Gluten free. You cannot go anywhere these days without seeing a sign that ever-so-pretentiously informs you that the establishment you are currently frequenting provides gluten-free options, if they aren’t gluten-free altogether. Delicatessens, restaurants, supermarkets, car dealership—it seems like the whole gluten-free craze sprung up overnight and now it’s almost inescapable.
Gluten, for those who don’t know, is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. In laymen’s terms, it’s what makes bread chewy. Now, there is an autoimmune disorder called Celiac disease that can swell and irritate the small intestine when gluten is ingested, but that’s not why so much of our current world is gluten-free. It seems a few years back, a researcher in Australia, Dr. Peter Gibson of Monash University, released the results of a study he had conducted that seemed to indicate that people can have a sensitivity to gluten without actually being Celiac. Immediately, people who felt general fatigue, or suffered from unexplained pain, or had non-specific gastrointestinal issues assumed they must have a gluten sensitivity. Word soon spread throughout the land, and clever shop owners realized they could make money from this new health craze. So, here we are, where gluten-free is so ubiquitous that it is sometimes easier to get than gluten-full. It is truly a great world we live in, where people are conscious about their health and we have options when choosing what to put in our bodies.
Well, that would be about it for this blog, wrapped up nicely in less than five hundred words. That is, except for something that happened two weeks ago. I came across an article in Real Clear Science that non-Celiac gluten sensitivity may not exist at all. http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2014/05/gluten_sensitivity_may_not_exist.html
Yes, it seems Dr. Peter Gibson, the researcher who originally discovered the non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, had now come out and said that so-called “gluten sensitivity” may not exist.
Gibson had conducted a second study, giving 37 people with a supposed gluten-sensitivity and irritable bowel syndrome four separate diets. The subjects were fed low-impact foods for two weeks, giving their intestinal tract time to settle down and heal. Then they were blindly assigned one of three diets for a week, one was a high-gluten diet, one was a low-gluten diet, and one was a control diet, which represented the average amount of gluten consumed by people normally. The researcher expected to find a marked increase in the gastrointestinal issues when the patients were fed the higher gluten diet, but when he compiled the results, something much different happened: subjects reported a worsening of their gastrointestinal symptoms no matter which diet they were fed. It appears gluten is no more responsible for making out tummies hurt than any other food trigger.
So, there you have it. An entire cottage industry sprung up over a condition that may not even exist. You might be saying “even so, what does it hurt to be gluten-free?” Well, gluten can be an important source of fiber, which, as we all know, is a vital part of a well-rounded diet. Either way, I don’t tell you this story to humiliate or embarrass you if you are one of those people who suffers from a declared gluten-sensitivity or participates in a gluten-free diet. I tell you this to teach an important lesson. With any autoimmune disease, or really with any medical condition at all, you have to acknowledge that there is always a chance that even the most secure and convincing data can be totally wrong or misinterpreted.
How many times have we watched the nightly news tell us that cholesterol is good for you. Wait, no I mean bad for you. Actually no, I mean good for you in small doses. Wait, I’m being told by my fiancée that now cholesterol is good for you in any dose, but only a certain kind of cholesterol. Do you see my point? Just because one medical study or doctor tells you something is true, it doesn’t mean that you should change your life. Medical studies, researchers, and even doctors can be and sometimes are wrong. Scientists can only base their hypotheses on studies, and the quality of results those studies provide are affected by how well the study itself is designed, and no research study is perfect. We have to make the best decision we can with the resources at our disposal at the time, and that means you will likely never make a decision that is 100% assuredly correct. Always, question every single doctor, loved one, family member, and newscaster who tells you about this or that study. The only thing that you can be sure of is that 100% of studies aren’t 100% correct.