Has Gluten-Free Failed You? Here’s What To Do Next

Has Gluten-Free Failed You? Here’s What To Do Next

I just posted a blog on Medium together with my friend and colleague Dr. Steven Tan. The last time we co authored a paper was in 2015 entitled Traditional Chinese medicine based subgrouping of irritable bowel syndrome patients. This time our joint article is related to food, more specifically about how to design a personalized diet that is optimal for you, and which will you to clearly identify food items you may be sensitive to. We start out with the long demonized gluten, a protein that is contained not just in wheat, but that has been added in the form of vital gluten to everything from ketchup, bread, cakes and even cosmetic products. Many people that have self diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), swear that they feel 100% better by avoiding gluten and that a range of symptoms including poor sleep, bloating, fatigue, lack of energy have suddenly disappeared on such a diet. Amazingly, this NCGS group is so motivated to avoid gluten at all costs, that it has spawned a multibillion dollar industry of gluten free products. Now a new scientific study from investigators in Norway challenges the concept of NCGS. Fifty nine participants were randomly assigned to groups placed on diets containing gluten, the sugar fructan or placebo and the diet was rotated every 7 days, so each subjects received all 3 diets. To everybody’s surprise, digestive symptoms, such as bloating and abdominal discomfort did not differ between the placebo and gluten groups! Is this the beginning of the end of the NCGS epidemic?

How do you select a diet that is optimal for you, and which doesn’t contain foods that really don’t agree with you?

If you are healthy and have minor digestive symptoms, like the majority of people, don’t unnecessarily restrict your diet, and stay on what I call the “default diet”. Eat the universally accepted largely plant based diet which provides lots of fiber, is high in vegetables and fruits (in particular berries!), and is low in animal fats, red meat, and sugar.

Many plant based foods, in particular berries, olives and red grapes are packed with anti-inflammatory molecules called polyphenols, which have shown multiple health benefits. Such a diet will have several major benefits:

1) Your gut microbes will thrive and you protect yourself against all kinds of chronic diseases.

2) It promotes your gut health, cardiovascular health, your overall wellbeing and even protects you against cancer.

3) It is good for the environment. The simple reduction of red meat consumption has a dramatic benefit on the environment, from a reduction of green house gases to the conservation of water.

Don’t forget to be mindful when you eat, enjoy the experience, and don’t approach food with a host of anticipatory anxieties which will only you’re your brain send chronic stress signals to your digestive system, which is bad for your digestion.
If you belong to the 10% of the population who suffer from IBS symptoms and you believe these symptoms are consistently triggered by food, such as bloating or indigestion, go on an elimination diet as explained in the Medium blog. Once you find the offending food item, stay away from it or reduce its intake, but otherwise stay on the default diet.

You can use the app Selectivor to help you keep track of the foods that you tolerate and which you don’t, and share this information with friends and family. In the future, you will be able to identify diets that are custom tailored to your gut microbiome and your genetic make up, using such program as offered by Viome, Ubiome and Day Two.

The Western Meditation – Is It A Mere Stress Reduction Technique?

The Western Meditation – Is It A Mere Stress Reduction Technique?

If you have ever observed longtime meditators in a Buddhist monastery, or gone through rigorous meditation training yourself, you know that meditation is a serious business and has been for thousands of years. Dedicated meditators strive towards compassion, equanimity and enlightenment, and do not pursue their practice with the simple goal of stress reduction and increased wellbeing. Such longtime meditation practice has been found to be associated with structural and functional changes in the brain. This recent article draws attention to the fact that the Western version of an ancient practice, devoid of all spiritual dimensions, and promoted as a quick fix for many chronic health conditions, may not be more than a feel good stress reduction technique.

Newsweek: ‘Mindfulness’ Is a Meaningless Word With Shoddy Science Behind It

Finding Your Optimal Diet in a World of Food Sensitivities

Finding Your Optimal Diet in a World of Food Sensitivities

The many iterations of food sensitivities in the “national eating disorder” community never cease to amaze me! While the topic of non celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) has occupied the headlines for several years now, and has resulted in millions of people demonizing gluten containing food, the latest research study from Norwegian investigators is challenging the myth that a myriad of digestive, mental and non specific symptoms are due to the consumption of grains and food products containing even traces of gluten. Admittedly, the findings were observed in a small study (which needs to be replicated), and future research may identify a biological mechanism explaining why some people have an intolerance for gluten.

However, considering that there is now a multibillion dollar industry of gluten free foods (a great benefit for people suffering from celiac disease!), and considering that even some respected scientists are considering gluten sensitivity a real phenomenon and write review articles about it), it may be nearly impossible to return to an anxiety free attitude towards food, and to a rational view of the benefits of fiber rich grains in bread and cereals. But will we now see a new wave of social media frenzy and diet books demonizing fructans, the molecule identified in the Norwegian study as the culprit of digestive symptoms?

In this world of never ending advices from nutrition gurus of which foods to avoid, how do you select a diet that is optimal for you, and which doesn’t contain foods that really don’t agree with you?

Lesson #1: Don’t unnecessarily restrict your diet if you are healthy and have minor digestive symptoms. Eat the universally accepted largely plant based diet which provides lots of fiber, is high in fruits and vegetables, and is low in animal fats, red meat, and sugar. Your gut microbes will thrive, your gut wont be “leaky” and you protect yourself against all kinds of chronic diseases. I call this the default diet.

Lesson #2: If you are obese, try a limited period of a ketogenic diet (avoiding all carbohydrates), and when you have reached your target weight, go back on the default diet.

Lesson #3: If you have symptoms of IBS which you believe are triggered by food, such as bloating or indigestion go on an elimination diet which helps you to identify the food component(s) that reproducible cause your symptoms. Once you find the offending food item (which can include dairy products, onions, tomatoes or broccoli), stay away from it, or better, reduce its intake, but otherwise stay on the default diet. You can use the app Selectivor to help you keep track of the foods that you tolerate and which you don’t, and share this information with friends and family. In the future, you will be able to identify diets that are custom tailored to your gut microbiome and your genetic make up, using such program as offered by Viome , Ubiome or Day Two.

BigThink: It’s Fructan, Not Gluten, That’s Causing Stomach Problems, Says New Research

The Food Revolution

The Food Revolution

Amongst the many dramatic technology- driven changes such as self driving electric cars and artificial intelligence going on in the world we live in, the Food Revolution is happening almost unnoticed. While the majority of people living in the US and many parts of the world continue to stick to their traditional Western diet consisting largely of animal products (meat, fat, milk), sugar and starches, a growing number of people are moving away from the traditional eating habits and increasingly consume plant based “substitutes”, like almond and soy milk, and, as described in this article, lab grown meat products. In the long-term, probably a good idea with benefits for the health of the planet, the wellbeing of farm animals, and most important for our own health. How long will it take for this food revolution to affect everybody?

BigThink: Lab-Grown “Clean Meat” is Almost Here. Will You Eat It?

Sensory Deprivation for Relaxation

Sensory Deprivation for Relaxation

I am always amazed how things that first became popular in the 60’s and 70’s as counterculture or “new age” beliefs and practices like organic food, vegetarianism, sustainable agriculture, meditation, and even the use of psychedelic drugs like ketamine (now evaluated as a miracle drug for refractory depression) have returned, this time as mainstream businesses. One such modality is the sensory deprivation tank, initially popularized by eccentric, NIH-funded behavioral scientist John Lilly in the late 70’s and early 80’s. As described in this article, the technique of “restricted environmental stimulation therapy” has been resurrected as an effective way to fully relax body and mind, deep meditation and even treatment for substance abuse.

I have been fortunate to meet John Lilly in the early 80’s at a workshop in Ojai and stay in touch with him over a year. I spent prolonged periods of time in one of these tanks at Lilly’s house in Decker Canyon, Malibu, and often went to a commercial place in Beverly Hills to relax after work in one of these devices which at the time were just coffin-like box filled with saltwater kept at body temperature. I remember one episode where I was in such a deep state of relaxation that I wasn’t able to drive home.

To my great surprise, I revisited the experience 2 years ago, when I was invited to speak at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The investigators under the leadership of Dr. Martin Paulus, are performing fascinating experiments to test the effects of removing all sensory input from the body to the brain except the signals coming from the internal organs, including the gut, so-called interoceptive information. In the deep relaxed state that sets in after as little as 10 min, the brain starts listening almost exclusively to its gut feelings! If you are interested in this experience, try it out at a “floatation center” near you!