As co-author of a new book titled "Cereal Killers" slated for release in the fall of 2009, the study of the impact of gluten continues to be a driving passion in my life.
I am fascinated by the way that gluten induces illness and impedes learning while it alters mood, behavior, and a host of other facets of human existence. Sure, gluten's impact on health is an important issue, but that is only the most obvious area of impact. Mood disturbances, learning disabilities, and the loss of quality of life due to psychiatric and neurological illness are even more tragic than the plethora of physical ailments that are caused or worsened by gluten. The further I go down this rabbit hole, the more I realize that grains are a good food for ruminants - not people. I teach at the Royal Roads University, Continuing Studies.
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Celiac.com 01/05/2012 - I was disappointed to read this opinion article in The Atlantic (titled: A Gluten-Free Diet Reality Check) when there are three U.S. studies demonstrating that about half of overweight and obese children and/or adults with newly diagnosed celiac disease lose weight following institution of a gluten free diet (GFD) (2,3,4). Some of these researchers make statements such as “The GFD has a beneficial effect upon the BMI [body mass index] of overweight children with celiac disease” after following 27 children who, at diagnosis, were overweight or obese (2). Similarly, Cheng et al reported that “A GFD had a beneficial impact on BMI, underweight patients gained weight and overweight/obese patients lost weight” (3). Murray et al report that only 30% of their obese patients with celiac lost weight after six months of following a gluten free diet (4).
There isn’t much ambiguity in any of these three studies conducted by three separate groups of reputable medical scientists and published in the peer reviewed medical and scientific literature. Clearly, the gluten free diet is an effective weight loss tool for some of the individuals investigated. Yet Fontenot asserts that “there is no evidence that gluten-free foods promote weight loss….” (1). Exactly what evidence does she want?
She goes on to say that “The only condition that necessitates a gluten free diet is celiac disease” (1). Yet she previously states, when discussing several other conditions that have been connected with gluten that “the research shows mixed results” (1). Surely the “mixed results” suggests that there is evidence that at least some cases benefit from a gluten free diet.
Neither does the notion of ‘necessity’ apply to celiac disease. A person with celiac disase can consume gluten. They may place their health at risk by so doing, but that applies equally to those individuals with other conditions that have been shown to benefit from a gluten free diet. So the distinction she makes is, at best, one of degree.
For decades many highly regarded investigators have published test results clearly showing that a gluten free diet is beneficial in the conditions listed by Ms. Fontenot, as well as many other ailments. These range from autism (5,6,7) to schizophrenia (8,9,10,11) to a variety of neurological (12,13,14) conditions to attention deficit disorder (15,16), to many other forms of autoimmunity (17,18,19), learning disabilities (20) and even to AIDS patients (21).
Ms. Fontenot even asserts that “A person with celiac disease has increased levels of certain autoantibodies circulating in their blood due to their intake of gluten”(1). Again, she overlooks seronegative celiac disease which is frequently seen in the context of IgA deficiency (22, 23, 24) and may be present in many other contexts.
Opinion pieces are probably easier to write when ignoring relevant facts. In this case, the overwhelming body of personal bias that drives Ms. Fontenot’s article is offered in the absence of a single supporting research finding and only one other professional opinion which is offered by one of Ms. Fontenot’s colleagues. She certainly hasn’t let the facts get in the way of her story, but it is deeply disturbing to discover that The Atlantic has chosen to republish this unsupported rant.