Gluten-free diet but still have sensitivity?

Are you eating a gluten-free diet and doing everything correctly to manage your gluten sensitivity, yet still having symptoms? Maybe this is the answer for you.

First, let’s look at what gluten is. It is a main storage protein of wheat grains, a complex mixture of hundreds of related but distinct proteins, mainly gliadin and glutenin. Similar storage proteins exist as secalin in rye, hordein in barley, and avenins in oats. Collectively, all of these are referred to as “gluten”.

Gluten has unique properties, including being heat stable and having the capacity to act as abinding and extending agent. It is commonly used as an additive in processed foods for improved texture, moisture retention, and flavor.

Our body is not able to digest gluten very well. Especially as we age, it becomes much harder for us to digest it. Gliadin contains peptide sequences that are highly resistant to gastric,pancreatic, and intestinal proteolytic digestion in the gastrointestinal tract.

As an example, people with celiac disease are unable to eat foods that contain gluten, as it can cause autoimmune reactions that can eventually lead to complete destruction of the villi, the tiny lining the small intestine.

But a gluten-free diet is unfortunately not only necessary for celiac disease patients. Gluten can cause many other symptoms in many people, for example irritable bowel syndrome-like symptoms such as bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

So if you have any type of gluten sensitivity, you could surely simply stop eating gluten?

Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Even when you completely stop eating gluten you still need to be careful with cross-reactivity from other foods, which happens when the immune system confuses tissue in the body with the tagged antigen because they are similar in structure. The body then attacks and destroys its own tissue, too.

That mens that if you have gluten sensitivity, your immune system will have created antibodies for the gluten. But these gluten antibodies tag gluten and alert the immune system to destroy it every time you eat it. Even you eat a very small quantity, it can cause inflammation.

And gluten has protein sequences that are identical to the protein sequences in the brain, thyroid, pancreas, and in other tissues in the body. So if you are still eating gluten, eventually the gluten antibodies may begin to attack, and destroy, one or more of these other tissues in the body, right along with the gluten. That can actually also happen with pathogens already in your body, such as unhealthy gut bacteria.

Unfortunately most grains, such as amaranth, corn, millet, spelt, soy, buckwheat, tapioca, teff, oats, rice, and quinoa can have cross-reactivity effects. Also dairy, chocolate, sesame seeds, eggs, yeast, and instant coffee can too.

I know what you’re thinking now — that doesn’t leave a lot for you to eat! You can take called the gluten cross-reactivity test to understand which foods might cause problems for you.

Or you can try an elimination diet, in which you eliminate all grains and dairy from your diet for at least four weeks, and then slowly add them back in, individually and in small amounts, to see the reactions that your body has to the different food sources.

I think we really started messing with our environment, and this now is the consequence that we need to live with.

Please share your comments. And if you try, then please do let me know how it goes.


Ayda Ersoy is a nutrition and fitness director at The Diet Doc Hawaii. She can be reached at, or (808) 276-6892


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