Study: Gluten ‘sensitivity’ probably not a real condition

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(Photo: MGN Online/Celiac Corner)

DENVER — If you don’t have celiac disease, you’re probably not gluten intolerant.

That’s according to an academic study that effectively overturned the results of a previous one in 2011, which had served as evidence that non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a real condition, Real Clear Science reports.

Peter Gibson, a gastroenterology professor at Monash University in Australia, conducted the original study that helped kick off the gluten-free craze, but was not satisfied with its results.

So he and a group of researchers carried out a new one, giving 37 people with a declared gluten “sensitivity” and irritable bowel syndrome four separate diets.

The results? Celiac disease is a real condition that hampers a person’s ability to digest gluten, but the so-called non-celiac sensitivity doesn’t appear to exist — at least biologically.

Self-labeled “sensitive” subjects reported worsening gastrointestinal symptoms no matter what diet they were fed — whether it was gluten free or not. Data from the study suggested a “nocebo” effect, similar to when people imagine symptoms from Wi-Fi and wind turbines, Real Clear Science reported.

“Gluten, I think it’s a bit of a social contagion,” food writer Michael Pollan told Huffington Post.

From the study:

“These data suggest that NCGS, as currently defined, might not be a discrete entity or that this entity might be confounded by FODMAP restriction, and that, at least in this highly selected cohort, gluten might be not be a specific trigger of functional gut symptoms once dietary FODMAPs are reduced.”

A low-FODMAP diet is a common prescription for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.

The results from the study were published in Gastroenterology, the official journal of the American Gastroenterological Association, last year.

14 comments

    • Kathleene Parker

      As a science writer, I’ve always learned never to say never and the dangers of being cock sure. I almost died of non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, even as doctors told me I didn’t have celiac, and with them apparently totally unaware of looming research in this area OR that it can engender auto-immune conditions and other food sensitivities that remain even when the patient, figuring out that gluten makes her violently ill, removes it from her diet no matter what her idiot doctors said. How sad that people are suffering and dying from this sort of non-scientific arrogance even at a time that the modern industrial diet is generating an explosion in auto-immune diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, digestive problems, and neurological problems like Parkinson’s and M.S., not from an immune system “run amok,” but one in crisis and doing exactly what it must to survive against a modern industrial diet

  • charles osborne

    my son eats gluten but guess what it causes his Serengenative Spondyarthopies Arthritis to make his Immune system to attack his Joints, if he stays Gluten free his Immune system then does not attack his Joints….

  • tpogo

    Ok this article really upsets me. First and foremost the Dr doing this did not sound like he had a control group, not did he report proper testing of DNA markers for sensitivity (YES there are genetic markers for non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and other markers for non-celiac gluten intolerance. I have them, I have been tested for it and if this Dr actually knew what he was doing instead of sticking to his rote, stuck in the 1800’s education, he would’ve been educated enough to figure that out. But apparently this is not being investigated – shows you how much the Dr himself actually understands about these conditions). Dr ALSO did not list the other side affects that people experienced besides IBS. This is VERY MUCH a SAD misunderstanding by the medical community and lack of proper study of a REAL issue and these kinds of articles do a HUGE disservice to people who really suffer from problems. Dr’s today literally refuse to update their educational knowledge on this subject because no *proper* clinical studies have been done and no pharmaceutical companies are willing to piggy-back their studies.) Non-celiac gluten sensitivity or intolerance (two separate conditions) are more than just IBS – if this Dr knew what he was doing, he would have investigated and documented this too. The damage and inflammation that it causes are real and long-term and it takes years to repair the damage done to the intestines. Not only that, but the affects are inflammation in joints (similar and misdiagnosed as Rheumatoid arthritis most of the time), increased mucus production (and as a side effect chronic sinusitis), eczema, all sorts of skin conditions that mimic lupus (and go away when gluten is taken out of the diet, and never clear up when taking any medications for lupus), ADHD in children, poor sleep issues (esp in children), delayed developmental milestones (in children), foul gas expelled and just simply foul BM’s (which is *not* normal for people to have on a regular basis. It is tied to the damaging inflammation that reduces the body’s ability to digest fat properly and which in turn your expelling more fat in your stools). The affects take significantly longer to build and develop in non-celiac gluten sensitivity and intolerance and should never be limited to just IBS issues (though that is truly the most common). I could go ON AND ON about the long-term affects that are definitively tied to these conditions because the list is *huge*. It’s like saying that lactose intolerance doesn’t exist because someone who says they suffer from it was able to eat ice cream and didn’t throw up. We all know that lactose intolerance means different effects for different people – some get indigestion at the smallest amount, some throwup, some get flatulence and nothing else, some get IBS – and the amount it takes varies from person to person. This is a ridiculous report with not enough info on a study that clearly has not looked at all the factors that are involved in these conditions. Shows you how much these folks truly understand, and how little they’re willing to properly understand it all.

    • Anonymous

      I Totally Agree. My Brother Is Glueten Free And If He Is Not On The He Would Die. If You Do More Research This Disease Shortens The Mitochondriac Fibers And You Need Those Fibers To Survive.

  • Marsha Montgomery

    I cannot agree. I was diagnosed with “irritable bowel syndrome” years ago and just lived with it, never knowing what would trigger my symptoms. Seventeen months ago I went on the Adkins diet and ate no carbs for six weeks. To celebrate an award my son received, I took him to breakfast and ate one piece of toast and half of a waffle. I was sick (full blown gastric upset with abdominal pain and diarrhea) for three full days. I was not looking for gluten intolerance, but it hit me in the face! I stayed off gluten totally for about two more months and then accidentally ate gluten in some gumbo. Several hours later, I got very sick again. Then the next day I realized that I had eaten gluten and that is why I was sick. Believe me, this is not something I wanted, but it has really helped with my irritable bowel syndrome. If I take the Glutenease enzymes it helps me digest gluten. So, this is not figment of my imagination! There has to be a lot of problems with the study.

  • Alice Swartz

    Maybe you folks or your kids should be re-tested for celiac. If you actually do have it, but the test was just wrong the first time around, it would explain everything.

    • Anonymous

      The only way to have an accurate celiac test is if you are currently eating gluten on a regular basis. If you have been staying away from gluten then your test will always come back as negative for celiac…so that doesn’t work. If you feel better when you don’t eat it why does it matter to anyone else?

  • Anthony

    Why is everyone commenting so “butthurt”–for lack of a better term–about this article? Do you know how many times they tell us different amounts of water to drink on a day by day basis? Calm down people, science isn’t perfected, nor are the scientists practicing it.

  • jay

    Such a stupid study. I dont need one to tell me my non celiac gluten sensitivity is real. Every time I have gluten the lupus acts up and attacks my joints. I am unable to walk without a severe limp for a couple of days. Definitely not mental. Gluten stimulates my improperly working immune system and makes autoimmunity worse. It is not in our imaginations.

  • Eieio

    Just another fad intolerance to a food. Everyone wants a disease he/she can claim. Wise up. I add gluten to my bread recipes. Makes the bread less crumbly and a bit more chewy. It’s better than the yoga mats a major food chain uses.

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