Is Gluten Sensitivity BS?

You’ve probably seen an entire aisle stocked with gluten-free products in your local grocery store. Going “gluten-free” seems to be all the rage. Gummy bears are even labeled as gluten-free now. What is the craze over these products today?

Let us tell you.

Gluten is the general name for the proteins found in wheat, and though many foods contain gluten, many more do not and never have. Some that don’t contain it are now labeling their products as “gluten-free” to piggyback on the wave of gluten-consciousness. Reading food labels is often a key indicator of whether the gluten-free tag means anything.

Another common term you might be hearing more often is celiac disease – an illness in which the small intestine is damaged due to eating gluten. Some people’s small intestine simply cannot absorb that particular protein. The best way to determine if you may be positive for celiac disease is through genetic testing. More than 2 million people in the country have the disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health. So if only 2 million people out of about 330 million have the disease, what’s all this talk about gluten intolerance and sensitivity?!

Also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, someone with gluten intolerance experiences gastric symptoms that can be similar to those associated with celiac. Some recent research and studies question the validity of the gluten-spurning “fad,” and ask if a sensitivity, rather than a disease or an allergy (which are very serious), is a real thing.

“The difference is that these patients would not develop the same damage that occurs with celiac,” said Dr. Razvan Arsenescu, an associate professor of medicine and director of bowel disease program at The Ohio State University. “Intolerance is a real condition. It may be existent by itself, or it can often be associated with something else … another bowel issue.”

So yes, it’s very real. And a particular diagnosis is involved, for certain.

“I would call it a diagnosis of exclusion,” Dr. Arsenescu said. “You have to make sure there is nothing else in in the gut … [it] involves biopsies, blood work, based on symptoms reported by the patient when gluten is in the diet, and when it is removed from the diet.”

It is also common that some people will feel better even if they only partially eliminate gluten from their diet. Does this mean we are all gluten sensitive? Not necessarily. Dr. Lee Thomas, a Maximized Living doctor in Columbus, said one of the reasons we are noticing more and more allergies to foods, gluten in particular, is that we are raising the risk of autoimmunity due to our environment. 

“Wheat has been around for tens of thousands of years. Today we are consuming wheat in large amounts, causing our bodies to become sensitive to allergens that don’t normally create allergic reactions.”

Regardless of the level of gluten intolerance or sensitivity, simply removing gluten from a product does not necessarily make it healthy. When reading labels, be careful that you are not ingesting excess sugar because the manufacturer removed part of the wheat and added fillers for taste. Don’t avoid gluten products if you don’t need to. The goal is to keep wheat products to a healthy proportion; abundance will create an imbalance in your cells, making it hard for your body to naturally deal with allergens that enter the body.

So is gluten sensitivity BS? No, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily need to avoid it altogether. Will your body react differently to different things you consume? Absolutely. Does that mean you are intolerant? Not necessarily. Pay attention to your body and don’t fall for the fads.