Thoughts on Gluten Cross Reactive Foods

After coming across many blogs talking about “19 gluten cross reactive foods” I was first concerned and worried, then overwhelmed by the sheer number of foods that may be problematic.

Then I found another busting the “myth” (Christina Graves), doing a better job of it than I ever could, and clearing up the confusion. This also prompted me to finally read at least the abstract and conclusion of the original study (Aristo Vojdani, Igal Tarash Cross-Reaction between Gliadin and Different Food and Tissue Antigens, Food and Nutrition Sciences, Vol.4 No.1, January 2013). The 19 foods were the initial suspects, so to speak, but among them only milk, corn, rice, and also millet and yeast (but these possibly due to cross contamination) were found to possibly cause issues. Also the study was done for cross reactivity with α-gliadin, relevant for celiac disease.

Had I gone to the source from the beginning, I would have known that this probably doesn’t apply to me to begin with. As far as I know I am not celiac. I am most likely reacting to ω-gliadin (based on the fact that my symptoms are exacerbated by exercise), another component of gluten. And those are not the only two parts that make up the structure of gluten! NCGS (non-celiac gluten sensitivity) might involve other parts.

Along with gluten, I too have problems with milk (confirmed allergy) and fresh yeast. Does it mean anything that it partially matches the study’s results?
Among the 19 suspects, I have problems with quinoa, buckwheat (confirmed allergy), and amaranth.
But are these cross reactions to gluten? More likely they are separate problems of their own or cross reactions to my other allergies.

As I too started my food journey by going gluten free, it was all too easy to think that I was either being “glutened” or was having gluten cross reactions when I continued to have symptoms. At least for me, the answer turned out to be additional allergies and sensitivities apart from gluten. This is also mentioned in the original study’s conclusion.

“If after adherence to a strict gluten-free diet and the elimination of cross-reactive foods symptoms still persist, further investigation for other food intolerances should follow.”

Yet again, cross reactivity is a complicated issue, at the molecular level. While it can  indicates increased possibility, it may or may not apply to you. Depends on how your immune system identifies the “offenders” and how accurate it is. So, individual answers may all be different.

Following such lists can be misleading, inconvenient, possibly dangerous without first testing yourself.

Regarding testing, along with formal skin tests, blood tests, or even endoscopies, carefully done elimination diets, food challenges, and possibly data tracking and molecular structure simulations might help find answers.

Non-IgE Mediated Allergies

Non-IgE mediated allergies are a very large and understudied area. And very real. It is possibly the culprit in many long suffering people.

Lots of things are not known well enough especially to the general public, even to practicing doctors.

Makes me wonder how many others suffer from “hidden” allergies and sensitivities.

Especially those prone to gastrointestinal problems, headaches, joint pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, mysterious idiosyncratic inflammations, autoimmunity, and also some mental health issues.

All the underlying mechanisms are not defined well enough that there are no simple medical tests. The skin prick test can detect just a small subset of allergic disorders, doesn’t even detect all the IgE mediated cases.

Trigger and symptom tracking assisted by data might be a viable alternative until better diagnostic methods are developed. A good tracking program can also guide and assist elimination diets.


Data Tracking Food

Initially we recorded everything we ate and our symptoms for a month before committing to trying a food chemical elimination diet. This was after we started the gluten-free diet but we were still making mistakes. It was a crude spreadsheet summing up very approximate amounts of food chemicals versus the sum of symptoms. I wanted to see whether the peaks and valleys of food chemical amounts and symptoms seemed to have any correlation. In my case the symptoms graph was noisy and didn’t seem to match up much with food chemicals at all. On a hunch I made another chart with gluten and dairy versus my symptoms and this time it matched up eerily. I was still in denial about this as I didn’t want to give up dairy entirely. But in my partner’s case the peaks and valleys of food chemicals matched up with symptoms with just a slight time delay. It seemed to match up the best with the sum of all food chemicals and also with salicylates in particular.

It was enough to convince me it would be worth it to try the elimination diet.

Turns out, I was the one with salicylate sensitivity and my partner reacted to amines and possibly free glutamate. It can be explained thus. My symptoms were dominated by my allergies. Salicylate sensitivity, while annoying, was a very small subset. That’s why it didn’t show up in my preliminary data tracking attempt. And in my partner’s case, this can be explained by the fact that many foods are high in both salicylates and amines. And also how I weighted those food chemicals in my summation may have been off.

So my crude attempt at using data wasn’t entirely accurate. Yet, it was able to show us likely allergies, and that food chemical sensitivity likely existed. All before actually undergoing an elimination diet. It isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine with refinement and better statistical analysis capabilities the accuracy and speed could improve substantially.

This is big. Data tracking and analysis is a third way that can at least complement the two main options we have at the moment. Medical testing and elimination diets. Testing can be costly and incomplete. Elimination diets are challenging and requires a huge commitment in time and effort.

Food data tracking can help, more than expected to narrow down suspects. To be really thorough, food (quantity and processed form, freshness, ripeness), environmental exposure, menstrual cycle, and any physical or mental symptom out of the norm can be tracked. Although mental symptoms may be better tracked by other means, such as activity level or alternatively reports by a close other, as self awareness might vary with some symptoms. For ultimate confirmation an elimination diet may still be necessary.

Of course, there are limitations we can anticipate. Some exceptional issues, such as silent celiac, may display few symptoms to speak of despite the damage that is still being caused to the body by a certain food (gluten). Also, if you have multiple issues, the data will be really noisy. Still, the fact that it is noisy means you have something going on. Finally, reactions can be masked. The body may have adapted the best it can to constant ingestion of problem foods. 

In conclusion, this was merely an n=2 experiment but there were already some insights that might be generalized. More things could be detected than first expected, such as whether chemical intolerance is likely, and finding likely allergy or sensitivity culprits. Food and symptom tracking and analysis has potential to complement available medical testing and streamline elimination diets by narrowing down the likely suspects in advance.