Gluten-Free Diet: Weight Loss Driven by Two Factors that are Different for Celiacs

Gluten-Free Diet: Weight Loss Driven by Two Factors that are Different for Celiacs

When starting a gluten-free diet weight loss is driven by the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which have been found to be elevated in people with celiac disease.

By its obvious nature, gluten intolerance has a profound effect on the absorption of nutrients from the digestive tract and production of hormones and enzymes regulating metabolism of fat, carbohydrates and proteins.

Based on our experience, people with gluten intolerance who suffer from an inability to gain weight typically, is a consequence of:

Pancreatic insufficiency:  the inability to properly digest food due to a lack of digestive enzymes made by the pancreas.

Short food transit time in the gastrointestinal tract due to diarrhea: food transit time is the amount of time it takes for food to travel from your mouth through your digestive tract.

Malabsorption due to the damage of intestinal lining: malabsorption is the inability to get the nutrients one needs from food. This results in food improperly converting into usable energy by the digestive system.

Leaky gut syndrome:  a disorder of the gut that causes abnormal intestinal permeability.

Imagine the gut as a hollow pipe built out of billions of living building blocks (epithelial cells).

The tube is inhabited by a myriad of microorganisms, some of which attach to the tube and others float within the lumen.

In a cyclical way, the tube fills up with remnants of food, bile and digestive enzymes and acts as a highly selective filter allowing only a small portion of molecules to escape from the lumen.

When this filter, or tight junction, is abnormal; intestinal permeability increases, releasing a large, harmful number of molecules from the lumen into the bloodstream resulting in leaky gut syndrome.

Disbalance of gut microflora: too much bad bacteria in your gut causing symptoms such as bloating, pain, diarrhea.

Yeast overgrowth: yeast overgrowth comes from Candida albicans. C albicans are a part of normal intestinal microflora, but under certain circumstances, the usual yeast-like form of C. albicans switches into an invasive one and can become pathogenic for humans.

Symptoms of yeast overgrowth include:

  • Bloating
  • Brain fog and fatigue
  • Craving for sugar/carbs
  • Eczema
  • Frequent hives
  • Headaches after meals (predominantly over forehead)
  • Loose stools

On the other hand, people with gluten intolerance and excessive weight gain very often deal with impaired endocrine functions, including:

Insulin resistance:  insulin, a hormone, is the key that unlocks the cell for sugar to get in, which in turn enables your body to use the food you consume.

If your body develops a resistance to insulin, you are not able to utilize the food you take in, which can increase your fatigue and your cravings for ever-increasing amounts of carbohydrates.

This leads to storing fat more easily, as well as increasing blood pressure and cholesterol or triglycerides.

Hyper reactive adrenal glands:  adrenal glands produce hormones that help the body control blood sugar, burn protein and fat, react to stressors like a major illness or injury, and regulate blood pressure.

When we are stressed, often times a physical manifestation of this stress often results in storing calories that are not absolutely necessary, and most often this occurs in the abdominal area and thighs.

Low testosterone production: Body fat contains an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogens.

Having extra estrogens triggers the body to slow its production of testosterone.

The less testosterone you make, the more belly fat you accumulate.

Fat speeds up the metabolizing of testosterone.

Therefore, the more fat you carry around, the faster you’ll burn through the already low testosterone levels in your body.

Hypothyroidism: hypothyroidism is an under active thyroid. Thyroid hormones control how fast you burn calories and how fast your heart beats.

Case Study

After 30 years of repeated sugar and carbohydrate addiction, several weeks ago, because of diabetes 2, being overweight and other health problems, I switched to Gluten free foods, as a last resort.

I could hardly believe what happened. I no longer had that consistent and demanding urge to keep consuming those foods, my weight has dropped 15 pounds, I can sleep at least 6 to 7 hours a night now, my blood glucose levels have dropped dramatically, and I have a lot more energy.

My question is, what changed biochemically that could affect my carbohydrate and sugar addiction? I have been so surprised and happy about this change, without hardly any side effects, except being fatigued for a few days. My friends could hardly believe it either. Now I may have a few more enjoyable and healthy years left to enjoy my life, if I stay with a gluten free program.

This question contains several very important topics related to gluten intolerance and celiac disease, namely, how gluten controls appetite and fat accumulation.

Our appetite or desire to eat food and the correspondent fat tissue accumulation are regulated by two opposite hormones: ghrelin and leptin.

Ghrelin, the “hunger hormone” is a hormone produced by the specialized cells in the gastrointestinal tract. When the stomach is empty, ghrelin is produced. When the stomach is stretched, the production stops.

Ghrelin also increases fat mass. Studies have shown that ghrelin serves as a messenger between the body’s energy stores and the brain.

When a person loses weight their ghrelin levels increase, which causes increased food consumption and weight gain.

However, when a person gains weight, ghrelin levels drop, leading to a decrease in food consumption and weight loss.

Clinical research demonstrates that both adults and children with celiac disease have elevated levels of ghrelin in their blood compared to age-matched healthy hormones. Contributing to the urge to eat and thus, gain weight.

Tips to regulate ghrelin:

  • Avoid sugary foods
  • Eat protein-rich meals

Leptin: the satiety hormone
Leptin the “satiety hormone,” is a hormone made by fat cells that inhibit hunger and appetite. Leptin is opposed by the actions of ghrelin. In obese people, a decreased sensitivity of brain cells to leptin occurs, resulting in an inability to detect satiety despite high fat/energy stores.

Blood levels of leptin are proportional to body fat mass. Although leptin reduces appetite, obese people generally exhibit a higher circulating concentration of leptin than people with normal weight due to their higher percentage of body fat.


Source: bodybuilding.com

In addition, overweight people show resistance to leptin. Even with elevated levels, it fails to control appetite/hunger and modulate their weight.

Leptin resistance is considered a primary risk factor for the development of overweight and obesity, which in turn is closely associated with such metabolic disorders as hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular disease, stroke, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Gluten inhibits leptin making it harder to lose weight
Recent research data revealed that gluten inhibits the binding of leptin to its receptor and induces leptin resistance and obesity. In leptin resistance the message to stop eating doesn’t get through to the brain, so it doesn’t realize you have enough energy stored.

This finding can make it more difficult for people with celiac disease to experience weight loss after going gluten free.

Leptin levels are also reduced when you lose weight, which is one of the main reasons it is so hard to maintain weight loss in the long-term. The brain thinks you are starving, and pushes you to eat more.

Therefore in those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, elevated levels of ghrelin in combination with the inhibitory effect of gluten on leptin explains the difficulty in weight loss after going gluten free.

Tips to help with leptin resistance:

  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods
  • Exercise
  • Get enough sleep

For several people who are frustrated from lack of weight loss after going gluten free, the answers may lie in their hormones. Even though gluten-free diet weight loss and gains are a normal part of beginning a new diet, it is valuable to know the factors that may play into the struggles.

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