As far as reputations go, gluten’s has gone from bad to worse.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the first scientific evidence showing that eating gluten—a protein found in certain grains, particularly wheat—can set off “a distinct reaction” in the intestines and immune systems of people. The findings weren’t about people with full-blown, auto-immune celiac disease—they were about folks with a mere sensitivity.
And that number, according to Susan Blum, M.D., the director of the Blum Center for Health in Rye, New York, is approximately one in 20 Americans.
Part of the problem, explains Frank Lipman, M.D., a functional medicine expert, is that there’s a higher gluten content in modern wheat, which makes gluten sensitivity more prevalent than it once was. (He can’t say exactly if that’s just in the U.S., though he does add that many of his patients go to Europe and “eat tons of bread” and don’t have the same reaction.)
Whatever the global prevalence, that reaction he speaks of is bad, including everything from chronic fatigue, aches and pains, and gastrointestinal problems to what Dr. Lipman describes as a “general vague feeling of un-wellness.” In the long-term, he says, gluten can lead to host of diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, as well as depression and osteoporosis—”the list goes on and on.”
So what should you do if you suspect you have a problem? Dr. Blum suggests going to a trained physician who can supervise you in eliminating gluten from your diet to assess whether or not it’s at the root of your issue.
And Dr. Lipman adds that those very gluten-free trials are what add to the buzz around the dangers of gluten. “So many people are eliminating gluten for a few weeks and noticing the difference,” he says. “People feel better and they tell their friends.” —Catherine Pearson
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