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Celiac Disease & Weight Gain: The Connection

Gluten Causes Weight Gain

You hear about it over and over again. The gluten-free diet is officially here to stay. Dr. Oz, Oprah, Jimmy Fallon, The View, and every major news outlet has featured the gluten-free diet is some form or fashion – gluten causes weight gain, gluten causes autoimmune disease, gluten causes migraine… So what is all the hype about? Why do so many people gravitate toward this gluten-free diet? Why are so many talking about it? The simple answer is – The Diet Works for weight loss.

Many people wonder, “does gluten make you fat?” Now many will argue that gluten causes weight loss, and they are also right. For some people, gluten damages the GI tract causing diarrhea, malabsorption, and wasting, but for others, gluten causes weight gain and obesity.

If you remain skeptical, consider reading on and making a more informed decision about whether you would benefit from changing what you eat and figuring out what food can contain gluten.

Food Is The Ultimate Drug

Gluten sensitivities, celiac disease & weight gain or weight loss can be correlated. While weight loss is more common, you can still be overweight and experience painful symptoms related to gluten.

Before delving into gluten, it is important to first sidetrack a moment to discuss a fundamental component of nutrition. FOOD IS A DRUG. Yes, you read that correctly. As a drug is defined as a chemical that can make us change the way we think, feel, or act, food falls within this category. Ever see a baby eat sugar for the first time?

We have been conditioned to think about eating as a social grace and a form of entertainment, and I can certainly agree that social eating can be a joyous occasion. The problem with focusing on food for pleasure comes with the ignorance of the fact that eating food is a battle. Every time you eat, a war in your gut ensues.

The job of the gastrointestinal tract is to rip, tear, and chemically break down the food you eat into smaller parts so that it can be absorbed and used to make proteins, carbs, fats, hormones, and other key elements your body needs to survive. The job of the gut is to extrapolate vitamins, minerals, and other nutrient compounds for absorption so that your body is nourished. This is done through the use of mechanical shredding (teeth), chemical acids, and digestive enzymes whose main purpose is to break food components down.

Realize that some foods have the ability to fight back. Many foods are resistant to human digestion (ever get gas when eating beans?). Some foods can inhibit the release of enzymes, some have elements that make them hard to break down. Some foods simply don’t get along with the chemical composition of our body, and the outcome of eating them is an immune response that can damage the gut.

Negative effects of food:

There are a variety of different types of reactions people can have to food. A general breakdown of these reactions are as follows:

  • Acute allergy
  • Delayed allergy (hypersensitivity)
  • Sensitivity
  • Intolerance

Some food reactions like intolerance are obvious, acute and the effects can be immediate. For example, peanut anaphylaxis (swollen lips, hives, airway constriction) is quite obvious. This is what we would typically refer to as an acute allergy.

Gluten Causes Weight GainSome food-induced immune reactions are delayed. These reactions are not quite so obvious or immediate. They are called delayed hypersensitivity reactions. These foods reactions can cause chronic inflammation. The damage of this inflammation can build over time causing a breakdown in your GI tract (leaky gut AKA intestinal permeability). Additionally, these types of food reactions can trigger a process called molecular mimicry and lead to autoimmune disease. See the image to the right ==>

Food sensitivity reactions are less well defined. Many believe these to be reactions caused by a different part of the immune system (innate immunity) than delayed allergies (adaptive immunity – AKA antibodies). This is thought to be one of the main culprits behind gluten sensitivity reactions.

Food intolerance is loosely defined as the inability to appropriately digest food. The most common example is dairy intolerance. Many lack the enzyme to break down the sugar in dairy called lactose. This leads to excessive gas and bloating. This can also cause gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in the type of bacteria that live in your gut). Intolerance symptoms are typically doses dependent – i.e. the more you eat, the worse you can feel.

In today’s world, the importance of food has been minimized by the plethora of misinformation and marketing hype. We are told to eat a balanced diet without being told what exactly a balanced diet is. We have been conditioned by doctors to believe that the onslaught of pizza, cake, fast foods, genetically modified foods, sodas, etc are all just fine and don’t have anything to do with health and disease. The problem with that is they do. Food has everything to do with the development of and the prevention of disease. The failure to recognize this (in my humble opinion) is one of the main reasons we have one of the sickest countries in the world.
All that being said, let’s delve into the realm of gluten…

Gluten Can Cause Universal Inflammation

Gluten sensitivity is a very real condition. It is different than celiac disease (for a breakdown watch this video). Many are under the false impression that celiac disease is the worst manifestation of gluten sensitivity. It is not. There are about 190 medical conditions that gluten can cause or contribute to. Celiac is just one outcome of many possible outcomes for those who eat gluten. The diagram below illustrates some common disease outcomes of gluten ingestion over time.

Gluten Causes Weight Gain

Gluten Destroys Muscle

In more than a decade of treating patients and dealing with the consequences of gluten, one of the most common side effects I see gluten cause is inflammation in the muscle and joints. The gluten proteins can create an inflammatory reaction in these tissues that over time leads to many negative outcomes:

  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle atrophy (loss)
  • Joint pain and arthritis
  • Gluten causes weight gain (increased visceral fat – AKA belly fat)
  • Weight loss (due to muscle atrophy)
  • Restricted mobility
  • Increased risk for injury in those trying to exercise

Gluten consumption causes weight gain and leads to muscle atrophy (loss) in two primary ways:

  1. Inflammation – Gluten can cause the immune system to literally attack the muscle and joints leading to chronic pain and inflammation. A prolonged immune system attack contributes to chronic degradation of these tissues and subsequent atrophy of the muscle and arthritis in the joint.
  2. Hormone Release – In order to deal with this chronic damage, the body produces cortisol as an anti-inflammatory hormone. As shown in the diagram below, cortisol leads to increased visceral fat (belly fat)…

Gluten Causes Weight Gain

The problem with muscle deficiency

It is estimated that 60 of Americans are overweight or obese. There are literally hundreds of diseases and health issues related to being under muscled.

Because they are intrinsically related. The more grain we eat, the more insulin we release. The more insulin we release, the more cortisol we make. Both cortisol and insulin promote belly fat storage. Ergo – gluten causes weight gain. The more fat we store the less muscle mass we have proportionately to our total body weight. When this happens, we have a tendency to start developing chronic degenerative problems like the following: accelerated aging, arthritis, heart disease, dementia, cancer…

Loss of muscle leads to exercise complications, because a smaller muscle is tighter, more prone to injury, and accelerates cartilage wear and tear. Lack of exercise leads to less muscle tone – and the cycle continues for 20 years and we find ourselves looking in the mirror wondering how we got so overweight. This, my friends, is one of the reasons why our health deteriorates. This is why so many Americans stay sick. Muscle loss weakens the immune system, limits our ability to move, wrecks our quality of life, and in the end kills us 20 years early.

Many of those discoveries that when they embark upon this gluten/grain-free diet change, they have a dramatic reduction in muscle and joint aches and pains. Pains that were once considered a consequence of aging often completely resolve. If you find yourself suffering from unexplained aches and pains or unexplained increases in body fat, you should consider investigating gluten as a potential food-induced problem. For more on how going gluten-free can help you reduce visceral fat (belly fat), reduce muscle and joint inflammation, and improve your exercise recovery, click below to take our online quiz.


Selected References:

  1. Reumatizam. 2013;60(1):32-6.
  2. BMC Gastroenterol. 2012 Sep 17;12:125.
  3. Osteoporos Int. 2012 Mar;23(3):1183-6.
  4. Rheumatol Int. 2010 Feb;30(4):455-60.
  5. Rheumatol Int. 2011 May;31(5):573-6.
  6. BMJ Case Rep. 2011 Dec 2;2011.


23 Responses

  1. I can totally attest to this! With over 37 years’ of suffering with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), I can tell you that grains in general are VERY inflammatory. It wasn’t until I dropped the grains and made other diet/supplement changes that the inflammation in my ankles and hips began to subside.

    It truly is amazing, the power of nutrition!

  2. As a personal researcher, I see the same issues, most of the people I speak to would rather stay in pain and eat the food, WOW, this amazed me at first but now it is common for about 99.9% of the people I speak to. They always say that they know it is something in the food but it’s nothing they can do, that’s when I tell them, I don’t look at it as a diet, I look at it as, NOT eating poison, that way the delicious food will anger you if you crave this drug called FROOD…..

    Action Jackson

  3. Thank you for this article. It is the same song I keep singing to anyone and everyone who will listen. It is so worth it to keep trying because there is freedom from pain for those who will even try living gluten free for a week or two because they begin to feel better, and then they are on their way. Thank you again, Dr. Osborn. Sincerely, ShariLee Beynon

  4. I wish more people realized gluten free is not the latest bandwagon or a fad, or for fussy eaters, or for those with fibro.
    I think the majority suffer from all these problems, but no one wants to think it is from gluten.
    I know so many people that this article describes, yet they go to the dr and get pills for it. Or get misdiagnosed as having fibromyalgia because they have muscle pain.

  5. i recently have gone gluten free vegan. I’m about six weeks in and my question is I’ve using a lot of brown rice and quinoa in place of what i was doing when i ate gluten. i still have some joint pain mainly in my knees. do i need to give the diet more time or should i try to cut out all grains? thanks

  6. Good article, sort of. My Dad is 88. He grew up on wheat and it made him strong and healthy. My girlfriend’s Dad is 85 and he grew up on wheat and he is strong and healthy. The author notes that foods have been altered via genetic modification, etc. Of course wheat has been hybridized and bears no resemblance to wheat of just 60 years ago. It has been made increasingly toxic. But why? Is this deliberate? How can scientists hybridize wheat for 60 years and slowly turn it into a poison? What’s going on here? Why is this issue not addressed? Only glossed over? That’s the book somebody should write about. Did no scientist in 60 years say, “Hey, we’re turning wheat into a poison”??

    1. The reason Wheat was hybridized is to increase yeald. In fact someone won a nobel prize for the newer versions of wheat which incidentally have about 25x more gliadin than wheat produced 70 years ago

  7. ok bread makes my fingers belly and knee joints swell, when I have eaten it I get a disgusting pain in my back and torso….I love bread but the after effects are not worth it, but like it says foods a drug. I dont buy it, but occasionally a fresh loaf is bought by my partner and I eat some…Bread and carbs give me water retention hence the joints get swollen and painful. Over the weekend I ate quite healthily, played a great game of badminton, today two days on I am extremely tired, can hardly walk down the stairs, have an awful pain inbetween my shoulder blades and generally feel terrible, my fingers look redy to burst…Strange how I had an egg roll yesterday for breakfast and then couldn’t resist several slices of tiger bread for lunch, then had chips in the evening – bank holiday enjoyment. Today I am paying for it. However I did see a programme claiming that GLuten is not harmful and many people eat gluten free food when there is no need to. Just to add a few weeks back a had a carb mad day, the next day my whole face was swollen, so badly I did not go to work…Why do it???? I really font know, once I start I cant resist! ridiculous!

      1. Read “Wheat Belly”. Also read “Grain Brain”. These books are under 10 dollars each. I have been dealing with all of the same pains and fatigue as all of you. These books were very enlightening. I am buying more books to give to my friends and family.

        1. Jason – I think you mean “No Grain, No Pain by Dr Peter Osborne???
          This book is all you need, great recipes too! 👍🏻

  8. This article with people’s responses immediately got my attention. I have it been diagnosed with gluten intolerance but as I read on there is no doubt about it. My joints ache and are swollen. The doctors (yes doctors – many of them) have not tested me for this. Two wanted to operate on my ankles to release a nerve they think is the problem. I am constantly lethargic, with memory loss, and my belly has fat I never thought I would ever have. I am a small frame. I see muscle atrophy and have gone weeks of PT to help strengthen my legs, ankles and hips. Although I have not been diagnosed and waiting on my appointment with a rheumatologist as suggested after I was diagnosed last week with an autoimmune disease – LUPUS.

    1. I also feel it in my upper back and just feel tired overall. I made the connection because I was feeling fine yesterday morning after eating breakfast. Then, I ate a wheat fig bar (really good healthy one I found at Costco). I immediately felt sluggish and my back was all achy! Today, I felt fine all day. Should I risk it and eat the fig bar tomorrow just to make 100% sure?!

  9. Just started gluten-free diet about 3 weeks ago, folowing months of tiredness, aching joints, poor digestion, digestive noises loud enough to disturb the neighbours!! Not been tested for coeliac disease – doesn’t seem important, as avoiding gluten makes me feel so much better. However, I now have to tackle the weight gain problem: difficult as I now also acquired a raging appetite. However, despite all the foods (and beer!) you have to give up, feeling so much better is entirely worthwhile!

  10. I am recovering from Lyme disease and since I contracted it I have developed a massive gluten intolerance. The fibromyalgia after consuming bread, especially if it is daily, becomes almost unbearable. Now when I drink beer I get really fiery hot, have difficulty breathing, and break out in red patches all over my body. I work out to recover but when I consume gluten I lose strength, energy and have torn two muscles. It is real and a simple diet change can help regain your energy and vitality. It is hard to believe that one food can wreak such havoc sometimes.

  11. I was told by my nutritionist that making bread with wheat flour using the mother yeast, the gluten no longer remains in the bread as it is eaten by the bacteria of the yeast and so I can eat it. I do not believe this! some suggestions about it? thank you

    1. This is an interesting topic, as recently I did a workshop learning about fermenting, including breads.(aka sourdough).

      I don’t eat a lot of bread, but have been eating mainly my own sourdough for the last month.

      I decided to make a basic white yesterday, for some change up. Had white toast this morning (again, I don’t often have toast anymore generally), and oh boy! Almost immediate reaction with gut pain, severe diarrhoea, and it felt like my belly was swelling so tightly.

      I am here on this page because 1.5yrs ago, I put on 15kg in 6mth, with no lifestyle change. I am 52. I have not been able to shift it.

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