Gluten vs. gut bacteria, Op. 78

Whether it is being used to treat Celiac disease, autism, or Paleo-deficiency,  a gluten-free diet (GFD) is probably the most inconvenient diet.  There’s no health risk imposed by recreational gluten avoidance; actually, it might even be healthier.

For example, cereal fibre (aka whole grains) provides the majority of gluten in the Western diet.  I have not been shy about my stance on cereal fibre in the past.  In the seminal DART study (Burr et al., 1989 Lancet), people who were instructed to eat more cereal fibre had a higher mortality rate.  There are definitely many nuances and specifics, etc., yada yada yada, but this finding should be your mind’s pantheon for all-things-gluten.


One example of how my brain organizes information:   gluten-free diets include GFCF (duh), Paleo, and Atkins.  The low FODMAPs diet is indirectly gluten-free because cereals and grains are excluded.  N.B. these are all healthy diets… I repeat: GFCF, Paleo, Atkins, and low FODMAPs are all healthy diets.  But don’t take my word for it, Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian are also gluten-free (so it MUST be true; there’s no hiding from the Glutenista!).  No grain, no pain!

A downside?  One possible side effect of gluten avoidance is potentially detrimental alterations in gut bacteria.  For example, de Palma and colleagues (2009) showed that a strict GFD significantly reduced bifidobacteria (one of the good guys) in healthy adults.  A GFD is the only clinically effective treatment for Celiac disease, but my gut tells me (no pun intended) that the beneficial effects are not due to reduced bifidobacteria… I’m waiting for a study where a GFD is supplemented with bifidobacteria and inulin/GOS to test this.

On the bright side, the anti-bifido effect of gluten avoidance is not universal.  De Cagno and colleagues (2009) showed that children with Celiac disease have less bifidobacteria in their gut and this is reversed by a GFD (phew!).

gluten - hiding in plain sight... everywhere

Crackpot theory of the week:  could inulin/GOS increase gluten tolerance?  He and colleagues (2008) gave lactose-intolerant patients supplemental bifidobacteria in the form of capsules (1.8×10^9  cfu B. longum) and yogurt (3×10^10 cfu B. animalis) which significantly improved their lactose tolerance (it nearly cured them).  In this study, yogurt provided the prebiotics necessary to ensure survival of the supplemental bifidobacteria.  I imagine inulin or GOS
would’ve had a more profound effect.

Celiac disease, lactose-intolerance, IBS, and veganism are all associated with reduced bifidobacteria and could theoretically benefit from inulin/GOS supplementation.  You could try a diet high in onions, garlic, and breast milk, but cost, availability, and potential for halitosis favor the supplemental route  (finally found a source of high quality GOS).   And it sure as hell beats eating shit.

calories proper

Gluten-free food pyramid

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  • Rob Whiteley

    Billy … I’m so grateful to your Uncle Geo for alerting us to your blog for many reasons.
    (1)  You are a brilliant young man and I salute you and thank you for sharing your informed thoughts and insights with the rest of us pilgrims. (2) You are an excellent writer and communicator which predisposes success in delivering your messages. (3) As a dedicated young scholar who is intensely focused on the world of information and research, I hope you can also achieve a balanced life outside the world of intellectual discourse.

    Meanwhile, many thanks for all you do. Keep on keeping on, stay on the West Coast, and keep in touch with all of us at Liberation Farm

    love and hugs from JoAnn and Rob.

    • Bill Lagakos

      Hi JoAnn and Rob!  I’m so glad
      you found and enjoy the website; your praise means a lot to me.

  • George Henderson

    Yes, bifidobateria do reduce the gut immune response to gluten. Enough to cure celiac? I doubt that very much. Enough to prevent it when the genome is headed that way? Maybe.

    • William Lagakos

      Great find, George. I also doubt very much that GOS could cure Celiac, but I’m still on board with the “Crackpot theory” mentioned above… and also that it seems like a very low risk:benefit intervention.

      all best,

  • Christoph Dollis

    Wow, this is an amazing find.

    About six weeks ago, I started raw potato starch 2 Tbsp/day, then dropped it to 1.

    Two or three weeks ago, I went from the SAD to an on-purpose, high-wheat diet so that I could test for gluten sensitivity. My mom had celiac proper and a doctor I recently saw thought I might be sensitive to it because my heartburn did not respond to pantoprazole, a PPI, but does respond to large doses of ranitidine (or famotidine), a histamine H2-receptor antagonist, which she says has some antihistamine properties. Further, the usual triggers for GERD—tomatoes, other acidic food, spicy food including hot spices, coffee, etc.—don’t seem to bother me. I’ve also noticed that my heartburn gets worse when I eat more carbohydrates and my worst ever nights with it were after eating very-high wheat meals (such as the better part of a large pizza). She put this all together and thought gluten sensitivity.

    And yet, my blood glucose has, objectively, quite significantly improved over the last two to three weeks despite eating wheat at every single meal and my heartburn is certainly no worse, probably better. I’m taking less ranitidine—last night I took none at all.

    “How could this be?” I puzzled.

    Well, it could be the case that the resistant starch upped my bifidobacteria and as a result I’m lest sensitive to the gliadin in gluten. It seems more than just plausible, doesn’t it?

    • William Lagakos

      “Well, it could be the case that the resistant starch upped my bifidobacteria and as a result I’m lest sensitive to the gliadin in gluten. It seems more than just plausible, doesn’t it?”

      This is very interesting! I’ve speculated as much, but there aren’t many data supporting the idea. Gut microbes and their interaction with the immune system could very well be involved in diet-related sensitivities/allergies…