By Sarah LoBisco, ND

Most people who are reading this blog are seeking out information to support their health. It is my hope that this webpage can be a resource for those who wish to clarify all the conflicting wellness information out there. The subject of nutrition seems to be one of with a lot of heated controversy among experts.  Dietary advice ranges from raw-food-vegetarianism to a cavemen diet of meat and vegetables.  What to do?? By now you probably already guessed my answer—it depends on the person!

There is good news! What type of diet is best for any individual has little to do with calorie counting and perfect proportion control. Optimal choices in nutrition have more to do with individual lifestyle patterns, biochemical and genetic differences, blood type, ethnicity, current health status, and other physiological issues that will make certain foods hum in one person and honker out in another.

This is because food affects our biology, not just by causing weight gain or weight loss, but by modifying our blood sugar, hormones, neurotransmitters, and brain health. The phytochemicals present in foods have the capacity to act as medicine or poison.

Dr. Amen highlights this concept of different foods for different people by his focus on different brain types. For example, those who have compulsive eating patterns may do better with some carbohydrates in their diet. This is because compulsive eaters tend to have low serotonin and healthy carbohydrates will aid this nutrient to cross the blood-brain barrier to calm someone down.

On the other hand, those who are more impulsive already have enough serotonin but need more stimulation via dopamine. These people need protein to supply their body with less sugar rushes and more amino acid sources. A person could also be a combination of both, in which ratios of carbohydrates and proteins need to be balanced.

In the above scenarios, picture an impulsive person on a vegetarian diet or a compulsive person on a cavemen diet. Their bodies may even out, but will their brain and hormones? Add into this picture the potential of inflammatory processes, digestive incapacities, food sensitivities, and heart disease and a-one- diet-for-all just doesn’t make sense!

Now, that being said, there is one trend that makes sense to me. I’m not a big fan of generalizations, but there are some classes of foods I generally recommend to avoid or eat minimally to most of my patients. I believe the common sensitivities to these foods are more a result of overproduction and resultant processing manipulation than the actual food itself. One such food class is gluten (wheat, barley, rye, oats).

Unfortunately, the sensitivity to wheat and gluten is one which is becoming more and more prevalent. Most of my patients show at least elevated antibodies to gluten when we run a blood panel. According to Dr. Northrup, one of the reasons why so many people are so sensitive to gluten today, is because wheat bread has been manufactured to be 10x the amount of protein content than if produced in its natural state. This is in order to increase the fluff, market value, and taste of bread. Our body just isn’t set up to digest that kind of protein profile. (It’s even been suggested that in Europe, where GMOs and mass devaluing of grains is less prevalent, there is less grain sensitivity).

Part of my job as an integrative doctor is to teach a person that just because they don’t have digestive distress after eating a certain food, doesn’t mean that they aren’t affected by it. Your digestive tract is not only responsible for absorption and digestion, but it’s the home of the GALT (Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue) and the ENS (Enteric Nervous System). In other words, your gut contributes to the health of your immune system, nervous system, hormones, brain, and overall body processes.

An article from the Journal of Scandinavia Gastroenterology demonstrated that the markers used for celiac disease (AGA), although sensitive, are not very specific for determining gluten reactions other than digestive distress. The researchers concluded:           

Although AGA positivity is of clinical relevance only in a subset of elderly people, it seems to be related to rheumatoid arthritis and depression, both conditions linked to celiac disease. Further studies are needed to reveal the mechanisms underlying this. The poor specificity of AGA for celiac disease was here once more in evidence.

The clinical implications are astounding and what most Naturopathic doctors are already aware of. Treating the gut is more than about digestion, it’s about treating the whole person! This research shows that sensitivity to wheat can cause autoimmune conditions other than celiac, and can be a marker for other chronic diseases down the line.

Another recent article in Biological Psychology showed the connection between lab markers to gluten sensitivity and brain health, specifically relating to schizophrenia. The researchers concluded:

Individuals with recent-onset psychosis and with multi-episode schizophrenia who have increased antibodies to gliadin may share some immunologic features of celiac disease, but their immune response to gliadin differs from that of celiac disease.

Which brings me back to this point…could also these chronic diseases and mood imbalances be solved by what we’re feeding our body, not popping into our mouth?

The same journal reported this may be the case over 20 years ago:

If, as hypothesized, neuroactive peptides from grain glutens are the major agents evoking schizophrenia in those with the genotype(s), it should be rare if grain is rare

When these peoples became partially westernized and consumed wheat, barley beer, and rice, the prevalence reached European levels. Our findings agree with previous epidemiologic and experimental results indicating that grain glutens are harmful to schizophrenics.

I have seen this gluten-symptom connection time and again. For example, I had one patient who had depression, anxiety, and knee pain. After eliminating gluten from her diet, supporting her digestive health, and adding in some nutrients that were deficient in her diet, her anxiety disappeared, her depression and low mood were elevated, her joint pain went away, and she lost 5 pounds!

Can you imagine if she thought it was a Prozac deficiency vs. treating the root cause? The downstream effect of SSRIs can lead to more inflammation if the body is inflamed; more weight gain, and more anxiety, if not probably prescribed and supported! This is one reason why I recommended going gluten free, starting with breakfast, as one of the steps to empowering your health in my previous blog.

Dr. Hyman, MD, reports similar success with one of his patients and explains the food sensitivity connection to mood and inflammation in his recent blogs:

Food allergies cause inflammation, and studies now show inflammation in the brains of depressed people. In fact, researchers are studying powerful anti-inflammatory drugs used in autoimmune disease such as Enbrel for the treatment of depression.

After she eliminated her IgG or delayed food allergies, her depression went away, she got off her medication — and she lost 30 pounds as a side effect!

What few people understand is that hidden inflammation run amok is at the root of all chronic illness we experience — conditions like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, depression, cancer, and even autism.

A study of a generally “healthy” elderly population found that those with the highest levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin 6 (two markers of systemic inflammation) were 260 percent more likely to die during the next 4 years. The increase in deaths was due to cardiovascular and other causes.

One last thought…

Those who know me my belief that that biochemistry trumps willpower every time. So, if giving up gluten and sugar, even at one meal, is too difficult, there may be more than just sensitivity. There could be an underlying dysbiosis or a chronic blood sugar imbalance. Therefore, supplements and mind-body medicine can really aid to support someone in making these lifestyle changes without creating undo stress of a “do and don’t eat” list. I’ve literally seen women cry when I’ve asked them if they could give up their coffee or cake. They needed more than just a list, they needed brain, blood sugar, hormonal, or other support.

Therefore, remember that diet is more than just finding the perfect book and following it. It’s about listening to your body and allowing it to guide you by its symptoms to see what works and what doesn’t. If you need help in distinguishing this, that’s what we Naturopathic and Functional Docs are here for.

Read more on the subject of sprouted wheat and how sugar relates to gluten on my Saratoga Blog.

Bon appetit!

Now, I’d like to hear from you….

What are your thoughts on diet and one-size-fits-all?

What are your success stories?

Comment below…

This blog is dedicated to Dr. Quinn


Ruuskanen A, Kaukinen K, Collin P, Huhtala H, Valve R, Mäki M, Luostarinen L.Positive serum antigliadin antibodies without celiac disease in the elderly population: does it matter? (abstract). Scand J Gastroenterol. 2010 Oct;45(10):1197-202.

Dickerson F, Stallings C, Origoni A, Vaughan C, Khushalani S, Leister F, Yang S, Krivogorsky B, Alaedini A, Yolken R. Markers of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease in recent-onset psychosis and multi-episode schizophrenia (abstract). Biol Psychiatry. 2010 Jul 1;68(1):100-4. Epub 2010 May 14.

Dohan FC, Harper EH, Clark MH, Rodrigue RB, Zigas V. Is schizophrenia rare if grain is rare? (abstract). Biol Psychiatry. 1984 Mar;19(3):385-99.

Dr. Mercola. 3 ounces of this a day may harm your brain? July 4, 2011.

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Dr. Hyman. Why Antidepressants don’t work for treating depression. July 9, 2011.

Dr. Hyman. Is your body burning up with hidden inflammation? July 9, 2011.

Mishkind ML, Palevitz BA, Raikhel NV, Keegstra K. Localization of wheat germ agglutinin–like lectins in various species of the gramineae. Science. 1983 Jun 17;220(4603):1290-2.

Dr. Mercola. These five Foods may cause problems similar to wheat. July 5, 2011.

Dr. Northrup. Opening your heart to summer. Flourish Radio Show. July 7, 2011.

Stephen Ilardi, Ph.D.  Dietary Sugar and Mental Illness: A Surprising Link. The Depression Cure . How to beat depression without drugs. Psychology Today. July 23, 2009.