While those with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to reject wheat gluten, are still likely to suffer from consumption of wheat gluten, the presence of a gluten sensitivity in non-celiac individuals likely not does not actually exist.
The Journal of Gastroenterology published a study last year by the team who originally documented the non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The new study tested 37 patients who had self-identified as gluten-sensitive and found that patients reported gastrointestinal pain and discomfort whether they were eating a diet with added gluten or a placebo diet, providing reason to believe non-celiac gluten allergies could be just a myth.
Celiac Disease Villi Diagram
Testing for Hypochondria
Hypochondria, a condition characterized by an abnormal anxiety or fear of illness or disease, causes its sufferers to believe they feel symptoms that may not exist. A similar phenomenon is often referenced as the placebo effect, in which people being tested believe they feel effects associated with a substance that isn't actually present in what they are consuming during trials. Use of the placebo effect has become a popular standard for control in pharmaceutical testing.
The team conducting the testing were researching specifically if non-celiac individuals were receiving a benefit from eliminating gluten from their diets to find out if gluten allergies are real. The number of Americans who consume gluten-free products has risen over 50% since 2013, and many grocery stores and food chains have taken advantage by including gluten-free food sections in their aisles and on their menus. However, the market has grown to a greater degree than the number of people who have found relief in gluten-free diets.
How Do We Know that Gluten Is Okay?
Though the study was small, 37 patients were all fed 1 of 3 diets, which included:
· A high-gluten diet of 16 added grams of gluten
· A low-gluten diet of 2 added grams of gluten and 14 added grams of whey protein isolate
· A placebo diet of 16 added grams of whey protein
The whey protein diet was also tested to ensure that it was not a cause of gluten sensitivity symptoms.
The most shocking finding was that in both the low-gluten diet and the placebo diet, patients reported a worsening of symptoms. Their reports signify that gluten was not the cause of their discomfort, but it still doesn't prove whether patients were imagining symptoms or if there was another set of ingredients causing them to feel ill. More research must be conducted to find the ultimate truth about gluten intolerance and whether it even exists.
If patients really were experiencing pain and discomfort in their gastrointestinal tract, the experiment suggests that it is more likely the fault of FODMAPs, which are short-chain carbohydrates present as food additives or occurring naturally in some foods. Common additives like fructose and sorbitol are FODMAPs, all of which are difficult to digest and could cause a digestive reaction in the stomach or intestine.
Is Gluten Sensitivity Real?
As of now, it seems that it is not. However, both the initial study that claimed the existence of gluten sensitivity and the follow-up study that debunked it were small and provided little in the way of solid data. Though there's still a possibility that wheat gluten can have an effect on some non-celiac individuals, at this point it does not seem like gluten allergies are real.