Basket full of bread

Yes, Gluten Intolerance Is Real

More and more of us are suffering from gluten sensitivity. But some people still insist the condition is a myth—all in our heads. In today’s post, I’ll tell you about a new NIH study that should help those of us sensitive to gluten get the respect we deserve.

Having special dietary needs is widely accepted these days. But if you frequently tell people you’re sensitive to gluten, you’re still likely to endure some serious insensitivity now and then.

I’m sure you know what I mean:  someone you just met rolling her eyes when you explain why you’re skipping bread, relatives proclaiming that nobody ever had a gluten problem back in the 70s, and so on.

Fortunately, a new study from the National Institute for Health (NIH) might help you get the respect you deserve.

There’s been widespread acceptance for a while that celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder affecting about 1 in 133 people in the U.S. If you have celiac disease, your immune system mistakenly perceives gluten—the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley—as a threat and attacks it. In the process, the small intestine gets damaged, which can lead to difficulty with nutrient absorption and eventual malnourishment.

That’s an ailment we all should, and generally do, take seriously.

There’s also widespread acceptance of wheat allergies. (Though the cause of its increasing prevalence is widely debated.)

But for too long, far too many people have thought that gluten intolerance is “all in your head.”

News flash: gluten intolerance isn’t in your head—it’s in your gut, and an experiment by scientists at NIH has just found new evidence of this.

They studied 59 patients believed to be gluten intolerant. For one week, half the participants were given a daily dose of gluten while the other half got a placebo.  Then the researchers reversed who received the placebo and who received the gluten.

Participants—not knowing when they got gluten and when they got the placebo—reported significantly more severe symptoms during their week of ingesting gluten.  These symptoms included abdominal bloating and pain, foggy mind, and even depression.

The bottom line is that while gluten sensitivity doesn’t damage the small intestine the way celiac disease does, it can make you feel miserable (causing diarrhea, abdominal pain, joint pain, depression, and fatigue).

Right now, the only way to manage it is by following a gluten-free diet. Fortunately, as awareness of this disorder grows, so does the availability of gluten-free options. It’s no longer unusual to see gluten-free breads, crusts, and cookies on menus and grocery store shelves.

Just be careful when you consume these gluten-free goodies, though, as they’re often loaded with fat, sweeteners, and processed ingredients.

Of course one study won’t create scientific consensus on the validity of gluten intolerance—and it surely won’t convince that skeptical relative.

Until we know the cause of gluten insensitivity or have a medical test to “prove” we have the condition, the debate will go on. And scientists will continue to propose intriguing theories, such as that gluten sensitivity is really a matter of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) getting triggered by FODMAPs.

But while researchers keep seeking better answers and treatments, we can take heart that our symptoms are real, and avoiding gluten is worth the effort—and the occasional snarky comment that shows who’s really intolerant.

Keep thinking big and living bold!

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