There is a growing drumbeat blaming all sorts of digestive problems to the ingestion of gluten and naming a gluten-free diet as the cure of all maladies.
Doctors are seeing a growing number of patients who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. They suffer from bloating and diarrhea when they eat wheat and the symptoms go away when wheat is withdrawn from the diet. We also have studies proving that some patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) do better when following a gluten-free diet.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a component of wheat and wheat-related products. We have known for a long time that for a group of people, suffering from celiac disease, ingestion of gluten causes a disruption of intestinal permeability and the immune response that follows gives the patient not only intestinal symptoms, but also general malaise, fatigue and attention problems.
Dr. David Johnson, Professor of Medicine and Chief of Gastroenterology at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, explains the many theories of why gluten-sensitivity is on the rise in a very clear way while still leaving room for questions and more studies to probe what people observe. Click here to view Dr. Johnson’s article.
Is gluten sensitivity real? It seems to be; we just need more studies to probe why. Some blame the hybridization of wheat as the culprit for the increase of gluten-related diseases.
In My Opinion…
It is clear that we are facing a non-celiac gluten sensitivity affecting more patients with a variety of symptoms including bloating, diarrhea and attention problems. I do have my doubts about blaming every single disease and symptom on gluten ingestion, including weight gain, but there are many reasons why some people are going to feel better and lose weight by eliminating wheat from their diet.
1. We know that in our culture we eat too much carbohydrates. Eliminating wheat products is going to substantially reduce the carbohydrate ingestion and, therefor, help with weight issues.
2. Eliminating wheat makes it difficult to reach for the snacks in between meals, since most of them contain wheat.
3. A loaf of gluten-free bread costs $6 at my local grocery store. That alone could limit my consumption of bread!
4. Grains in general contain ferment-able sugars that, in contact with the intestinal flora, produce bloating and gassy discomfort. Limiting the consumption of grains is naturally going to improve the symptoms describe above
There are a variety of opinions on the subject of gluten-free diets and there are many good points of view. As a physician, my advice for people who think a particular food or nutrient is causing digestion problems, is to avoid it while we await for more studies that provide us the facts of why gluten is making us sick.
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness offers a checklist to help you decide if you should ask your physician or pediatrician for a celiac blood test. You can view that checklist here.
Patients who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease are also asked to participant in a survey to aid in research being conducted by the foundation.