Gluten-free diets have rapidly gained popularity in health conscious circles, so much so that many believe that gluten “sensitivity” or “intolerance” is just the latest diet fad—a weight loss method masquerading as health concern. And a now an essay published in the Annals of Internal Medicine lends credence to skeptics concerns: Coauthors Dr. Antonio Di Sabatino and Dr. Gino Roberto Corazza argue that as long as no one is really sure what gluten sensitivity is, spending money on gluten-free products is probably just a waste of money. But a number of patients who’ve found relief in going gluten-free would argue otherwise, and so would Frank Lipman, MD, whose first line of defense against many chronic health problems is to get his patients off gluten.
Gluten sensitivity has quickly become more prevalent than celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that can be tested for, and causes severe reactions in patients. But Sabatino and Corazza argue that, so long as research can’t pinpoint the cause of gluten sensitivity, or what the exact symptoms are, it’s not worth the fuss. They told Today:
Considerable debate about nonceliac gluten sensitivity has recently surfaced on the Internet, with a sharp increase in forums, patients or patient groups, manufacturers, and physicians advocating a gluten-free diet. Claims seem to increase daily, with no adequate scientific support to back them up.
They also worry that going gluten-free is becoming a dangerous way to self-diagnose celiac’s disease or other food sensitivity; they say that if a patient has already stopped eating gluten, it can be impossible to diagnose them once they see a doctor.
On the flip side, Dr. Frank Lipman, Integrative & Functional Medicine Physician and founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center, says that going gluten-free helps the vast majority of his patients with chronic health problems:
I couldn’t disagree more with those articles. What I see clinically in my practice every day is that an increasing number of my patients feel much better when they cut gluten from their diets. People gain energy, lose weight, their aches and pains go away, arthritis symptoms improve, and digestion improves.
The essay authors insist that it’s very difficult to test accurately for gluten sensitivity. The only method they consider valid is a double-blind oral “challenge,” according to Today:
Patients are given drinks with and without gluten and then asked how they feel. Neither the patient nor the doctor knows which is which at the time of the testing. Such tests are expensive and time-consuming, though, Corazza says.
Lipman agrees that celiac disease is far easier to diagnose and treat, but he maintains that gluten sensitivity is a significant problem for many patients that can be addressed by simply testing out changes in your diet:
There is a difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. A person with celiac disease can’t eat any gluten at all, but most people that I see have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance. These patients often test negative for celiac, but still feel much better on a gluten-free diet as symptoms like bloating or brain fog go away. I recommend taking gluten out of your diet for two weeks to see if symptoms improve.
But cost issues are hard to argue: In many cases, gluten-free alternatives are often more costly (although not as much as you’d think; a quick search on Fresh Direct found standard spaghetti priced at $1.89, while gluten-free rice pasta starts at $1.99). But Lipman says that finding high-priced gluten-free equivalents of your favorite wheat-heavy foods isn’t the healthiest approach:
I also don’t recommend spending a lot of money on processed gluten-free snacks. Instead I recommend sticking to a diet of whole unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish, grass-fed meats, organic chicken, beans, nuts, seeds and gluten-free grains such as brown rice, quinoa and millet.
Which common sense tells you is bound to make you feel better than a diet of pastries, pasta and bread.
Photo provided courtesy of elanaspantry.com