CBS News reported in 2013 that 35 percent of American adults have used online tools to self-diagnose a health condition. After looking up information, 38 percent of those individuals believe they are able to treat their condition at home. Often times, this involves changes in diet such as cutting out gluten, dairy, or carbohydrates. Are these types of sudden nutritional changes beneficial, or could they actually do more harm than good? Here’s what you need to know.
Plugging a set of symptoms into an online checker often leads people to believe they have a sensitivity to gluten or another underlying condition such as Celiac disease. For these individuals, eliminating gluten from the diet seems like a natural first step. However, Dr. Stefano Guandalini, medical director of the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center advises against doing so. According to Dr. Guandalini, a gluten-free diet often leads to negative results for Celiac disease, making it difficult to achieve an accurate diagnosis.
Author and physician Dr. Michael Greger claims that 98% of the population does not actually have issues with gluten, and that eliminating it suddenly could have a negative effect on gut flora. He points to a Spanish study that indicates an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the intestines can occur after giving up gluten for only one month. Research from Horiguchi Clinic in Japan also showed that adding more gluten to the diet improves one’s ability to fight viral infections and cancer. As such, suddenly eliminating gluten could weaken the immune system, while also increasing the risk of developing cancer.
Aside from gluten intolerance, another often self-diagnosed condition is lactose intolerance. Some people may even cut out milk because they believe it is a trigger for acne or that it helps them lose weight. However, the majority of folks substitute dairy milk for almond, coconut, or soy varieties instead. Many of these products contain carrageenan, an ingredient used to provide thickening. A study performed at the University of Iowa showed that carrageenan is associated with intestinal ulcerations and neoplasms or unusual growths in certain areas of the body.
Health and nutrition writer Paige Fowler claims that sudden nutritional changes to eliminate dairy remove probiotics from your diet. She cites a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which showed that probiotics play an important role in keeping you “regular.” This study revealed that gut transit time increased by 12 hours after consuming probiotics. Regular consumption of probiotics also increase the number of bowel movements by 1.5 each week, and soften stools so they are easier to eliminate.
Online research often spurs people to make sudden nutritional changes to prevent certain conditions. One such change involves quickly adding more fiber to the diet. Dietician Vashti Verbowski of Dieticians of Canada advises against boosting fiber intake too quickly, stating that doing so can be “quite overwhelming for your body.” She claims that overactive bowels, constipation, or other digestive disorders could occur from increasing fiber intake too quickly. Rather than adding lots of fiber all at once, Verbowski recommends gradually increasing the amount you consume, while at the same time drinking plenty of fluids to ensure you stay well hydrated.
Not everyone makes sudden nutritional changes to eliminate a health condition, as some may also do so to lose weight or to enhance their cutting and bulking efforts. For example, natural bodybuilder and fitness writer Paul Lucas recommends increasing the amount of complex carbs when bulking, and then eliminating or reducing the amount when cutting. Many fad diets also advise participants to drastically reduce calories to lose unwanted pounds or reduce body fat.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, author of The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work, claims that sudden changes in the amount of calories and carbohydrates you consume can lead to symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, and headaches. He explains that the reason for these symptoms is that sudden changes in calories or carbohydrates can lead to ketosis, or the burning of stored fat. Those who are not accustomed to this process often encounter what is known as “keto flu”, a condition that is often accompanied by brain fog, fatigue, nausea, and dehydration.
Implementing a nutritious diet is something everyone should aspire to do. Even so, when changes are made suddenly and drastically, serious health complications could occur. Moderation is the key when making any nutritional changes to ensure you do not wind up causing yourself more harm than good.