To eat or not to eat – the gluten debate

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Nefarious health saboteur or benign scapegoat, information implicating or exonerating gluten has been pouring in over the past few years, almost as quickly as gluten-free products have been filling the shelves and health-conscious consumers’ shopping carts. What does the science say? Can we answer the question everyone is asking? Is gluten bad for us?

There is no shortage of opinions on gluten. It’s a hot issue in health circles, the topic of best-selling books, and has created a high-value niche market in grocery stores. While Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease affecting nearly 1% of the population, is a serious condition requiring long-term avoidance of gluten, the existence of non-celiac gluten intolerance and the elimination of gluten in the diets of non-celiac sufferers remain controversial, albeit popular.

So is it real? Or is gluten-free just another dietary trend, merely relying on a placebo effect and societal hypochondriasis?

A recent randomized, double blind, placebo controlled trial, the gold standard of scientific inquiry, demonstrated that non-celiac gluten intolerance is in fact a very real condition. In the study, researchers identified 59 individuals who reported symptoms that they believed were attributed to consuming gluten. All 59 study subjects had eliminated gluten from their diet, and over the course of one week all the participants were supplemented with either a pill containing 5g of gluten, or 5 g of a rice starch placebo. Participants were unaware if they had in fact received the gluten-containing supplement or a placebo. After just one week, those receiving the gluten containing pills reported more intestinal pain, abdominal bloating, depression, and mental fogginess than those taking the placebo.

This evidence does not mean that avoiding gluten is a necessary health practice for every individual, but it confirms what many practitioners have previously noted – many patients that test negative for celiac disease feel much better when avoiding gluten. So the next time an individual requests a gluten-free meal, or passes on the gluten-laden birthday cake at the office, avoid the eye-roll and give them the benefit of the doubt. They might be making an important, scientifically validated decision to better their health.

Comments

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Definitely feel better on NON wheat for me. If I eat wheat, I get heart burn and joint pain. If I avoid it, I feel so much better. Truly , everyone should try to see if this is you too ? Thank you Dr.Brock! This will help a lot of people.

  2. I really didn't buy into the gluten free pandemic and it's ill effects on the body so I did an experiment in which I cut out gluten for 30 days. Definitely felt more energetic, less sluggish and it seemed that the occasional slump I would get into didn't rear its head.
    Went back on wheat but only occasionally and at first didn't notice any changes but after about a week, all the symptoms especially fatigue came back so I tried going off again.. This time for 3 weeks and sure enough but the end of week 1, the fatigue and body aches melted away. When I decided to eat gluten, it was only 1 or 2 items for the week and by the end of that week, I experienced the usual lethargic want to take a nap in the middle of day kind of fatigue. Was gluten the culprit ? I couldn't say it was the gluten for sure but what else would it be?! Other factors such as menstrual cycle and life stresses were factored in so…. I tried it 4 more times and it was the same every time so yes, it might not kill me but gluten certainly affects my mood, sleep and everyday ability to fiction at my best.
    Thanks for the post!

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