Gluten Sensitivity Might Not Exist?
You may have recently seen some buzz in the news about gluten — specifically, that non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (or intolerance) might not really exist, and in fact the condition could all be in our heads. One recent study has apparently shown that test subjects reported digestive discomfort very inconsistently with regard to how much gluten they were administered at a given meal during the study period. I’ve seen quite a few articles reporting on this study, but the one in Forbes seems to sum it up best.
Since I’m writing a book about the best, healthiest and most delicious ways to go gluten-free, I feel the need to address these new findings — if you can call them that at this early stage in the game.
Jumping to Conclusions
The idea of gluten-sensitivity wasn’t based on evidence from one study done one time by one scientist. That’s not the way scientific rigor works, as we learned in 5th grade science class, and just as the Forbes article states in plain English. A simple search in Google Scholar for “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” will show you that many studies have been done on this topic, some isolating wheat, some addressing gluten from all the various sources, nearly all finding that there is in fact a non-immunological response to gluten in a number of subjects. One study of 37 subjects cannot negate a body of research, nor can it override the myriad anecdotal and experiential testimonies of hundreds of patients across the developed world.
FODMAPs to Replace Gluten?
The article mentions the potential misplacement of blame on gluten, that perhaps FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols) are the real digestive disruptors, and gluten isn’t the problem at all. In fact, FODMAP foods overlap greatly with glutenous foods, so attempting to tease this distinction apart might result in similar lifestyle choices already being practiced by those on a gluten-free diet. Granted, the list of FODMAPs is far broader than the list of glutenous foods, however it’s often the case that those with gluten sensitivity also have other sensitivities due to damaged intestinal lining or leaky gut. Often eliminating problem foods to allow the gut to heal can precipitate the reintroduction of some of FODMAPs, if not all.
There are definitely FODMAP-free diets out there that have helped a number of very sensitive folks get their guts on track to be able to heal and potentially start eating a broader range of foods again. It’s true of any elimination diet, including a gluten elimination, that certain individuals can repair their gut and reintroduce trigger foods that no longer cause problems. Most holistic doctors will suggest abstaining from particular foods for a certain amount of time and then slowing reintroducing each one separately to attempt to decipher which foods cause problems. In some cases, these trigger foods can be successfully reincorporated into the diet without upset, and in some cases they can’t.
For me personally, I’ve attempted to fully reintroduce gluten a couple of times, and the results have been unpleasant after about two weeks eating it regularly. That being said, trace amounts like those found in soy sauce don’t seem to cause any ill-effects when used very occasionally for me. Others might experience negative effects from even trace amounts.
The overlap between FODMAPs and gluten-containing foods definitely merits more research, and by all means, I can’t wait to read the studies when they come out. Until then, I’m sticking with what works for me and so many others working hard to repair their damaged digestive systems and improve their lives.
Take-Away: Media Hyperbole
Sensational headlines that throw into question lifestyle strategies that have worked for a huge number of individuals (myself, friends and family included) when “much, much more research is needed” really don’t do anyone any favors in the long run.
The truth is that everyone’s different and everyone reacts differently to different foods based on their own internal environments. If you stop eating gluten and you feel better, then great! Keep doing what works for you. The marketing hype that’s brought gluten-free sales through the roof over the last few years probably doesn’t have all that much to do with how you feel every day. Nor should a study of 37 people throw your personal wellness strategy down the tubes. Take care of yourself and listen to your body. There’s some advice worth taking.