Gluten-Free: Is there really something to it?

by Amy Renee
Gluten-Free: Is there really something to it?

Guest Post by Mary Vance

Hello everyone! Please welcome one of my very good friends from my undergraduate years at WMU, Mary Vance. After suffering with several inflammatory symptoms that manifested most notably in her skin and joints, she discovered she had a severe food intolerance to gluten, a type of protein found in wheat products. Her diagnosis of wheat allergy (WA) was confirmed by the presence of IgE antibodies in her blood. After seeing her pictures I asked Mary if she would write a guest post for my blog.

Gluten-free diets have been all the rage lately, touted as the next “weight-loss miracle cure.” As ridiculous as I think the whole gluten-free diet fad is I want to be clear that conditions caused by the consumption of gluten and/or wheat products is VERY REAL! And I’m not just talking about celiac disease. There are three classifications for gluten-related disorders: celiac disease (CD), gluten sensitivity or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), and wheat allergy (WA). For those with any type of food intolerance or allergy, eliminating the problem food could mean a world of difference! Not only could it enhance the quality of life, but also the longevity since continually consuming the problem food creates inflammation in the body and could do permanent damage to vital organs and lead to chronic disease.


Of course it is possible to lose weight by cutting gluten from your diet if in fact you do have an sensitivity or allergy to gluten. But for many, the weight loss experienced will be due to the fact that you are eliminating the already unhealthy processed/refined foods that contain gluten, not the gluten itself. And if you simply replace those foods with gluten-free versions of packaged, refined foods you will gain back the weight you lost or not lose any to begin with. This is an important thing to consider since many healthful, fiber-rich foods contain gluten. So before you think that gluten is the evil monster keeping you from meeting your weight-related goals you might want to consider an elimination type of diet first, something Mary did herself.


Celiac disease (CD) is an immune-mediated response elicited via consumption of gluten in susceptible individuals. Symptoms might take years to appear in some cases thus individuals could unknowingly do major damage to their intestinal villi before diagnosis is made. Symptoms of CD include weight loss, chronic diarrhea and other gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Other non-GI symptoms include anemia, osteoporosis, neurological problems and conditions related to malabsorption of nutrients. Laboratory testing of CD generally begins with measurement of IgA antibodies to tTG (anti-tTG) followed by confirmation of CD with IgA anti-EMA. A more sensitive and specific test (DGP) has more recently been introduced for CD diagnosis. Intestinal biopsy may also be recommended. It is important that individuals diagnosed with CD adhere to a strict gluten-free diet.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a condition in which similar symptoms to CD and WA are experienced with consumption of gluten and wheat containing products, but usually without the presence of measurable antibodies in the blood. Only 50% of individuals with NCGS have IgG antibodies in their blood, so there are currently no laboratory markers available for diagnosis. Although clinical symptoms are similar to CD and WA (gastrointestinal distress), no damage to the intestinal villi occurs. Additional symptoms include behavioral changes, bone, joint and muscle pain, weight loss and chronic fatigue. Patients experience improvements with a gluten-free diet.

Wheat allergy (WA) is an when an individual who consumes any product containing wheat has an adverse immunologic reaction anywhere from minutes to within an hour or two of eating wheat proteins. The symptoms are usually quite severe and affect the skin, gastrointestinal tract, joints and overall immune system. Severe WA can lead to atrophy of the intestinal villi, anaphylaxis and death. The presence of IgE antibodies in the blood is used as a positive marker for WA.


Oh, and one more thing about Mary: not only is she an expert due to her own personal experience with severe wheat allergy, but she is also currently back in school working toward her degree in Dietetics. This girl knows her stuff!

Well, you will never know the benefits that you may experience unless you truly go Gluten Free completely and do it over an extended period of time.

-Mary Vance

Hello Folks, I am an old friend of Amy’s from college. We went to Western Michigan University at the same time when we were both in our early 20’s. I am 38 now and I am 7 years into my gluten free journey. I can tell you that for me, it has literally saved my life. I was diagnosed with severe wheat allergy in 2009, and I changed my diet. At that time, I was very ill, close to death, severely obese and I had nothing to lose by changing my food, but I had a bit of hope that I could live longer if I changed my eating habits. I did not go low calorie or follow certain macronutrient specifications at that time, I simply stopped putting gluten into my diet. I also did not eat a lot of highly processed foods in the way of cakes or cookies my focus was rebuilding my body with clean, simple foods. I geared myself towards a Paleolithic diet at that time, eating foods with few ingredients so that I could easily track if anything caused a reaction with my skin.

Prior to changing my food, I had been on a slow decline with my health and well-being. For years I was tired, gaining weight, getting weaker (chronic fatigue) and after I had my children I began to gain even more weight and I experienced getting skin rashes that would last for a few weeks at a time. I felt very low energy in my late twenties and thought getting “older” was really horrible! Ha! I love aging now-I was sick and didn’t realize it, I was not old at all!! My right leg would give out on me when I was walking. My joints and muscles were very weak (fibromyalgia symptoms). I remember painting a mural on my son’s wall and continually dropping the paintbrush on the floor because I had no grip strength. At 5’1” I was weighing about 240 pounds and I felt like I was starving alI the time. I later learned that from ingesting gluten my body was unable to absorb certain nutrients due to villi atrophy in my small intestines, so I really was physiologically starving. My hair would fall out, my skin was very thin and weak, I was constipated often and was not a happy person. I was sick, really sick.

Once I shifted my focus to my food and eliminated gluten and all processed ingredients, the results spoke for themselves. I never again experienced the rash or swelling, my muscle strength slowly returned. I lost about 40 pounds that first year and to date I have lost over 100 pounds. My skin is gorgeous now and I say that because there was a time when I thought I would be nothing but scar tissue from having continually lost all of my skin due to the rashes. I would get liquid filled pustules all over my body, my arms, legs, hands, feet and the itching was horrific. I would scratch even the slightest bit and my skin would just come off and I would be raw. At the 6-month mark of being gluten free I began to feel my peristalsis in my digestive system, I became more aware of when the food was moving and when it was not.My mind fog and depression has cleared up as well. Once I got myself right I began to question if my children might have the same issue as myself so I got them tested. Sure enough they all have the same allergy to wheat that I do. I was not about to sentence them to the same fate of a broken immune system, so we removed the wheat and gluten. For one son his constipation ceased as well as his rashes. For my daughter her bellyaches stopped. For my eldest boy who had been very “ADD” like, he is now able to sit still, focus and listen attentively. He actually said, “whatever it was that made me feel like that-all crazy-please do not ever give it to me again-even if I ask for it!” I am still amazed at the benefits we experience as a family. We seldom get colds or “under the weather” type symptoms because we focus on health, activity and building strong immune systems.This is a very short piece of the story. As I changed and CONTINUE to change I become increasingly more aware of the benefits of having disciplined habits in regards to my food intake, breathing, exercise and sleep. I love this journey of life and I enjoy focusing on health, well-being and longevity! To your very good health, each and every one of you! I am not a vegan by any stretch of the imagination, however, the power of the plants that have assisted me on my healing journey have been miraculous. If you would like to learn more about me and my journey you can friend me on Facebook or check out one of my youtube presentations at
Thank you Amy for being a beacon of health, fitness, wellness and beauty.

Thank you Mary for such an eye-opening story! So glad you and your family are not only doing well, but are helping others who may also be unknowingly suffering from gluten or other food sensitivities as well.


The first thing you should do is schedule an appointment with your physician and DON’T STOP EATING WHEAT PRODUCTS! Yep, you heard me right. Your doctor will write you a prescription for lab work to rule out celiac disease (CD) and wheat allergy (WA) first and the antibodies they are looking for will only appear in your blood if you are currently eating gluten and wheat products. In fact your doctor might advise you to consume more of the problem food than usual in the days before your lab work. Currently there are no specific laboratory tests to see if you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). The true test lies in first ruling out CD and WA then continuing on with an elimination diet – eliminating problem foods (in this case wheat and gluten) for a minimum of three weeks and slowly reincorporating foods back into your diet to see which cause you distress. I am planning to have an elimination diet available on my site in the near future that includes all of the most commonly problematic foods.

Gluten is one of the most common food intolerances and often goes undetected for years. It has been estimated that even CD goes undiagnosed in 9 out of 10 individuals. Celiac disease can lead to devastating health problems including autoimmune diseases and cancer. If you test positive for celiac disease your doctor will then most likely order a biopsy of your small intestine. This will establish a true diagnosis of CD and 100% avoidance of all gluten, even in non-food products such as lipstick is advised.


In T. colin Campbell’s book, Whole he explains the importance of looking at your health in a “wholistic” way. He spells “wholistic” with the “w” because he means that we should not limit ourselves to Western medicine only, but open our minds and include a wide variety of things in our healing such as eating a wholesome diet, meditation, prayer, physical activity, etc. He suggests we should try to prevent disease rather than treat it – that we should try to avoid and possibly even treat disease by eating wholesome foods rather than take a magic pill that has extracts from that wholesome food.

Where am I going with this?

Well…Mary mentioned something to me that reminded me of this book, Whole. Mary suggested I advise you, my readers to seek out physicians who practice functional medicine since many Western physicians (not all, but too many) are quick to write a script to treat the symptoms after spending an entire ten minutes with the patient. It seems ridiculous that in a country with so many resources we continue to treat the symptoms rather than get to the root cause. I guess it’s probably because there is more money in pharmaceuticals and expensive (not to mention dangerous) surgical procedures, etc. than in educating people about the benefits of wholesome nutrition and healthy lifestyle. But don’t get me wrong – functional medicine physicians DO practice Western medicine. They just happen to take a closer look at the patient. A more patient-centered approach rather than a disease-centered approach.

The good news…

Someone is out there who is willing to spend time with you who will truly listen to ALL of your symptoms. Someone is willing to take the time to go on this journey with you and figure out what is making you sick so that you can get back to being healthy and happy. So don’t give up if your physician doesn’t take your concerns seriously. I’m sure you’ve experienced the whole, “you have IBS” thing all too often and are really sick of hearing that. Keep looking. Check out the functional medicine links above. And don’t just give up thinking your insurance won’t cover it. I found a fantastic GP who practices Western medicine, but also holistic in terms of healthy nutrition, meditation, ayurveda and more. And she’s on my insurance plan!

One more thing Mary pointed out – and this is great advice: If you ask your doctor to be screened for CD and WA make sure you tell him or her that you want to be tested for ALL of the antibodies, not just one or two kinds. Some are less common so doc’s don’t order for them. But even though they are less common, you might have that particular one!

Lastly – You might remember my scary 2-part supplement post (What you need to know about supplements part 1 and part 2) and think I am totally 100% against supplements. NOT TRUE! Mary is the perfect example of someone who needs a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement. Not only does she have a severe WA, but she has many other food allergies as well. Because of this her diet is very limited. I generally tell people to skip the supplements and get the nutrients from food. But in this case it’s not always so simple!

My 21-day jump start plan is a plant-based, gluten-free plan that can help you delineate whether or not you have any problems with wheat or gluten, but if you currently eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, fried and processed foods you will automatically feel better digestively, experience increased energy, better skin and better moods by swapping those foods out for the vast amounts of delicious, wholesome plant foods I offer. So if you choose to try my plan I suggest you slowly reincorporate gluten back into your diet following those 21 days and record how you feel during your meals and afterward. If you choose to continue on with TSV ONS you’ll notice that I have gluten-free options for my meals, so you will be able to continue on the gluten-free journey if you discover you feel better with it out of your life. 🙂

As always, thanks for reading. I hope this helped clear up any confusion any of you may have had. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section below for either Mary or I. And much thanks to my friend, Mary for her shocking and eye-opening story.



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