The interwebs have been buzzing recently with the release of a new study that claims that gluten sensitivity isn’t real. But, how well designed is this study? And what about all the people who are reporting sensitivities to gluten?
If you’re unclear on the nature of the gluten sensitivity debate, there’s three groups of people involved. One group is as official as it gets, one is controversial, and one is the butt of the gluten sensitivity joke.
Celiacs are the official group. If you have Celiac disease then you’re legit. Gluten apparently hates you.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity is the official label for the group on the hot seat. Nobody can come to an agreement on whether gluten hates you or not, but your N=1 experiments clearly show that it does.
“I avoid gluten but don’t know what gluten is” is the unofficial classification of the third group. We’re not sure if gluten hates you, but you certainly hate it, even if you don’t know what “it” is.
This study is not talking about Celiacs or the Kimmel group, it’s talking about those of you in the middle. This new study says you’re full of it.
I’ll give you a quick synopsis of the research so you don’t have to wade through it.
The gluten sensitivity study…
Next, the researchers separated people into three groups and administered purified wheat gluten.
Group one (high gluten) got 16 grams of purified wheat gluten per day.
Group two (low gluten) got 2 grams of purified wheat gluten per day plus 14 grams of whey protein isolate.
Group three (placebo) got no gluten and 16 grams of whey protein isolate.
A large majority of the participants saw significant improvement during the 7-day lead-in period. The controversy happened here: during the subsequent 7 days, there was no difference in reaction between any of the three groups.
The conclusion is that gluten is not the culprit, something else is. And the next conclusion is that it’s the FODMAPs. But, this is a problematic conclusion for many reasons.
A problematic conclusion?
#1 – Gluten isn’t the only problematic compound in wheat. There’s WGA (wheat germ agglutinin), prodynorphins (an opioid hormone), and deamidated gliadin and gliadorphins (produced during digestion). If gluten itself wasn’t the problem in this study, wheat still was (via FODMAPs or the other compounds mentioned). And since you eat wheat and not purified gluten, the conclusion doesn’t have much bearing on your reality.
#2 – Wheat is not the only source of FODMAPs. The study put the participants on a gluten-free, low FODMAP diet. While “going gluten free” offers a natural reduction in FODMAPs, it by no means equals a “low FODMAP diet.” This begs the question, what about the people who experience tremendous benefit by cutting out wheat while continuing to consume other sources of FODMAPs in large quantities?
#3 – Whey protein isolate is a horrible placebo for this study. People with screwed up digestion (read: people with IBS — the very people in the study), have a much higher chance of adversely reacting to whey (a dairy protein). If people in the placebo group or the low gluten group were sensitive to whey, the entire study is rendered useless. In fact, it leads me to believe that the researchers are brain dead because whey is a known “cross-reactivity” protein with gluten. That means that in some people whey can look like gluten to the body because of the way antibodies are produced.
#4 – The healing period was drastically short. Choosing a period of 7 days for the gluten-free lead in doesn’t make much sense. The gut takes measures to protect itself when wheat/gluten is present. It takes a long time (weeks and sometimes months) for the body to let its guard down after gluten consumption. This is why most people experience worse side effects from wheat consumption the further they get from last exposure (which also points toward wheat and not FODMAPs as the culprit).
#5 – Someone pointed out to me that there seems to be a conflict of interest with the study’s funding. “This study was supported by George Weston Foods as part of a partnership in an Australian Research Council Linkage Project and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia.”
My take on gluten sensitivity…
I make the blanket recommendation that people avoid wheat and all sources of gluten.
While I acknowledge that many people can seem to eat gluten with no ill-effects, I’m not convinced that it’s harmless. Even if the reactions don’t manifest in an obvious way for some people, I still believe that gluten causes chronic inflammation (at a low level) along with a chronic immune response.
Whether it’s the gluten or something else in wheat matters little. As I already mentioned, you don’t eat refined, isolated gluten — you eat wheat.
If there were inherent benefits to eating wheat, I probably wouldn’t make a blanket recommendation to avoid it. One of the biggest lies in nutrition is that wheat (and whole grains) is some powerhouse food. There is no such thing as a wheat deficiency. It’s not needed in any way, shape, or form for survival. There’s nothing in wheat that you can’t get from other food sources (and usually in greater quantities with no downside).
So, what’s the point? We’re faced with a potentially harmful substance that has no benefits. In my eyes, why are we still arguing about it? Wheat is a processed food, it’s high glycemic, and it’s potentially toxic. If you’re looking to be healthier, achieve a better body and mind, and perform better, then wheat has no place in your life. Period.
Do you agree? What say you? Comment below OR take this discussion to Google Plus.
Founder of Rebooted Body and host of The Rebooted Body Podcast. Kevin helps men and women finally get a body and life they love with his unique blend of real food, functional movement, and psychology. To work with him personally, choose a program.