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Health and Financial Wellness – Dr. Susan Scharf, MD – Gluten Insights

by Peter J. Creedon

Have you ever thought that there might be a link between your physical health and your wealth? A study from Washington University published in Psychology Science shows that there is in fact a correlation between poor physical and financial health[4]. Individuals who tend to take care of their finances are also taking care of their health and vice versa. Long term, we see individuals who are being proactive; taking care of their bodies and making sure they are eating right, can save big bucks down the line. As medical procedures and pharmaceuticals cost are skyrocketing, taking precautions and prevention can be good for your health and wallet now and in the future.

Internal Medicine Board Certified, Dr. Susan Scharf, MD provided us with helpful tips on how to improve your health – this time focusing on gluten. She explains going gluten-free does not necessarily have to break the bank. We’re intrigued. Maybe your New Year’s resolution should be to check if you are in fact gluten intolerant? For more information contact, Dr. Scharf at here.

Stay tuned for continuing coverage of Health and Financial Wellness on our Blog.

Gluten-Free, Just a fad?
by Susan M. Scharf, M.D.


Going gluten-free has gotten to “fad level 10” (the top of my made-up scale), but even though it’s all the rage, I urge you not to dismiss it as only a fad. Gluten (the main structural protein of wheat) can have very real impacts on your health, and it very much may matter to you.

How can gluten impact your health? One way is if you have celiac disease (also known as gluten intolerance), an autoimmune disease where one’s body mistakenly attacks itself instead of the gluten that is causing the reaction. This is a serious disease. Untreated celiac disease is associated with certain cancers, osteoporosis, infertility, neurological disorders, anemia, skin rashes and joint pain. Patients may experience severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss, but not all individuals experience the same symptoms.[1, 2]

Another way gluten can impact your health is if you have non-celiac “gluten sensitivity”. This is when someone reacts to the presence of gluten in his/her system, but is not considered to have an autoimmune disease. Gluten sensitivity can still have serious impacts on your health, and make you very sick. The thing is, gluten sensitivity shares many symptoms with celiac disease. However, gluten sensitive individuals tend to have a prevalence of extra-intestinal (or non-GI) symptoms, such as low energy, chronic fatigue, headaches, brain fog, anemia, depression, behavioral changes, skin rashes, bone or joint pain, muscle cramps, numbness or tingling in the extremities, thyroid problems, fibromyalgia, weight loss, and problems with coordination.[1]

Anyone else getting the picture here? Quick replay: not all individuals with celiac disease experience the same symptoms AND individuals with gluten sensitivity share many symptoms with celiac disease.

Why should this matter to you specifically? Celiac disease affects about 1% of the population, which is approximately one in 100 people.[1] Celiac disease can affect men and women across all ages and races. It is estimated that 83% of Americans who have celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. Due to the inconsistency of symptoms and atypical features of celiac disease, many patients are not quickly diagnosed, with the average time to correct diagnosis of 6-10 years.[3] With this delay to diagnosis, these patients are exposed to the risk of long-term complications, such as infertility and lymphoma, and a fourfold higher death risk.[1, 2] So, basically, this is confusing to the doctors and a lot of other people too. One more statistic; research estimates that 18 million Americans have gluten sensitivity. That’s six times the amount of Americans who have celiac disease.[3]

Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are two different conditions that happen after eating the same irritating food; gluten. Symptoms can overlap between the two, and while some of the symptoms are severe and obvious, other symptoms are vague problems, which many people learn to “just deal.” All of these different symptoms can send people and their doctors down a long road of different tests and evaluations before anyone ever thinks about gluten.

So, how do I know if I have either of these conditions? Blood tests and intestinal biopsies can tell you if you have celiac disease. It is possible, and common, to have negative tests for celiac disease, but still have problems related to gluten. Currently, there are no recommended methods to test for gluten sensitivity.

So, what now? The great thing I’m here to tell you is that there is a relatively simple thing that you can do for yourself to determine if you have any reaction to gluten. Phew!

Brace yourself. One of the only ways to truly know how gluten affects you is to remove it completely from your diet for a period of time. Yes, I said it. The idea of removing gluten from one’s diet may well be considered a blasphemed, anti-American concept, but there is no other way.

There are some who recommend that everyone should stop eating gluten whether or not they react to it. This is a different topic for another article, but what I can say is that I am not a believer in one-size-fits-all medicine, or one-size-fits-all diets. We are all different, we all have different sets of genes, we live different lives, and we respond to food, life, and the world around us differently. I do, however, strongly believe that it is in all of our best interests to be our own CEOs and advocates for our own lives and health. The best way to do this for yourself is to remove gluten completely from your diet for four weeks. If you can only do two, start with two, and see how you feel.

Now at least half of you are thinking, “But, I’ve never noticed any problems.” If you eat food containing gluten regularly in your diet, it may not be that easy for you to notice the symptoms or even a pattern to your symptoms. You could be having problems as a result of eating gluten, but you routinely attribute those problems to another cause, or you have had those problems for so long, you just treat them as your “new normal.” You may think, “This is just how things are for me,” or “I have always had a sensitive stomach.” Maybe you even think, “this is just part of getting old.” You could be wrong.

Doing your own test of removing gluten from your diet is useful in three ways. The first way is to show you how you feel without gluten in your diet. For some, they may feel better right away. Others may only notice subtle differences, while others might not think they feel anything at all, and they might not. Sometimes we only pay attention when something is bothering us, and we don’t always notice when we feel good. The second way, is when you re-introduce gluten back into your diet. Even if you are one of the people who didn’t notice any difference when you removed the gluten, you might be surprised that you notice some changes when you bring it back. And then again, you might not. The only way to know is to try it for yourself.

As for the third way removing gluten from your diet is useful, going gluten-free doesn’t have to break your bank or your taste buds. Food should taste good! It’s possible that going gluten-free could even lower your grocery bill. I don’t recommend simply replacing items that contain gluten with gluten-free products. Not only will this be more expensive, these gluten-free marketed foods aren’t necessarily healthier. There are gluten-free cinnamon buns, gluten-free pie; you get the point. These are still junk foods. I recommend making your own food and eating whole foods that don’t come in a package. Try going for foods that never had gluten in the first place. Yes, you certainly will have to be creative, but sometimes changing things up opens up a whole new world of options. And, it couldn’t hurt to eat less carbs anyway, right? More on that for the next article…

If you find you react to gluten, contact your doctor to get tested, if you haven’t already. For more information on gluten, celiac, guidance on how to go gluten-free, and yummy recipes, check out: celiac.com and
mayoclinic.org and glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com

Susan Scharf Picture

Susan M. Scharf, M.D. is not your typical physician. She has an extensive background in a wide range of practice types and settings and this background translates to years of valuable experience in the management of complex and chronic conditions, mental health, stress management, mind-body medicine, urgent care internal medicine, whole-food nutrition, botanical therapies, and nutraceuticals. Dr. Scharf’s unique practice emphasizes wellness and prevention, combining her holistic, personalized care with her clinical expertise, exceptional research skills, and a blend of traditional and cutting-edge integrative approaches. Dr. Scharf is board certified in Internal Medicine with the best in traditional training at NYU and Bellevue Medical Centers and advanced postgraduate training Functional Medicine (The Institute for Functional Medicine) and Mind-Body Medicine (The Center for Mind-Body Medicine).

The enclosed article by Dr. Susan Scharf is solely and expressively the content, views and opinion of Dr. Susan Scharf. Dr. Scharf is not affiliated or an investor/client of Crystal Brook Advisors.


[1] Sapone A, Bai JC, Ciacci C, Dolinsek J, Green PH, Hadjivassiliou M, Kaukinen K, Rostami K, Sanders DS, Schumann M, Ullrich R, Villalta D, Volta U, Catassi C, Fasano A.
BMC Med. 2012 Feb 7;10:13. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-10-13. Review.
URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3292448/

[2] Mayo clinic URL: http://www.mayo.edu/research/discoverys-edge/celiac-disease-rise

[3] Celiac central URL: http://www.celiaccentral.org/celiac-disease/facts-and-figures/

[4] Psychological Science URL: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/06/25/0956797614540467.abstract