatory substances in the blood due to a gluten-free diet accounted for the decrease in prolactin levels, despite the short amount of time on the gluten-free diet.
The broader picture to appreciate is that prolactin, as a marker for autoimmune disease, was decreased when a gluten-free diet was initiated. Why? It is surmised by the researchers to be due to the gluten-free diet decreasing the inflammatory agents in the blood that overstimulate the immune system and thereby can initiate the autoimmune process. In other words, gluten is seen as a direct cause of increasing the levels of the hormone prolactin and thereby increasing autoimmune tendencies.
Gluten’s Link to Autoimmune Disease Seems Concrete
The writing is on the wall as more and more researchers come to the same conclusion. Gluten is not our friend in so many ways and I think we can safely add autoimmune disease to its list of crimes.
Do You Need Help?
Are you suffering from autoimmune disease? Do you have family members with autoimmune disease and you want to prevent it? Whatever category you’re in, it would be a good idea to rule out a problem with gluten. There is zero harm in not ingesting gluten and for many the benefits are positively life-saving.
The program we use at HealthNOW in our medical and clinical nutrition departments is a good one. It has stabilized, slowed and evened reversed cases of autoimmune disease. And despite research only recently coming to the conclusion that gluten and gut health is an integral factor in addressing autoimmune disease, this approach has been the foundation of our treatment for well over a decade.
We can help you discover if you have a problem with gluten or have a tendency towards autoimmune disease – yes we have a lab test for both!
1. Hormone Research in Pediatrics, 2014 March 5 “Prolactin May Be Increased in Newly Diagnosed Celiac Children and Adolescents and Decreases after 6 Months of Gluten-Free Diet”.
2. Pituitary. 2005;8(1):25-30. “Prolactin and autoimmunity.” De Bellis A, Bizzarro A, Pivonello R, Lombardi G, Bellastella A.
Dr. Vikki Petersen, a Doctor of Chiropractic and Certified Clinical Nutritionist, is founder of the renowned HealthNOW Medical Center in Sunnyvale, California. She is co-author of The Gluten Effect: How “Innocent” Wheat Is Ruining Your Health
a bestselling book that has been celebrated by leading experts as an epic leap forward in gluten sensitivity diagnosis and treatment.
HealthNOW Medical Center serves San Jose, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Mountain View – and all cities of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.It is also a Destination Clinic, treating patients from across the country and internationally.