Exclusive Interview with 'Dr. Gluten' on Gluten's Widespread Harm to Health

by Melissa Diane Smith

Dr Rodney Ford

Three years ago when Dr. Rodney Ford, who has 35 years of experience working with children with food allergy and intolerances and is known as “Dr. Gluten,” came to Tucson and visited with me, I knew we were on the same page and spoke the same language.

I had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Ford again just recently about his new book Gluten: ZERO Global that warns that gluten causes universal harm, and again, I had the same feeling. It’s so great to talk with not only a good friend, but a like-minded practitioner who cares more about helping his patients than maintaining the status quo in medicine. Dr. Ford also is an insightful researcher and has pulled together an incredible amount of research that led him to his breakthrough conclusion that gluten is bad for us all.

Here are excerpts from my exclusive interview with him on this cutting-edge topic. (Also see this story for more info, including details of his upcoming presentation in Tucson.)

 

Melissa:  Thank you so much for agreeing to talk with me and let me share this information with the public. Please walk me through how the idea for this book about gluten being bad for everyone came to be. What prompted you to want to write this?

Dr. Ford:  I’ve got my eye out for gluten issues… so things come across my desk every day (probably your day, too). And I am staggered that when anyone does any research on any disease to see whether or not gluten might be involved, the answer is usually yes. There are few papers that have looked at gluten and the relationship to disease and not found some sort of link. So, that was the first thing.

The second thing is in my practice – in my pediatric clinic – I see many, many children with all sorts of different ailments and, oddly when they come to me, they have already been tested for all sorts of diseases but no one can find out what’s wrong with them. They come with eczema, tummy pain, headaches, migraines, behavior disturbance, attention deficit disorders, constipation, diarrhea, those sorts of things. And when you test them for gluten antibodies, 75% of them test positive, and when you put them gluten free, they get better. So, that’s the background. That’s where I began to think, “Yep, maybe there is something in gluten that’s bad for everybody.” It’s certainly bad when they have disease, and the question is how early should you take someone off gluten?

Probably ten years ago or maybe a bit earlier, I was investigating people for celiac disease and I began to watch children get sicker and sicker as I was waiting for their biopsies to become positive and their blood tests to become positive for celiac disease. And after following some of these children for many years, I thought, “This is ridiculous. These children would be better off not having gluten right now, while they’re having symptoms.” So, I began to take children off gluten as soon as they got symptoms rather than waiting for them to have full-blown celiac disease. I got criticized for that. But the children are happy and well. And although they never developed celiac disease, I said to their parents, “Well, if you have a high cholesterol, it’s better to manage your cholesterol levels and keep them down, rather than getting a full-blown heart attack and then trying to solve that problem.” And their parents sort of began to understand that.

So, then, I began to look at children with attention deficit disorder behavior problems, and eczema, and again, I found that rather than wait for the drug not to work, I took children off gluten very early on (and everything improved).

 

Melissa:  Is there any other information that helped you reach your conclusion?

Dr. Ford:  Yes, there sure is. Research has now shown information about neurological problems and brain disease: Established celiac disease is associated with significant brain thinning and loss of volume in your brain (some stuff out just now). Once you’ve got severe damage from gluten, often you can’t recover. And the longer you’re on gluten, the more harm you’ve had and the less likely you are to get better.

Then there’s a whole lot of information about autoimmune disease, which seems to be triggered to some extent by gluten. There are the brain/mental disorders – schizophrenia particularly and manic-depressive psychosis – that have been associated with gluten sensitivity.

Then there’s the whole Wheat Belly information about wheat making us fat from Dr. William Davis.

It’s stacking up that wheat is not a very good protein. It’s not a very nutritious protein. It doesn’t get digested. It causes us autoimmune disease, brain disease, skin disease, gastrointestinal disease, neurological disease. And people would be better off eating more high-quality grain, if they’re going to eat grains at all.

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that gluten and wheat serve no one, other than the poor.  If you can’t afford to eat, it’s better to eat wheat than to starve. But if you can afford a better quality of food than wheat and gluten, then everybody would be improved.

 

Melissa:  Traditional thinking is that gluten will only cause adverse reactions in people who are genetically susceptible to the effects of gluten. Why do you believe otherwise?

Dr. Ford:  There’s a nice paper, one of the authors is Dr. Alessio Fasano – “The Spectrum of Gluten-Related Disorders.” In that, they have a picture of the gliadin molecule (which is part of gluten), and they show four segments of it. They say one stimulates Zonulin release, and Zonulin increases the leakiness of the bowel. So, gluten itself has an effect on small bowel leakiness.

The second thing they show is the cytotoxic (or cell damage) area where in genetically susceptible people, that particular part of the protein will actually cause cytotoxic death; it will damage the intestinal wall, and you will develop celiac disease.

Another area of it – they call it the immunomodulatory path, and that is the path that stimulates antibodies against the gliadin protein.

And the fourth path is another immune stimulation of the body from gluten.

So, in all people, gliadin causes zonulin release, which increases the leakiness of the bowel. And in all people, it stimulates an immune reaction against gluten. And it can stimulate IL 8, which is an immune mechanism as well. So, it is by no means an inert protein.

And that wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact the gliadin molecule doesn’t get digested well.

There’s some very good evidence that the more and more processing you do to the wheat dough, the less and less it can be digested.

And there are special chemical bonds that become formed while you’re processing the dough that makes the gluten indigestible for everybody.

So, because the gliadin doesn’t get digested, then these bad immune sites on the gluten do not get destroyed by our digestive enzymes and therefore they can cause the harm.

The next point is that a researcher has shown that there is cross-reactivity of the gluten antibodies to neural tissue. Because we all are susceptible to making these antibodies, not only do people need to go gluten-free to stop the gluten damage, they need to stay gluten-free so that they no longer stimulate their immune system to create these antibodies, so that these antibodies won’t go on to create neurological damage.

 

Melissa: Interesting…

Dr. Ford:  Yes. The problem is a bit like smoking.

We all know that it’s better not to smoke, and that if you smoke for 40 years, you probably will get very sick, and we know that there are some people who can get away with smoking for 40 years, and they don’t seem to be too damaged, and they seem to die of other causes other than smoking. But the majority of people end up with smoking-related disorders.

The same thing with gluten. Most people who are consuming gluten on a regular basis over 30, 40, 50 years, are likely to get substantial harm from the gluten and the weight they put on from eating wheat, and they would be a lot better off if they were to not have gluten grains.

 

Melissa: So, you think the majority of people as the decades go on have some type of gluten-related illness?

Dr. Ford:  Yeah, I would say 75-80%. Probably three-quarters, and that would include obesity.

In the book “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis, he goes into the issue of the high glycemic index of wheat (of wheat starch) and how dangerous it is and how addictive it is.

And there’s another lovely paper called “The Dark Side of Wheat” that discusses Wheat Germ Agglutinin, which is another immunological stimulant, which has been associated with kidney disease.

So, growing numbers of health professionals and researchers are against anybody eating wheat gluten (for optimal health).

I don’t know whether you have come to the conclusion yet. We know that anyone who is ill probably should be off gluten. But anybody developing an illness – which is everyone else (he says with a laugh) – would be better off gluten as well.

 

Melissa: That’s always been my hunch. In working with clients, universally with clients I work with, I don’t believe there’s anyone who I don’t put on a gluten-free diet – and they all get better.

Dr. Ford: Exactly. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

 

Melissa:  I know that you have been promoting a zero gluten diet and have been disturbed about the FDA talking about 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten as a standard for “gluten-free” products. What is the standard in New Zealand? Is it 5 ppm?

Dr. Ford:  The term “gluten-free” has been diluted really. It really has been thought by most people, “Well, don’t eat much gluten” or “It’s mostly free of gluten, but a little bit is okay,” and “If 20 ppm is okay, maybe a little more is okay.” And the manufacturers don’t have to be so careful about their “gluten-free” products because they’re 20 parts per million. But, in recent years, I have been talking about Zero Gluten (to get the health benefits).

I myself have decided to stick to Zero Gluten because of the benefits it will give me in the long term.

In New Zealand, there are two ways. One symbol means less than 20 ppm. But we have another logo, which is a logo that says gluten-free, and those words with the logo, means undetectable gluten, which is probably less than 5 ppm.

So, there’s a two-tier system. I think that’s the way it should be for the FDA here in the United States.

 

Melissa:  A lot of comments came into the FDA about the 20 ppm and a lot of the response back from the FDA was it’s difficult to reliably detect levels lower than 20 ppm. Is that valid?

Dr. Ford:  I think that in the current manufacturing climate, you have to assume that anything in a packet that’s got other grains in it will be cross-contaminated and likely around the 20 ppm level. The cross-contamination issue is so common, so difficult, that the only way to have Zero Gluten is to have dedicated factories, which never have any gluten grains in them, and that all of the raw materials, particularly if there are other grains, such as corn or rice or buckwheat or quinoa, that when those products come in, that they are tested so to make sure that they have no detectable gluten in them.

 

Melissa:  You’ve said that there is enough evidence of harm to demand massive changes to everyone’s diet, our farming practices, and our food manufacturing industry. What do you propose that people do?

Dr. Ford:  I propose that health-aware people buy Gluten Zero foods. As more and more people realize that gluten is harmful to them, and more and more people stop buying the gluten-containing products, more and more manufacturers will make gluten-free foods that are truly gluten-free. If we demand Zero Gluten (instead of 20 ppm), the consumers themselves can change the world.

Because if people won’t buy the products the manufacturers are making, then they’re not going to make them.

And if you’re avoiding gluten grains, it’s not hard to boycott the manufacturers who aren’t putting the Zero Gluten label on – or no detectable gluten (in other words, who aren’t producing truly gluten-free foods).

And if the consumers demand that, then manufacturers will take heed. I think the Gluten Zero Global will come about by people refusing to eat those (not really gluten-free products).

It’s a bit like smoking. There are less and less people smoking, and health conscious people won’t smoke. And just like in another 20 years time, most health-conscious people won’t be eating gluten, and they won’t be smoking either, and they won’t be eating trans-fats.

They’ll also be demanding organic.

So, all these things are slowly coming. What I’m trying to do is highlight the fact that gluten is toxic to us all and it’s better to avoid it if you don’t have to eat it.

 

Melissa:  Is there a particular reason that you wanted to come to the United States to share that message?

Dr. Ford:  Yeah, there is. I certainly have a lot of friends in the United States, a lot of gluten-aware medical people like you, and a lot of people who are desperate for this information. There’s a huge network in the gluten intolerance groups and Celiac Sprue Association, and it is the awakening of gluten consciousness in the USA, which I am very excited about.

I’ve been in this gluten sensitivity work for 20 years, and when I presented my data 10 years ago at a North American meeting, the people thought I was talking nonsense. They didn’t get it.

… That’s all changing. There is so much evidence now, which I’ve summarized in the book, that I would be scared to go back to eating gluten.

 

Melissa:  Do you think there are certain gluten-free foods that people thrive eating more than other gluten-free foods?

Dr. Ford:  Yes. I would say people should eat meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, and not too much of the grains.

 

Melissa:  So, kind of like the whole going-against-the-grain idea?

Dr. Ford:  Exactly.

The cheap food is bad food, and the people eating bad, cheap food get fat and sick.

 

Melissa:  It was wonderful to speak with you again, Dr. Ford. Thanks so much for taking the time to share this information.

Dr. Ford:  My pleasure. It was wonderful speaking with you again, too.

 

Copyright © 2012 Melissa Diane Smith

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