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Is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity for Real?

Many people without Celiac disease feel better when they avoid gluten. But it turns out that gluten may have nothing to do with it. Nutrition Diva explores the latest research.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
October 30, 2013
Episode #257

Page 1 of 2

As I'm sure you've noticed, gluten-free diets have become wildly popular, even among those who do not have Celiac disease. With all the models and actresses insisting that shedding gluten keeps them thin and top tennis pros claiming that avoiding gluten improves their stamina, it's no wonder that gluten-free has become a major diet trend.

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Despite all this, many experts insist that there is no reason for people without Celiac disease to avoid gluten. For one thing, avoiding gluten does not automatically lead to weight loss. Many people, in fact, gain weight when they go gluten-free, for reasons I explored in my episode on gluten-free diets. Cutting out wheat and other gluten-containing grains can also increase the risk of certain nutrient deficiencies if you're not paying attention. Suffice it to say that a gluten-free diet is not automatically a healthy diet - nor is it a cure-all. 

See also: Pros and Cons of Gluten-Free Diets

Many people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) find that their symptoms improve on a gluten-free diet--even when they do not have Celiac disease. 

 

On the other hand, many people who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) find that their symptoms improve on a gluten-free diet - even when they do not have Celiac disease. This is so common, in fact, that the medical profession has assigned a name to the phenomenon: Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). But an interesting new study finds that gluten may not be the culprit after all. 

The study design and findings are a little complex and difficult to sum up in a catchy sound-byte. But with all the hoopla about gluten these days, I think it's worth describing this study in a bit of detail, so that you can really understand the implications. 

Is a FODMAP Diet Better than Gluten-Free Diet?

Gluten Free Meal Plans

For this study, researchers recruited IBS patients who did not have Celiac disease but appeared to be sensitive to gluten. These patients were already following a gluten-free diet because it helped reduce their symptoms. For the study, they were asked to switch to a low FODMAP diet instead.  On a low FODMAP diet, you avoid a particular list of fruits, vegetables, and grains - including wheat. The idea isn't to avoid gluten (which is a protein), but rather to avoid certain fibers and other carbohydrates that are difficult to digest. 

See also: What Is the FODMAP Diet?

 

Even though they were already doing pretty well on a low-gluten diet, all of the subjects reported significant improvement on the low FODMAPs diet. So far, so good! Then, the researchers introduced either gluten, whey protein, or a placebo containing no protein at all. At this point, a lot of people's symptoms got worse. But gluten was no more likely to produce symptoms than whey or placebo.

Then, they did something very interesting.....

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