The Case For Going Gluten Free Medical Journal References | Evolvify
In the U.S., public awareness of gluten free diets has reached widespread recognition, but largely in name only. For those suffering with celiac disease or acute wheat allergies, it’s critical. For those with known reactions to gluten, it’s of serious importance. For those who don’t really know what it’s about, but see it on packaging, it seems to evoke a similar response as being forced to “Press 1 for English”. Journalists tend to frame the gluten free approach as legit for celiac treatment, but ultimately a fad diet controlling minions of mindless Gwyneth Paltrow lovers (AP Article). The paleo diet community views it as more of a religion (that’s tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, people!). Before we continue, here are my biases: I experience repeatable, specific, and boring symptoms from gluten intake, but I do not have celiac disease or a “gluten allergy”. Evolutionary biology is a scientific fact and I believe the paleo diet provides ultimate explanations for why we should’t eat grains. So what are the proximate explanations for going gluten free? Is it fad or fo’ real?
A quick and dirty primer
Celiac (or coeliac) disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the small intestine is damaged by components of gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains. The effects of celiac diseas are numerous, serious, and varied. For a entertaining sobering look, check out Tim Ferriss’ How to Keep Feces Out of Your Bloodstream. Strictly speaking, a “wheat allergy” can be similar to something like a peanut allergy. Folks in this group experience rapid onset symptoms that are serious, including the potential of anaphylactic shock. It’s mainly for these folks that food is required to expose the presence of wheat content on packaging.
From there, we transition into the murky terms of gluten intolerance and/or sensitivity. These two classifications are where the non-celiac, non-allergy folks may reside. Whether we should take them seriously is what the references below try to answer. There’s plenty of research and anecdotal evidence within the paleo and related nutrition/health worlds. However, since they’re in it for the money, some people tend to pass what they say off as mere profiteering. And perhaps that’s fair, but perhaps both are justified.
Below are a series of links (and abstracts when available) to recent medical literature on gluten research. Basically, I just did a search on PubMed for articles with “gluten” in the title, but without “celiac” or “coeliac” in the title. Doing this search brought up 1340+ results, so I narrowed it down. I’ve tried to filter out the articles discussing the use of gluten free diets in the treatment of autism. I’ve also endeavored to filter out everything relating to animal studies. That said, some of the animal studies are quite convincing… But I get it… Humans aren’t chimpanzees or mice. Also, I only went back to 2008 (this was written in September, 2010).
My assessment of the current barometer for medical research on the effect of gluten on humans is roughly this: In the general population (those not having celiac disease or wheat allergies), gluten either causes, or is strongly correlated to a range of autoimmune and neurological disorders. Further, gluten intolerance can present with any one, or group, of symptoms or disorders with varying degrees of severity. Lastly, it is generally agreed that celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance are underreported and under-diagnosed, though the numbers remain speculative.
For me, on a practical level, the correlations between autoimmune and neurological problems in the scientific literature, my personal experiences with gluten, anecdotal reports from others, and the logical framework of evolutionary biology/paleo diet is convincing enough for me to abstain from gluten.
Andrew brings together a ton of great links to research studies showing the negative effects of gluten in this post on his blog, evolvify.com. I see many of these studies show the gluten link to schizophrenia, as seen in my last blog post below. Learning about celiac was a real revalation to me that started me on my own low carb journey. How can carbs be so essential to human health if a segment of the population is allergic to them? That's not how evolution works at all.