Is gluten intolerance increasing?

Is your problem gluten? Or faddish eating? | Phoenix.

It sounds like an unfolding epidemic: A decade ago, virtually no one in the U.S. seemed to have a problem eating gluten in bread and other foods. Now, millions do.

Gluten-free products are flying off grocery shelves, and restaurants are boasting of meals with no gluten. Celebrities on TV talk shows chat about the digestive discomfort they blame on the wheat protein they now shun. Some churches even offer gluten-free Communion wafers.

Faddishness is a big part of it. Americans will spend an estimated $7 billion this year on foods labeled gluten-free, according to the market research firm Mintel. But the best estimates are that more than half the consumers buying these products – perhaps way more than half – don’t have any clear-cut reaction to gluten.

They buy gluten-free because they think it will help them lose weight, or because they seem to feel better, or because they mistakenly believe they are sensitive to gluten.

[...] research confirms estimates that about 1 percent of U.S. adults have it today, making it four times more common now than it was 50 years ago, Murray and his colleagues reported Tuesday in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.


Hmm. There is much to question here.

Is this a real trend? Is it just something we have now noticed? Is it a change in the genetic makeup of the wheat we use? Our overall diet? Our overuse of antibiotics that mess up our normal gut biota? Don’t know. But there are many possibilities.

But, one thing is certain. Going gluten-free isn’t fun, easy or cheap. So, before you jump on the gluten-free bandwagon and proclaim it to everyone that gluten is “bad”, make sure this is not just another fad.

For more on gluten free diets, check out this Skeptoid episode.

Also, Science-based Medicine: Is gluten the new Candida?

  5 comments for “Is gluten intolerance increasing?

  1. August 1, 2012 at 6:52 PM

    I consider it another fad, though I feel a bit “high” (whether it’s just me mentally or something I’m not sure) when I eat bread.

  2. August 1, 2012 at 8:34 PM

    Its been there for a long time, but just like cigarette smoking people just brushed it off as been something else.

    I for one lowered my intake of it, though can’t say completely off it. Do I feel better, yes, have I lost weight yes, do I think other people have problems with it, sure.

    Its like saying Lactose intolerance is not real, yet so many have it but deny it and just deal with the consequences. It does not kill you so for most they will chuck it as part of living.

    • Ryuthrowsstuff
      August 1, 2012 at 9:44 PM

      Lactose intolerance has a clear and established mechanism behind it. Your body either doesn’t produce or ceases to produce lactase, the enzyme needed to breakdown lactose. Gluten intolerance intolerance on the other hand doesn’t have a proven (or even a consistently proposed) mechanism to explain it. We’ve got celiac, an autoimmune disease with a genetic base. When the digestive tract breaks gluten down it causes the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestines. Then there are wheat allergies which are usually a reaction to various wheat proteins (sometimes including the proteins that make up gluten). Any nebulous “intolerance” beyond that has very little evidence to back it up. Gluten free diet is the only treatment for celiac, and can be a great way for those with allergies to avoid wheat given the current glut of such products on the market.

      As for the effects you feel from your diet change. Get yourself checked for celiac and allergies. Beyond that what you’ve experienced is anecdotal, so it can’t tell us anything. Its likely it can be easy explained by the fact that any change in diet (lifestyle wise not crash dieting) typically leaves us feeling better and causes weight loss. Its just an effect of thinking about and monitoring your diet more carefully. The same effect is noted with almost any dietary shift. Vegetarian, organic, locavore, paleo, loosely following weight watchers. Even just resolving to eat more vegetables, any intervention has that effect.

  3. August 1, 2012 at 9:54 PM

    There is the fad element, but for some of us it just wasn’t a diagnosis we thought of. I spent years suffering from diarrhea & cramps, eliminating this & that food without success. Since it was off & on, I never talked to a doctor about it. Finally I did, was tested & hallelujah! A cure! Sort of. It’s fiendishly hard to give up all gluten, even though I usually suffer when I eat it. But, as Killjoy said, it won’t kill me – but it can sure make me feel that dying would be easier!

  4. G
    August 3, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    I have a celiac friend.

    She’s told me that, through painful trial and error, she’s discovered that the majority of stuff out there labeled “gluten free” is not. In order to be safe for someone who is genuinely sensitive to gluten, it has to be produced *or cooked, etc) with the same care as used for someone who is sensitive to nuts: completely different machines, chopping tools, mixing tools, cooking surfaces, etc. Just making food without gluten in it won’t do.

    She herself has two separate sets of cooking utensils at home, one for her and one for guests. She can only go out to eat at a very few restaurants, ones who have never made her sick, and so she can trust them when they say they take appropriate precautions in their gluten-free food. She just doesn’t buy prepackaged foods, even if they claim to be gluten-free, because they’ll often make her sick anyway; there may not be gluten in the ingredients but there’s still enough from instrument contamination, etc to make her sick. (And celiac sick is a very, very miserable thing.)

    So yeah, I tend to think that anyone who says they’ve gone gluten-free, but does it by buying prepackaged or restaurant food that *claims* to be gluten free, is pretty much following a fad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *