Exploring Gut Health and Gluten Sensitivity
This week, we sat down with Dr. Homeira Izadi from the Pristine Wellness Center to discuss the importance of gut health. A quadruple board certified physician, Dr. Izadi has over 25 years of experience in various settings in the medical field. Specifically, she focuses on personalized and integrative medicine to provide an individualized approach.
Having struggled with gut issues since childhood, Dr. Izadi took the problem into her own hands and researched gut health, leaky gut syndrome, and gluten sensitivity. Her symptoms disappeared once she removed gluten from her diet. Since then, Dr. Izadi has been able to help many others with similar stories. Dr. Izadi aims to make people feel good, inside and out. As we’ve learned from her, happiness begins in the gut.
Why is it important to pay attention to gut health, and how does the gut dictate overall health?
Dr. Izadi: “Knowing the relationship between what we eat and chronic disease is extremely important. We know the rate of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or obesity, is increasing every year, and even other issues such as attention-deficit and autism. This increase in chronic issues is related to what we eat.
When I was a kid, if we had a loaf of bread on the table, after a few days it would grow mold. Now, you don’t see mold on any type of bread that you buy from the store. Why is that? Because food manufacturers noticed that if they add propionic acid to baked foods, it prevents the growth of fungus and increases the shelf life of these products.”
What is propionic acid, and why is it important in terms of gut health?
“Propionic acid is used as a preservative in foods, and what it does does to our intestines is very damaging. There are many studies showing the relationship between high levels of propionic acid in the intestines and poor concentration, attention-deficit, and even autism. If we see the rate of a disease such as autism increase, it means that there are environmental factors involved on top of genetic predisposition. The most important environmental exposure is what we eat. This is why it’s important to know exactly what is in the products we consume, and this is also why I was extremely excited when I first heard about Tastermonial’s app.
It is crucial for everybody, no matter if you have chronic disease or not, to know what you are putting in your body. In the GI tract, we have over 100 trillion bacteria. These bacteria have a lot to do with many other issues that we may be dealing with. Eating food that kills the good bacteria and promotes the growth of bad bacteria has a direct relationship with many diseases, like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Knowing how the microbiota interacts with other body systems helps you to understand the importance of feeding the good bacteria and eating healthy.”
There are many products on the market that cater to those with dietary restrictions. How should individuals navigate these products to ensure they aren’t consuming foods that will tamper with their gut health?
“The simple way to manage this is by eating simple, healthy food. Minimize eating fast and processed food, because when there are many preservatives and different additives, there is always a high chance of having sensitivity or allergies to these products. My hope is that Tastermonial’s app will help people recognize which product is the healthier choice.
As we know, the food industry is smart. When they are aware that the public knows a certain type of preservative is bad, they change it to another chemical name to confuse people. If you go to the store and want to buy something with many ingredients that are unfamiliar, don’t buy it. Stick with simple products and organic produce.”
Why is it important to eat organic?
“It is important to know when we have to choose organic or non-organic foods. The Environmental Working Group has a list of “clean” and “dirty” produce, and I ask my patients to keep the list on their cell phones when they go shopping so they can make sure what they buy is on the list. I always tell my patients that if the organic form of something like berries is unavailable, it’s better to not eat it. When you choose non-organic produce, it means that there are lots of pesticides and herbicides on these products. When these chemicals go through the intestine, they destroy the normal flora and promote the overgrowth of pathogens, which can be the starting point for many chronic diseases. However, it is okay to eat non-organic produce like avocados and bananas because the level of pesticides and herbicides in those products are low.”
Will washing non-organic produce fully remove the pesticides and chemicals?
“Unfortunately, when pesticides and herbicides are used, they don’t stay just on the surface of the fruit. The pesticides and herbicides go into the soil, and from the root of the produce, the chemicals travel inside. For example, peeling apples doesn’t help. If the apple is non-organic, the pesticides and herbicides are inside of the fruit. If you have a fruit like banana, on the “Clean Fifteen” list, and you have the choice to buy organic or non-organic and the price isn’t much different, definitely go for organic. Even for produce like bananas and avocados, there are still some chemicals inside it, but not as significant as other produce. For produce like grapes and berries, no matter how you wash it, the pesticides and herbicides are still there. Eating non-organic versions of these produce will kill your normal flora.”
What are some early symptoms associated with declining gut health, and what are some ways to reverse these symptoms to prevent prolonged gut problems?
“Early symptoms could be allergy symptoms, such as runny nose, congestion, or a skin rash. Skin rashes are very common with food sensitivities or food allergies. One end of the spectrum for gluten sensitivity is celiac disease, where the patient has serious issues and can experience damage to the gut and other systems when exposed to gluten.
The other part is gluten sensitivity, when the patient does not have the genetic predisposition for it, but exposure to gluten can still cause issues like allergy symptoms, maldigestion, bloating, abdominal pain, brain fog, or poor concentration. These are all early symptoms that we see with food sensitivity. There are tests that can be performed to see if the patient is predisposed or has a sensitivity. However, if you feel that you have a sensitivity to a specific food, the best method is to eliminate that food for a few weeks and see if the symptoms disappear.”
What are some foods or ingredients that individuals should aim to avoid in order to preserve or improve their gut health?
“There are specific things that we should minimize or eliminate from our diet if possible. One example is sugar, and even worse than sugar is the artificial sweetener aspartame. There are studies showing that aspartame can cause diabetes and obesity, and it also acts like a neurotoxin. Every white product, like flour, sugar, and salt should be minimized. Too much salt can damage the kidneys, because it makes the kidneys work harder to eliminate the excess salt from the body. Trans fats should be eliminated from the diet and are very harmful to consume. There are some people who have gluten sensitivity or casein sensitivity, but not everyone. I do not recommend everybody to be gluten or casein free. Every individual needs to be evaluated separately, to see what symptoms they have and if there is a possibility that they have sensitivity to those products.”
For someone suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome or gastrointestinal discomfort and think they have a gluten sensitivity, what are some steps they can take to try to determine this?
“There is a very simple way to know if you have gluten sensitivity or not, and that is by completely eliminating gluten from your diet for a month if you don’t want to see a doctor or run any tests. If during that month your symptoms lessen or completely disappear, that is a definite diagnosis for gluten sensitivity. There is no other test more specific or sensitive than an elimination diet. There is also genetic testing to see if someone is prone to gluten sensitivity, as well as antibody tests to see if antibody levels are high enough.”
100 years ago, celiac disease and gluten sensitivity were not prevalent. Why do we have it now compared to a century ago?
“It’s prevalent now because we are exposed to herbicides and pesticides, as well as loads of propionic acid in our cookies and breads. All of these chemical exposures and heavy metal toxicities cause leaky gut syndrome, which increases sensitivity in our immune system. This is also why we see an increase in gluten or casein sensitivity, because our diet and nutrition has changed and we have been exposed to so many chemicals that 100 years ago we weren’t exposed to.”
In 2014, 60% of Americans reported they restricted at least one food or component in their diet. Six years later, this statistic has no doubt risen. Do you see this reflected in your practice? Moreover, do you believe there is a link between this statistic and the rise in knowledge about gut and overall health?
“Yes, absolutely. I think since we’ve had a lot more studies on this issue, the public awareness has increased. Many of my patients coming to see me have already eliminated some food from their diet, and when we do a sensitivity test, they say they had a feeling that, for example gluten, was the cause of their issues.”
What advice do you have for those eating a gluten-free diet?
“One thing I have noticed is that people who want to eat healthy think that if they eat gluten-free, they are eating healthy. Many gluten-free products are filled with sugar, as well as palm oil, to make the product affordable and improve the taste. It’s not healthy to eat gluten-free while still eating products like these. We need to know what we put in our body, as well as if we have a sensitivity to a specific food or not. For those who do not have a gluten-sensitivity, eating gluten is healthy, as there is a lot of fiber in gluten-containing products. Fiber is extremely important to feed the normal flora and good bacteria in the intestines.”
What are some foods that promote gut health, and individuals should aim to increase in their diet?
“Eating a lot of fiber helps to grow the good bacteria in the intestines, which affects the whole body, including the brain, heart, kidneys, liver and other systems. I usually give my patients a list of foods that can promote good health, which mainly include foods that contain fiber and different types of vitamins and minerals that we need for a healthy body. These can be foods such as fibrous fruits and vegetables, like organic berries or broccoli.”