Gluten: “Low-Nickel” in the Short Term, but ‘High Nickel” in the Long Term

It’s crazy how time and time again over the course of my healing journey I have proven to myself how much better I feel and look and even ACT when I avoid all grains in my diet, and yet I still find myself sliding back into the attitude that “just a little” won’t hurt.

When I removed grains and processed carbohydrates from my diet in 2009, my incredibly painful mysterious-to-my-gastroenterologist digestive condition went away completely, my anxiety disorder abated, my pre-diabetes disappeared, my skin cleared up, and my mood lifted.  Oh yeah, and I lost 65 lbs in less than a year.

And yet #JustThisOnce plagues me.

This occasional “fall off the wagon” continues, even after becoming a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner a few years ago and then taking Dr. Tom O’Bryan’s Gluten Practitioner training, where he scared the living bejeezus out of me with study after study after study for HOURS showing the health damaging effects of modern day wheat, and the assaulting nature of its proteins: gluten & gliadin.

I left that weekend feeling like anyone putting a single bite of glutenous grains into their mouths was insane.

I considered it slow suicide, even.

And yet.

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Upon reflection over the last few weeks, I’ve realized that my recent bout of increased gluten consumption began when I discovered my nickel allergy last fall and I started researching and putting together my own “low nickel diet” because almost all of the protocols you find say that processed wheat is low in nickel and therefore something “safe” (and delicious) you can eat!

From experience, I knew wheat and grain caused ME problems and from my nutrition training I knew all the research showing how addictive and damaging it is to all of our health, but . . .

With an allergy that requires you to restrict such healthy foods as GREEN FREAKING VEGETABLES for crying out loud, it feels like a small consolation that I can eat that slice of pizza or white bread, or indulge in that scone now and then with nary a painful blister erupting on my finger.

Sometimes in DESPERATELY-ITCHY frustration over an inexplicable outbreak after diligently eating what I thought was PERFECT, I’d go nuclear and willfully ignore the facts and just enjoy that donut which (in my continued search for solace) turned into another the next day and another a day or so after that, etc, until the digestive, neurological, and then, finally eczema symptoms returned with a vengeance.

It took a while, but I realized I was an idiot. I hadn’t allowed myself to think through what I know about how nutrition impacts the body and arrive at the logical conclusion:

The “safe” wheat may be “low nickel,” but it was slowly breaking down my digestive system again and creating an environment where my problem would get worse. And it did.

If I’ve learned one thing in my practice, it is the following:

If you want MAJOR HEALING you need MAJOR CHANGE.

When you are in a state of dysfunction and damage, you need to be as vigilant as possible, especially in the beginning of your healing journey, in order to make it as easy as possible for your body to move back towards that health & flexibility it wants to achieve.

In order to do this, you have to remove as many nutritional stressors as possible so your body isn’t spending unnecessary time and nutrients constantly fighting and cleaning up issues, but can instead use those things to focus on healing and rebuilding; You know, stuff it would PREFER to do if you’d just LET IT.

So let’s let it. Let’s set you up for success.

 Sloppy Endives!

Sloppy Endives!

Today I am writing about one of the most nefarious nutritional stressors to the foundation of health: Wheat products & glutenous grains.

“Gluten-free”: They call it a fad. I call it “science”.

No . . . Instead, I’ll call it “smart”.

For us nickel-allergic folk, here is the very basic sketch of why we need to avoid gluten and other grains:

  1. You have nickel sensitivity.

  2. You have crappy symptoms from it when your nickel levels get too high and trigger an immune response. (For me the primary one is full-body & dyshidrotic eczema)

  3. You try to eat low-nickel foods to reduce the symptoms/immune response.

  4. You eat wheat because #lownickel

  5. It triggers openings in your small intestine, allowing a bunch of stuff into your blood stream that your immune system thinks are intruders.

  6. This creates an immune response (thus, inflammation), and damages your small intestine creating more openings.

  7. The openings allow MORE nickel and other “problems” in, which cause MORE immune response and MORE inflammation, which basically keeps your body and your immune system from “healing” and “forgetting” your nickel sensitivity.

  8. Rinse and repeat. More openings, more inflammation, more symptoms.

Therefore: Consuming glutenous grains (especially wheat) is low nickel in the short term, but can give you symptoms of high nickel in the longterm.

Now for more details:

Research has demonstrated the following:

  • Everyone. That’s right, EVERYONE experiences “gut permeability” when exposed to the gliadin protein in wheat. You do not need to be celiac, on the spectrum moving towards celiac, or Non-Gluten Celiac Sensitive. You can experience NO digestive symptoms and still be sensitive to gluten, btw. This has all been shown by Harvard’s Dr. Alessio Fassano and in research published in 2006. (S. Drago et al., “Gliadin, Zonulin and Gut Permeability: Effects on Celiac and Non-celiac Intestinal Mucosa and Intestinal Cell Lines,” Scand. J. Gastroenterol. 41., no. 4 (April 2006): 408-19)
  • Gluten’s “sticky” quality interferes with breakdown and absorption of nutrients which leads to undigested and poorly broken down molecules of food, which appears to the immune system like it is an intruder, not a nutrient.
  • “Gut permeability” allows undigested food particles, pathogens, and other troublesome things that don’t belong into the blood stream where the immune system will recognize and start an assault on the lining of the small intestine, creating inflammation (an immune response) in the gut and in the brain. Things like LPS (lipopolysaccharides) and the wheat protein gliadin have specifically been shown to wreak this havoc. This research was published by Dr. Fassano.
  • The inflammation in the gut ends up causing further damage to the intestinal lining, which then causes further gut permeability, creating a downward spiral of greater immune response and damage as reported by Dr. David Perlmutter, MD in “Brain Maker”.
  • In a 2013 report by the Journal of Interdisciplinary Toxicology, they showed that glyphosate, which is used on wheat and consumed through wheat products, compromises our ability to detoxify, it impairs function of vitamin D, and depletes iron (all of which we need to process and remove nickel as well as combat our nickel allergy).

So this is why if you are struggling with food sensitivities and allergies (like us nickel-sensitive folks), or have symptoms of digestive or neurological dysfunction, then removing grains and any other gut-wrecking foods from your diet is almost 100% guaranteed to help because:

  • Foods that tell the cells of your small intestine to part ways and allow anything in (like gluten) will allow MORE of the bad stuff in (and more nickel will get in).

  • Foods that do this will cause your immune system to freak out and this will only exacerbate your symptoms (a stronger immune response will equal a stronger reaction/symptom).

  • Exacerbating your immune response will not allow your immune system to “forget” its sensitivity to nickel and reduce its memory cells. Reducing exposure to nickel can reduce or remove your sensitivity over time.

And since I know making this change can be confusing and hard:

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I put together an example meal plan and shopping list of gluten-free, gut-friendly recipes, which you can get by clicking here.

I tried to make this plan nutritious but more on the “easier/faster” side of cooking, so that means less variety but still with good nutrient density. The meal prep is designed to be done mostly in one day and would take roughly ~3.5 hours cook time with about ~1-1.5 hours in there of actual prep time.

Each week has:

  • A gut-healing soup as your daily “medicine”

  • Breakfast bites for a fast grab-n-go breakfast

  • Low-nickel compliant veggie sides

  • 2-3 different dinners from mexican to italian to wings & sloppy joes!

Other Resources:

If you are a visual/audio learner, here is a great video for reference: Is Gluten That Bad For Your Health? https://youtu.be/M0La27FNrA4

Some of my favorite books on the subject are:

  • “Gut & Psychology Syndrome” by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD

  • “Brain Maker” & “Grain Brain” by Dr. David Perlmutter, MD

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Other Resources:

If you are a visual/audio learner, here is a great video for reference: Is Gluten That Bad For Your Health? https://youtu.be/M0La27FNrA4

Some of my favorite books on the subject are:

  • “Gut & Psychology Syndrome” by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD

  • “Brain Maker” & “Grain Brain” by Dr. David Perlmutter, MD