As you know, diet plays a huge role in your health. I’ve seen firsthand, in myself and my patients, the power of food to reverse chronic illness such as autoimmune diseases, including Hashimoto’s, Graves’, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s, and others. I’ve also seen thousands of patients achieve their ideal weight, banish everyday annoyances such as headaches and bloating, and regain their energy and vitality simply through dietary changes. Did you know there are two foods you should never eat if you want to overcome your symptoms and achieve optimal health?
Gluten and dairy are two of the biggest culprits behind the skyrocketing rates of chronic illness and autoimmune disease we are facing today, and removing them from your diet is the single best step you can take to restore your health.
Optimizing your diet is a major component of all of The Myers Way® programs, which are designed to address the root cause of chronic illness in order to enjoy lifelong wellness. I lay out a complete plan for optimizing your diet in my two New York Times bestselling books, The Autoimmune Solution and The Thyroid Connection. However, if you’re just starting out and are looking to make small changes that will have a big impact on your health, then without a doubt the very first step you want to take is to ditch gluten and dairy for good!
Read on to find out how they wreak havoc on your health, why it’s so important to ditch them for good, and how to repair the damage they have caused (in just 30 days!).
The Problem with Gluten
Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in certain grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. It’s important to mention though, that the gluten we eat today is not the same as the gluten our ancestors ate. Over 100 years ago, scientists began to develop new, hybridized forms of wheat with higher proportions of gluten protein to produce bigger, fluffier breads and pastries. They also figured out a way to deaminate gluten, which allows it to be dissolved into liquids and other products that didn’t previously contain gluten. This is why nowadays everything from meat substitutes to medications, supplements, and even toothpaste contain gluten.
As a result, we are not only eating a very different kind of gluten than our ancestors ate, we are eating and being exposed to way more of it. And it’s no coincidence the change in our gluten consumption aligns with a dramatic increase in chronic disease. In fact, gluten has been linked with more than 55 diseases.1
So how exactly does gluten lead to chronic illness? Let’s take a deeper look at why gluten is so harmful to your health.
The new proteins that are present in our modern hybridized wheat and were not found in our ancestors’ wheat are highly inflammatory, especially in the large quantities that we eat today. Our bodies simply have not had time to evolve properly to digest these gluten-dense forms of wheat and the result is a state of chronic ongoing inflammation. This chronic inflammation can affect your skin, your sleep, your mood, and set you on the path to autoimmunity.
That’s because your immune system becomes overly stressed as the inflammation just keeps on coming with each bite of bagel, pretzel, or even whole wheat pasta. It can begin to malfunction! The result is that your immune system begins to misfire. It begins attacking your body’s own tissues as it tries desperately to combat the sources of inflammation.
However, gluten doesn’t just cause inflammation from its own proteins, it adds fuel to the fire by opening the door for other inflammatory agents to wreck your health as well. Allow me to explain.
When you eat gluten, it travels to your small intestine where it triggers the release of zonulin. Zonulin is a chemical that signals the tight junctions of your intestinal wall to open up, creating intestinal permeability—otherwise known as leaky gut.2
Once your gut becomes leaky, larger proteins (such as gluten), as well as toxins, microbes, and partially digested food particles, are able to escape through your intestinal wall. Your immune system reacts to fight off these “invaders.” This leads to a chronic inflammatory state as your gut remains leaky and the invaders keep on coming. Then your body is left open to a whole host of other issues, from gastrointestinal distress to seasonal allergies, to autoimmune disease, as we just discussed.
On top of causing leaky gut, which itself contributes to autoimmunity, gluten is particularly dangerous because of a phenomenon known as molecular mimicry. This is when a foreign antigen (such as the gluten proteins now flooding your bloodstream due to leaky gut) shares sequence or structural similarities with your body’s own tissues. Your immune system memorizes the structure of invading pathogens. Then it develops the perfect defense and recognizes it in the future.3
However, your immune system is not always perfect. If the invader looks enough like your own cells, your immune system ends up attacking your own tissues along with the invader by mistake, in an autoimmune reaction. Gluten happens to be structurally similar to a number of your body’s tissues, particularly the thyroid gland. This is why gluten is one of the leading causes of autoimmunity, especially in those with a thyroid condition.
The Dangers of Dairy
Dairy causes inflammation in a huge percentage of the population, either due to lactose intolerance or casein and whey sensitivities. Not to mention, it’s typically full of hormones and antibiotics.
Lactose Intolerance and Casein and Whey Sensitivities
Lactose intolerance occurs in people who do not produce the lactase enzyme that breaks down lactose. Milk produces the sugar known as lactose. Around 70% of the population worldwide stops producing lactase once they have finished breastfeeding.4
People who do produce the lactase enzyme yet still experience dairy sensitivity are reacting to one or both of the proteins found in milk, casein and whey. Food sensitivities are a type of delayed inflammatory response triggered by your immune system’s IgG antibodies. A food allergy is caused by IgE antibodies that create a severe and immediate reaction. It could take up to 72 hours for food sensitivity symptoms to appear and they can vary widely. You may not realize it’s dairy causing your bloating, gas, headaches, fatigue, eczema, or other symptoms. As a result your system can become chronically inflamed as you continue to snack on cheese, add milk to your coffee, and slather butter on vegetables, damaging your gut lining with each exposure.
Casein Vs. Whey
While some people are sensitive to both casein and whey, casein protein is much more difficult to digest than whey. That is why casein sensitivities tend to be more common.5 The casein protein is also very structurally similar to gluten, so the same molecular mimicry that triggers an attack when you eat gluten can also occur when you eat casein from dairy, initiating an autoimmune response. In fact, roughly 50% of those with gluten intolerance are casein intolerant as well.6 If you’re still experiencing symptoms of gluten sensitivity even after eliminating gluten completely, dairy could be to blame.
Hormones and Antibiotics
Food sensitivities, inflammation, and molecular mimicry aren’t the only issues we have to worry about when consuming dairy products. To increase milk production, American dairy farmers inject their cows with the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone rBGH. The increased milk production puts a strain on the cows’ udders. This often leads to an infection known as mastitis, which is then treated with antibiotics. All of those added hormones and antibiotics make their way into the dairy products you eat. The additives contribute to acne, mood swings, and antibiotic resistance. In turn, it could lead to serious illness caused by antibiotic-resistant infections.7,8
I’m often asked, “Don’t we need the calcium from dairy for bone health?” It may surprise you to learn that The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which followed over 72,000 women for 18 years, found no protective effect of increased milk consumption on fracture risk.9 And, if you are concerned about osteoporosis, there are many non-dairy sources of calcium that don’t come with all the harmful side effects of milk.
Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium
3. Collard Greens
Along with incorporating these foods into your diet, you can always add in a calcium supplement. The one I carry in my store is a particularly complete form of calcium. It contains trace minerals, collagenous proteins and peptides, and other micronutrients that support bone growth and structure. I recommend pairing your calcium supplement with vitamin D, as this helps your bones absorb the calcium you are getting in your diet or through supplementation.
How to Repair Damage Caused by Gluten and Dairy
Eliminating gluten and dairy is essential for stopping the assault on your gut. However, you’ll want to repair the damage caused by these two inflammatory foods over the years. That way, you can fully restore your gut and your health. Fortunately, because individual gut cells turn over quickly (roughly every 48 hours), you can repair your gut in 30 days.
The 4R Approach
My 4R Approach can help! I cover this in depth in my Guide to the Gut eCourse, and the basics are as follows:
- Remove. Aside from removing gluten and dairy from your diet, you want to eliminate any other factors negatively affecting the gut. This includes other inflammatory foods such as corn, soy, and eggs. Additionally, toxic foods including sugar, caffeine, and alcohol must be left out of your diet. Finally you’ll want to eliminate gut infections from yeast overgrowth, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), and parasites.
- Replace. Replace the good, adding back digestive enzymes required for proper digestion.
- Reinoculate. Restore a healthy balance of good bacteria by reintroducing beneficial bacteria through a high-quality, multi-strain, high-potency probiotic supplement.
- Repair. Provide the nutrients necessary to help restore your gut lining. My most comprehensive weapon against leaky gut is Leaky Gut Revive® powder, which contains powerful gut-repairing ingredients l-glutamine, aloe, deglycyrrhizinated licorice, arabinogalactan, slippery elm and marshmallow root. With these ingredients, Leaky Gut Revive® nourishes and soothes your gut cells and restores your gut’s natural mucosal lining. This will help maximize gut-mending fatty acid production. Another one of my favorite supplements is collagen, which is rich in amino acids. These amino acids literally, “seal the leaks” or perforations in your gut. They repair damaged cells and build new tissue.
You know your gut is healed once your digestive troubles, food sensitivities, and skin issues begin to fade away. Your autoimmune labs also improve, and you start feeling like your optimal self! You can restore your body to its natural healthy state by eliminating toxic foods, introducing restorative ingredients, and identifying environmental toxins. All of this and more is outlined in my book, The Autoimmune Solution so that you can take back your health!
- Feskanich D, Willett WC, Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77:504–511. 1