In the last five years, I’ve had two blood tests for gluten sensitivity. Both came out negative. Now, I’m not one to eat a lot of wheat, but from the results of my tests, I figured gluten was fairly safe for me to be eating in small to moderate amounts.
I was wrong. I recently found out that I have two separate sensitivities to gluten:
1) Celiac disease (an auto-immune condition concerning the gut lining) and
2) A gluten intolerance known to damage other tissues and organs in the body
So why wasn’t this showing up in my blood tests? (Answers to follow.)
There’s no shortage of reliable information out there on why gluten is causing suffering (and even death) for many people. One of the best, most informative articles is a recent post by Functional Medicine doctor, Mark Hyman, M.D. (link at bottom of page). This is an excellent reference article that covers all the bases on how and why gluten is wreaking havoc for millions of Americans.
What hasn’t been covered is what kind of testing is most accurate and most reliable. My article will focus on the importance of getting the RIGHT testing for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. The advice of the day is to take wheat out for a while and “see what happens”, or to get a blood antibody test. I can’t stress enough how inaccurate and incomplete this advice is.
Antibodies are advanced immune cells programmed to attack and destroy specific antigens, or invaders in the body. An antibody test looks for an elevation of antibodies patrolling for “foreign invaders”, a.k.a. bacteria, viruses, or sometimes even the foods we eat.
When there’s an elevation of anti-gliadin (anti-gluten) antibodies, it’s a clear indication that the immune system is responding negatively to gluten. In other words, it thinks gluten is an invader, and turns on immune cells to attack and destroy gluten molecules anywhere in the body.
As mentioned above, I’ve had two blood anti-gliadin tests, and both came out negative. Why? According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, Blood Chemistry Seminar instructor and supplements formulator for Apex Energetics, Inc., “blood anti-gliadin tests are only about 20 percent accurate”. (2)
This is because, for many people, the allergic response isn’t happening in the blood stream, but rather, in and around the gut tissue. For this reason, test specimens for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity should be taken from the gut in order to get the most reliable reading (3).
But this doesn’t mean we have to have an invasive (and expensive) biopsy of the gut lining, as is the standard recommended by western medical doctors. Fortunately, a barrage of immune cells are teaming around the gut at all times to ward off pathogens. These immune cells (antibodies) are also found en masse in the stool. Although “messier” than a blood test, this is why a stool anti-gliadin antibody test is suggested, versus one taken from the blood.
Many people with celiac disease have a gene turned on that predisposes them to the disease. This can be passed down from family member to family member. Although not everyone with the “celiac gene” will actually get celiac disease, a genetic predisposition to it, coupled with elevated anti-gliadin antibodies and other indicators (see below) may designate a person to the complete and permanent elimination of all gluten-containing foods from the diet. (4)
The study of celiac genetics is a new technology and is one that needs many more years of research and study, but I believe it to be a valuable diagnostic tool when used hand-in-hand with stool testing to detect the presence of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
The testing process for an accurate reading for celiac disease and gluten intolerance is actually easy; reason being is that you don’t need a doctor-prescribed requisition form, and you don’t need to go into a lab for a blood draw. This procedure is done in the privacy of your own home, and your all-inclusive test kit can be ordered online. The lab, EnteroLab, is a registered and fully accredited clinical laboratory specializing in the analysis of intestinal specimens for food sensitivities.
Tests can be purchased singly, but the most complete, accurate and affordable way is to purchase all five gluten tests in one, called the Gluten Sensitivity Stool and Gene Panel Complete.
This panel includes:
Anti-Gliadin Antibodies Stool Test – to check for the antibodies produced by your body against gluten
Tissue Transglutaminase Stool Test – to determine if gluten has caused an autoimmune reaction in your body that can attack and damage the intestine and other tissues of the body
Malabsorption Test – to assess whether your intestine is malabsorbing dietary nutrients because of damage by gluten (or perhaps other factors)
Celiac and Gluten-Sensitivity Gene Test – to assess your risk based on your genetic predisposition
And (for a limited time) Free Milk Sensitivity Test – to test whether or not you are reacting to casein, a protein in milk
This complete package costs $369 ( I know… it’s pricey, but this is the one I recommend if you want to cover all the bases; some insurance companies will reimburse payments). The next best choice is the Gluten Sensitivity Stool Panel Complete, which includes the gluten sensitivity test, transglutaminase test and malabsorption test. This panel is $249 and does not include the gene test or milk sensitivity test.
If you are deciding between the stool panel OR the gene test, the stool panel better determines whether you are actively reacting to gluten, while the gene test assesses the probability that you are reacting or will react to gluten in your lifetime. Again, my suggestion is the complete panel that tests both the stool and genes.
EnteroLab has an extensive FAQ section to answer all your questions about their lab tests, which test is right for you, and information on gluten sensitivity and celiac sprue. Your results and interpretations are sent to you via email within three weeks. The website also has extensive FAQ regarding lab results. All tests can be ordered directly from the EnteroLab Website.