Finally, there’s an explanation for my wheat sensitivity! Until now, it’s been a mystery as to why, when I eat wheat, I experience aggravated fatigue. But I can eat oats, which are often cross-contaminated with gluten from processing. And many other gluten-containing foods don’t pose a problem. So I know I don’t have celiac disease (yay!), which is an autoimmune disease characterized by abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea. In CD, consumption of gluten triggers the messed up immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine.
Columbia University Study
I read a recent article discussing results of a Columbia University study, which were released in July 2106 and explain why some non-celiacs experience negative reactions after consuming wheat and wheat products.
Researchers examined eighty people with non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS) like me, forty people with celiac disease, and forty healthy controls.
- The celiac patients did not show blood markers of inflammation beyond the intestinal damage they suffered after consuming wheat.
- The NCWS group, however, had markers that indicated “acute systemic immune activation”.
Immune System Activation
The researchers believe that this immune system activation, or inflammation, happens because of a weakened intestinal barrier, which allows microbial and dietary substances normally confined to the digestive tract to pass into the circulatory system. Consistent activation of the immune system leads to chronic inflammation, which in turn can cause a range of diseases and disorders, including fibromyalgia.
The Columbia University study suggests that in those with NCWS, exposure to wheat and wheat-containing cereals causes acute activation of the immune system and not the localized intestinal response found in celiac disease.
Specific NCSW Indicators
The Columbia researchers report that the specific indicators of the non-celiac wheat sensitivity are:
Significantly increased levels of soluble CD14, which is a human gene that helps the body detect invading bacteria
Elevated levels of lipopolysaccharide-binding protein and antibody reactivity to microbial antigens, both signs of systemic immune activation, and
Higher levels of the fatty acid-binding protein 2 which also indicates the presence of an activated immune system and suggests that the epithelial barrier in the intestine has lost its effectiveness.
Fifteen Years Ago, My Nutritionist Knew
I discovered the connection between eating wheat and fibromyalgia symptoms shortly after my diagnosis almost fifteen years ago. A nutritionist first recognized a link between wheat consumption and overwhelming fatigue from my food and symptom diary. (I’ve been on again, off again with wheat, most recently cutting it out again in summer 2016. You can read about that here.) That nutritionist knew something back then that has finally been confirmed by scientific research.
And I feel vindicated: I wasn’t crazy. I’m not celiac, but wheat truly does mess with my fibromyalgia. Me, and the estimated one percent of the population with NCWS.