• Wed, Feb 22 2012

Researchers Say Gluten-Free Is A Scam; Here’s Why They’re Wrong

gluten free bread
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

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  • Consuela Morales-Streit

    Reading your article, I can tell that you are trying to present all sides of the story on what the majority of the general public believes to be the current gluten-free craze. What the public sees as a diet fad are actually individuals of the gluten-free community advocating for celiac disease awareness, creating a larger demand for gluten-free food options, gluten-free medications, and demanding FDA regulated and standardized product labeling.

    With today’s technology and networking services like Facebook and Twitter, the gluten-free community is now better able to make our collective voice heard, concentrate our efforts towards awareness and change.

    We advocate for awareness, because 1 in 133 Americans has Celiac Disease. There are more than 300 symptoms of celiac disease, and some people may experience no symptoms at all. That means there are millions of Americans suffering from varying degrees of health issues that don’t have to be.

    Yes, I am sure there is a small percentage of the general public that probably chooses to go gluten-free, because their favorite actor/actress has gone gluten-free. But that small percentage trivializes the greater majority of the gluten-free community who live a gluten-free lifestyle because of necessity.

    Also, I wanted to point out that the terms gluten sensitivity, and gluten intolerance should not be used interchangeably nor are they “not worth the fuss”. Gluten sensitivity most commonly refers to someone with a wheat allergy, which in some cases can be life threatening. An individual who is gluten intolerant may experience gassiness, abdominal pain, abdominal distension, and diarrhea. These GI symptoms are very similar to an individual who is lactose intolerant. While celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. All three require a gluten-free lifestyle for improved health.

  • h

    It’s outrageous to me (albeit not at all surprising) that the Western Medical Community won’t get behind this already.

    Maybe it’s become a weight loss craze because – hey! – like in my case, going off gluten allows a sluggish thyroid to heal and work again!

    Maybe it’s a good thing people are self-diagnosing because – hey! – like in my case – doctors tend to prescribe anti-depressants to cope with (and mask) the many symptoms of gluten issues.

    Maybe people are testing negative for Celiac Disease because – hey! – like in my case, they take matters into their own hands and cut gluten out months before getting tested, because – really – the point is to be healthy, not to be labeled.

    I know folks who have had one, two, or even three small intestine biopsies before getting positive Celiac results!

    FYI – Northern Europe is WAY ahead of us on this – they treat every cancer, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, and autism patient with a gluten-free diet. Their are those in the medical community in Europe that believe cutting gluten and dairy could be a cure-all for cancer and heart disease and they say EVERYONE has some type of intolerance to gluten.

    Yes – it’s such a fun diet craze to cut out foods we love, not have the ability to go out to dinner, spend extra hours and dollars preparing meals, never drink beer, and have to really rethink the POINT of ever visiting Italy. Sure! Jump on this band wagon. IT’S FUN!

    Then again – for the first time in my life, I feel HEALTHY!

    It should be a heads up to us they doctors don’t take a single course in food or nutrition. Isn’t “you are what you eat” pretty much a universal fact?

  • Charlie

    Interesting read . I myself am a celiac and the gluten free fad / craze drives me insane , so hopefully this should get rid of the fad .

    In my experience gluten free diet sucks , sure celiac disease is what I really hate but the GF diet is over rated not all celiac’s can go gluten free and get back to full health way too many complications if your unlucky . Than you see someone go gluten free and overnight they are stronger have more energy etc you can’t improve that much overnight .

    The gluten free fad has had a very negative impact on celiac disease it is seen as a joke disease and a fad when really it is a very serious auto immune disease .

    BTW h Italy is one of the most celiac countries around , Italy tests all children for celiac disease and Italian celiacs are given time off work / school to shop and prepare the food , very understanding of celiac disease shame every country is not the same !

    • h

      That’s great to hear about Italy! I knew a lot of Europe was ahead of the game on Celiac Disease, but I was really regretting not visiting Italy before finding out that I had it, just based on the assumption that their food is full of gluten! But it sounds like they have options there! And I’m sure they would be delicious!

    • Gluten Dude

      Spot on Charlie. Gluten is now seen as the root of all evil. For those like me dealing with celiac disease, gluten is a killer. For those who are indeed intolerant or allergic to gluten, getting off of it can be a huge help. For everyone else, please move on to the next fad. You are not helping our cause.

    • Patrick

      Never met an Italian with celiac disease. When I was in Italy, I asked around about gluten free (I don’t have CD, just curious) and nobody seemed to know anyone with celiac disease.

      My recommendation to anyone with celiac disease who plans to travel to Italy is do your homework. Very few restaurants (I was there a whole summer and didn’t find one) offer gluten free (senza glutine) products. Because of tourism, there are some that offer gluten free pasta but it will be hard to find. Good luck.

  • Anne

    I have gluten sensitivity. If a doctor wanted to do a double blind oral challenge on me he would have a difficult time seeing the results. I would not be able to present him with a pan of diarrhea or vomit. My symptoms occur about 24 hours after gluten is ingested and they are brain fog, agitation, depression and pain in my feet. How is he going to measure that? Does he want to sit there and watch me for a day? Oh, I do have one symptom he could measure – red eyelids. I don’t need anyone telling me if gluten is causing problems – I know it is.

    As far as a GF diet being more expensive, I find it less expensive. I don’t have to spend time and money on doctor visits and useless medications. I love being GF as it has given me a life that is healthier than I ever had.

    There is a test for gluten sensitivity that no one is mentioning. Enterolab has been doing such a test for at least 9 years.

  • Helen

    Buying processed gluten free foods is a waste of money as is buying any processed foods. I am a coeliac and I don’t buy any of that stuff and it doesn’t cost any more than a normal diet.

  • JimPurdy.blogspot.com

    Let me see if I understand: Many doctors, including most that I see, are against making diet or lifestyle changes to treat health concerns. But those same doctors are in favor of prescribing drugs from BigPharma chemical labs to treat health concerns.

    My choice is to make the lifestyle changes, and to not take any BigPharma chemicals.

    And to stay away from doctors that don’t know how to do anything but push drugs instead of fixing lifestyles.

    Doctors … who needs them?

  • Charlie

    Hi h ! I’m half Italian and have been to Italy many times , in 1998 we went I was not diagnosed at the time but My Mum was and some of our cousin’s really did not understand , they were saying eating gluten for 1 day won’t matter . Next time we went in 2005 I was now diagnosed with CD and there was a big difference some of our cousin’s told us about a new drug to cure CD was being researched and there was no you can eat gluten for 1 day . Next time we went in 2010 and it was my favourite visit . In our small village a few restaurants had now opened which were very good with gluten free , 1 restaurant even used a separate fryer to cook some chips to avoid cross contamination ! We went for our cousin’s wedding and the wedding venue were awesome . The meal was about 7 courses , they cooked us gluten free pasta tasted really good I checked 7 times it was GF lol tasted really nice . 1 course they couldn’t provide a GF alternative so asked what would you like I asked for a steak and they bought out 2 steaks :D In the local restaurants I ate steak mainly and veal , ice cream is great in Italy my favourite is the lemon sorbet made with lemon , water and sugar . Eating rounds cousin’s houses was easy we took our own pasta and they made fresh tomato sauces all GF , and than we ate some meat , potatoes and veg . We couldn’t eat any cakes apart from the almond biscuits always a lot of fresh fruit especially huge water melons . As you can see huge improvements from the 1998 visit . Maybe it depends where you are in Italy to how good your experience is but I had an amazing time in Italy especially GF wise :D

  • Kelly

    I’m confused as to why anyone thinks this is a weight-loss diet. If anyone looks up Gluten Free Diet and actually READS about it they will quickly realize what it is. Oh well, people today only see what they want to see.

    Due to absorption problems (even 4 years after diagnosis) I still can’t lose weight even though I don’t indulge in all that gf junk food because my metabolism is dreadfully slow. Don’t have the energy to work out much either, but do what I can. This certainly isn’t a joke, and really and truly, humans aren’t set up to digest wheat anyway. What harm would be done to make everything GF?

  • François

    Why would switching to a gluten-free diet be “dangerous” without an official diagnosis? There is nothing medicine can do anyway but tell us to cut gluten out of our diets. In my case, I had disabling tachycardia, abdominal pain and hearing problems, all of unknown origin, and they all subsided after I switched. As for this being a “scam” that would cost me money: I don’t eat as much prepared foods and I eat out a lot less than before; I am saving tons of money. I wonder whose interests are being defended in this article.

  • CommentUSA

    Gluten free is right-up there with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia…… and interestingly, all seem to be 99% women issues………

    • Guest

      My gastroenterologist would disagree with you, given that the diet has cured me of what was once diagnosed as IBS. I get very ill within minutes of eating gluten containing food. It took a food diary to demonstrate that every food that made me ill had gluten in it somewhere. But there it was in black and white, wheat, rye and barley all made me ill, without exception.

      The gluten free diet has given me my health back. I’m very happy with the results.

    • Terry J. Wood

      My gastroenterologist would disagree with you, given that the diet
      has cured me of what was once diagnosed as IBS. I get very ill within
      minutes of eating gluten containing food. It took a food diary to
      demonstrate that every food that made me ill had gluten in it somewhere.
      But there it was in black and white: wheat, rye and barley all made me
      ill, without exception.

      The gluten free diet has given me my health back. I’m very happy with the results.

  • God2U

    The gluten free no carb and organic thing are ALL myths and scams that ANYONE who passed 6ht grade health class sees thru…Since 95 percent of liberal hippies didnt make it past a GED they arent smart enough to know better

  • Mike Hugh-jass

    So the educated experts, are wrong. The fact that there is no actual peer reviewed scientific evidence to support all the hype is to be ignored. The possibility of the placebo effect is to be dismissed. Instead we are to place our trust in the internet and Facebook posts. Seriously? At some point, cognitive dissonance should start to hurt.

  • Maggie

    it’s a scam