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How Gluten Feels About All This

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Elective gluten free dieting is all the rage these days–as opposed to people with Celiac disease who have needed to avoid gluten all along to avoid a serious autoimmune reaction. But for the non-Celiac 99% of us, “gluten free” has become one of those dietary buzz words. In Los Angeles where I live, it has become something of a religion. I see gluten free bakeries pop up, and there are now gluten free sections of supermarkets. This is great for our Celiac brothers and sisters, but for everyone else, it gives the illusion of healthy choices when there is in fact no benefit to a gluten free diet if you don’t have Celiac disease.

And this study published in the journal Gastroenterology found that people with self-diagnosed gluten sensitivity actually didn’t feel any better when they were put unknowingly on diets without gluten. What this could mean is that the effects of gluten for non-Celiacs might be chalked up to placebo and nocebo effects. For those that swear they feel infinitely better when abstaining from glutenaceous (a word I just made up) foods, perhaps avoiding this particular protein leads you to make better food choices in general. But the researchers also point a finger at carbohydrates called fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols, what acronym lovers call FODMAPs. We’ll figure this all out, eventually, but for today, here’s a comic to summarize:

And for an added bonus, here’s a clip from Jimmy Kimmel in which his team found a few people in Los Angeles who proudly proclaim to be gluten free for all sorts of weird reasons but have no idea what gluten is, and in some cases what foods you can find it in. (Rice doesn’t have gluten.)


Katie McKissick About the Author: Katie McKissick is a former high school biology teacher turned science writer and cartoonist based in Los Angeles, CA. Her first book is called What's in Your Genes. You can find more of work at Follow on Twitter @beatricebiology.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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  1. 1. SJCrum 7:21 pm 05/22/2014

    Celiac disease is caused by the living organisms in yeast getting into the small intestine’s lining, and that causing an infection. Avoiding that can be accomplished by just killing the yeast organisms. And, that can be accomplished by treating the yeast before baking with a coating on the outside surface of the dough. And, that is a coating of plain old (do you have any idea as to how many items I have asked if that was correct. I even said for one, “dirt?”) (Just a bit of impatient frustration here.) A coating of plain ol’ (she’s being impishly “naughty”) … coating of baking soda and water. It kills the organisms inside that obviously caused the bubbles in the dough, and the rising.
    So, that is the cause and solution for the infection disease.

    Link to this
  2. 2. EmmaJL 12:40 am 05/23/2014

    Celiac is not a yeast infection. It’s an autoimmune disease that develops when the immune system becomes reactive to peptides derived from gluten proteins. Antibodies produced by gluten-reactive B cells damage the GI system & that damage is what leads to most symptoms of celiac disease.

    Link to this
  3. 3. SJCrum 7:14 pm 05/23/2014

    To EmmaJL – With all due respect for your comments, and you, but Celiac involves the inflamed tissue of the small and large intestines and that occurs because of the live organisms that exist in yeast. And, those being in yeast because they make the gas bubbles in bread dough and this then causes the dough to rise.

    Peptides also, are related to the digestive system, and are what the body makes to help digest food. Antibodies are not made by the cells you described, and for one reason, because antibodies are a defensive item that is made to help prevent cell disease.

    By the way, the inflamed tissue in the body is always caused by something that attacks it. And this is exactly what the disease is caused by. To stop the inflaming, the cure is simply to destroy the item that is causing the totally wrong thing in the normally-healthy body that is occurring. For a cut finger that is starting to get infected by an attacker, you need to kill the attacking item by using a type of antiseptic or other killer.
    By the way, if you go get a bread dough mix, and after mixing it then coat it as I described, and after baking you can see for yourself whether, or not, it will cause no problem at all. And, it factually will not.
    In the end, whether believed or not, that will factually prove what causes the disease.

    Link to this
  4. 4. kitINstLOUIS 7:30 pm 05/23/2014

    There are several problems with this study.

    #1 is that it’s only 37 people. That’s not enough to prove anything, sorry. I’m shocked that The Scientific American uses this study to state defitively that non-celiac gluten sensitivity does not exist. I had clicked this link because I believed that this publication could shed some light. Instead, you parrot what every other science-illiterate publication has said.

    #2 is that it’s funded by George Weston Foods who make baked goods.

    #3 is that the FODMAPS diet is gluten free, so naturally someone with non-celiac gluten sensitivity is going to feel better on that diet.

    #4 is that the conclusions that people who believe they are sensitive to gluten are experiencing the no-cebo effect are based on the three diets being cycled through rapidly one week at a time. That’s not long enough for a lot of people to experience improvement if they have been sickened by their diet.

    #5 Two people could not continue with the experiment; they had to withdraw because the diet changes made them too sick. Two out of 37 people comes to about 5% which is the percentage that some experts believe is the about the number of people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

    Please look into the work of Dr. Alessio Fasano, the director of the Massachusetts General Center for Celiac Research. He’s the researcher who:

    a. Coined the term “non-celiac gluten sensitivity.”

    b. Discovered the role of zonulin in intestinal permeability (it’s only produced when wheat is consumed

    c. Wrote the seminal paper “Where Have All the American Celiacs Gone?”

    d. Initiated the 2003 study published in The Archives of Internal Medicine, a large multicenter study consisting of over 10,000 cohorts that proved that celiac disease is as common in the United States as it is in Europe. I know, that’s shocking, but up to that point it was considered too rare to see in most physician’s practices.

    e. Initiated and participated on the panel for the 2004 NIH Consensus Conference on Celiac Disease that put forth the protocol for testing and treatment of celiac disease.

    His work, so far, shows that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a function of the innate immune system, so is likely not autoimmune as is celiac disease.

    To publish anything on this topic without consulting this man is foolish. He’s the country’s most respected expert on all things that concern the gluten-free diet and it’s relevant issues.

    Link to this
  5. 5. kitINstLOUIS 7:41 pm 05/23/2014

    SJ Crum, please link to something that backs up your argument, because nearly everything you stated is not based on facts.

    Below, please find a good definition of celiac disease from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse:

    This is from Chicago University’s Celiac Disease Center:

    Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disease like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. Autoimmune means a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks one of the body’s own tissues or cells. When a person who has celiac disease eats gluten—a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley—the individual’s immune system responds by attacking the small intestine and inhibiting the absorption of important nutrients into the body.

    Link to this
  6. 6. larkalt 1:24 pm 05/25/2014

    Katie McKissick should post a retraction for so badly misrepresenting the FODMAPS study.

    Link to this
  7. 7. TelePete 2:14 pm 10/6/2014

    If celiac disease has taught me anything, it is that people can have very, very strong opinions about things they know little about.
    Wheat. The forbidden fruit. Did you really believe that it was an apple?

    Link to this

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