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.

Two Week Gluten Challenge

After about a week I felt noticeably higher energy levels and clarity in my thinking. When we started eating it again after two weeks these symptoms immediately returned: irritability, bloating, hungry less than two hours after eating, brain stuck, can’t make decisions, routine tasks are stressful, low energy and motivation, slight constipation. Other symptoms that we highly suspect are related to gluten are: dizziness, headache, pain behind eyes, joint pain, itchy skin, needing to clear throat, shoulder pain, eyelid fluttering, fatigue, lack of focus.

We did not notice any immediate or obvious change in my partner other than a great reduction in gas when gluten free.

I felt such a huge difference in my body and mental state that the previously unthinkable happened. I never wanted to eat wheat again despite my love for pasta, pastries, and breads. So immediately I went back on a gluten free diet.

After 1.5 months I noticed that my PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptoms (swelling, bloating, fatigue, etc.) disappeared and for the first time in my life I didn’t need pain killers for severe menstrual cramps. Also in recent years I started to have spotting around day 21 of my cycle, perhaps due to a slightly low level of progesterone, and even that disappeared.

After realizing I have multiple allergic tendencies I realized our gluten free diet trial was more accurately a wheat challenge. We didn’t actually eat barley or rye with any regularity so pretty much everything we eliminated and tried eating again were wheat products. But in all practicality, wheat free and gluten free are most of the time one and the same. It is very rare to eat only barley or rye and I became even less keen to try them separately after having a positive skin prick test to both.