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Science Unsettled


I’m always skeptical of new food fads, especially when a food is suddenly announced to the world as “dangerous”. Peanut allergies are overblown, in large part because some people put their kids into protective antiseptic bubbles. There is a correlation between “dirty” kids and their higher resistance to a lot of childhood ills. There’s research out there, so if you don’t believe me, look it up.

I’ve been laughing ever since the “Gluten Free” silliness started a few years ago. Now, if you are one of the rare people who have Celiac Disease, this is a problem, a serious problem. Fortunately, the prevalence of Celiac Disease in the the United States is 0.63- 1.0%. That depends on which set of statistics you use, but even the worst case scenario is 1% of the population. The treatment for CD is trying to maintain a gluten free diet. So, 1% of the population (at worst) is sensitive to Gluten. The rest of the world can eat as much Gluten as they want… unless someone is able to convince them that eating Gluten is the equivalent of ingesting Arsenic.

There was a study published in 2011 that “proved” that non CD sufferers could also be sensitive to Gluton. Surprisingly, the author of the 2011 study has done further research and found out that he was wrong. Instead of stubbornly sticking to his original small study, Peter Gibson, did another study.

Here are the parameters that he used for this study,

Subjects would be provided with every single meal for the duration of the trial. Any and all potential dietary triggers for gastrointestinal symptoms would be removed, including lactose (from milk products), certain preservatives like benzoates, propionate, sulfites, and nitrites, and fermentable, poorly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates, also known as FODMAPs. And last, but not least, nine days worth of urine and faecal matter would be collected. With this new study, Gibson wasn’t messing around.

And the results,

The subjects cycled through high-gluten, low-gluten, and no-gluten (placebo) diets, without knowing which diet plan they were on at any given time. In the end, all of the treatment diets – even the placebo diet – caused pain, bloating, nausea, and gas to a similar degree. It didn’t matter if the diet contained gluten. (Read more about the study.)

“In contrast to our first study… we could find absolutely no specific response to gluten,” Gibson wrote in the paper. A third, larger study published this month has confirmed the findings.

The somewhat foggy conclusion.

It seems to be a ‘nocebo’ effect – the self-diagnosed gluten sensitive patients expected to feel worse on the study diets, so they did. They were also likely more attentive to their intestinal distress, since they had to monitor it for the study.

So, people who are convinced that they are “Gluten intolerant” end up with symptoms even when there is no Gluten in their diet. I’ve seen that sort of thing before in a family member that swore she was allergic to Oregano. She wanted pizza sauce without Oregano one time when we were ordering pizza. I placed the order and the guy on the phone told me that there was no such thing (at least at their restaurant). I never said anything to the family member and she ate her pizza blissfully unaware that it was loaded with “deadly” Oregano.

What happened to her?

Nothing, nothing at all.

Nothing seems to be the substance of the current food fad of eating Gluten free.

I think when I see a sign in a restaurant that says “Gluten Free”, I’ll ask for a double helping.

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After a long career as a field EMS provider, I'm now doing all that back office stuff I used to laugh at. Life is full of ironies, isn't it? I still live in the Northeast corner of the United States, although I hope to change that to another part of the country more in tune with my values and beliefs. I still write about EMS, but I'm adding more and more non EMS subject matter. Thanks for visiting.


  1. Yup. Best way to fight allergies (that don’t kill you directly) is to expose you to the allergen (what the heck do you think is in the immunization shots, fairy snot?)

    I had real bad allergies as a kid. After 7 years of shots (yep, real real bad allergies), the Allergist said unto me, “Go forth and live, don’t hide from stuff. Take a Benadryl or something if you act up. Keep stressing your immunizations, but don’t be stupid.”

    Now, my wife is radically allergic to peanuts (swelling, skin rashes, etc) and she has Celiacs. So I don’t have any peanut products in the house and I have two sets of cookware I use. Cooking most pastas means I cook wheat for me and gluten-free for her. Spoons, pans, plates don’t cross contaminate.

    On the other hand, the few that are afflicted are very thankful for all the fad-gluten-free people out there due to all the products that are now available at a reasonable cost to eat. Even 15 years ago, the selection was minimal, for the most part not good, and expensive as all get out.

  2. Kids playing outside AND with pets have dramatically higher immune tolerance, no question… PPP is one of that .63% with Celiac Disease. She got the full allergy protocol, and only came up positive for gluten… dammit…

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