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  • Dr. Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.
    Dr. Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

    Dr. Ron Hoggan Responds to The Atlantic's Article: A Gluten-Free Diet Reality Check

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    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). 

    Dr. Ron Hoggan Responds to The Atlantic's Article: A Gluten-Free Diet Reality CheckThere 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.

    Sources:

    1. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/print/2012/01/a-gluten-free-diet-reality-check/250750/
    2. Reilly NR, Aguilar K, Hassid BG, Cheng J, Defelice AR, Kazlow P, Bhagat G, Green PH. Celiac disease in normal-weight and overweight children: clinical features and growth outcomes following a gluten-free diet. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2011 Nov;53(5):528-31.
    3. Cheng J, Brar PS, Lee AR, Green PH. Body mass index in celiac disease: beneficial effect of a gluten-free diet. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2010 Apr;44(4):267-71.
    4. Murray JA, Watson T, Clearman B, Mitros F. Effect of a gluten-free diet on gastrointestinal symptoms in celiac disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Apr;79(4):669-73.
    5. Whiteley P, Haracopos D, Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Parlar S, Jacobsen J, Seim A, Pedersen L, Schondel M, Shattock P. The ScanBrit randomised, controlled, single-blind study of a gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Nutr Neurosci. 2010 Apr;13(2):87-100.
    6. Reichelt KL, Knivsberg AM. The possibility and probability of a gut-to-brain connection in autism. Ann Clin Psychiatry. 2009 Oct-Dec;21(4):205-11.
    7. Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Høien T, Nødland M. A randomised, controlled study of dietary intervention in autistic syndromes. Nutr Neurosci. 2002 Sep;5(4):251-61.
    8. Cascella NG, Kryszak D, Bhatti B, Gregory P, Kelly DL, Mc Evoy JP, Fasano A, Eaton WW. Prevalence of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity in the United States clinical antipsychotic trials of intervention effectiveness study population. Schizophr Bull. 2011 Jan;37(1):94-100.
    9. De Santis A, Addolorato G, Romito A, Caputo S, Giordano A, Gambassi G, Taranto C, Manna R, Gasbarrini G. Schizophrenic symptoms and SPECT abnormalities in a coeliac patient: regression after a gluten-free diet. J Intern Med. 1997 Nov;242(5):421-3.
    10. Dohan FC, Grasberger JC, Lowell FM, Johnston HT Jr, Arbegast AW. Relapsed schizophrenics: more rapid improvement on a milk- and cereal-free diet. Br J Psychiatry. 1969 May;115(522):595-6..
    11.  Singh MM, Kay SR. Wheat gluten as a pathogenic factor in schizophrenia. Science. 1976 Jan 30;191(4225):401-2.
    12. Hadjivassiliou M, Kandler RH, Chattopadhyay AK, Davies-Jones AG, Jarratt JA, Sanders DS, Sharrack B, Grünewald RA. Dietary treatment of gluten neuropathy. Muscle Nerve. 2006 Dec;34(6):762-6.
    13. Hadjivassiliou M, Rao DG, Wharton SB, Sanders DS, Grünewald RA, Davies-Jones AG.Sensory ganglionopathy due to gluten sensitivity. Neurology. 2010 Sep 14;75(11):1003-8.
    14. Turner MR, Chohan G, Quaghebeur G, Greenhall RC, Hadjivassiliou M, Talbot K. A case of celiac disease mimicking amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Nat Clin Pract Neurol. 2007 Oct;3(10):581-4.
    15. Niederhofer H, Pittschieler K. A preliminary investigation of ADHD symptoms in persons with celiac disease. J Atten Disord. 2006 Nov;10(2):200-4.
    16. Zelnik N, Pacht A, Obeid R, Lerner A. Range of neurologic disorders in patients with celiac disease. Pediatrics. 2004 Jun;113(6):1672-6.
    17. Rodrigo L, Hernández-Lahoz C, Fuentes D, Alvarez N, López-Vázquez A, González S. Prevalence of celiac disease in multiple sclerosis. BMC Neurol. 2011 Mar 7;11:31.
    18. Malalasekera V, Cameron F, Grixti E, Thomas MC. Potential reno-protective effects of a gluten-free diet in type 1 diabetes. Diabetologia. 2009 May;52(5):798-800. Epub 2009 Feb 14.
    19. Iuorio R, Mercuri V, Barbarulo F, D'Amico T, Mecca N, Bassotti G, Pietrobono D, Gargiulo P, Picarelli A. Prevalence of celiac disease in patients with autoimmune thyroiditis. Minerva Endocrinol. 2007 Dec;32(4):239-43.
    20. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article444290.ece
    21. Quiñones-Galvan A, Lifshitz-Guinzberg A, Ruíz-Arguelles GJ. Gluten-free diet for AIDS-associated enteropathy. Ann Intern Med. 1990 Nov 15;113(10):806-7
    22. Evans KE, Leeds JS, Sanders DS. Be vigilant for patients with coeliac disease. Practitioner. 2009 Oct;253(1722):19-22, 2.
    23. Mozo L, Gómez J, Escanlar E, Bousoño C, Gutiérrez C. Diagnostic Value of Anti-Deamidated Gliadin Peptide Igg Antibodies for Celiac Disease in Children and Iga Deficient Patients. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2011 Dec 23.
    24. Wang N, Shen N, Vyse TJ, Anand V, Gunnarson I, Sturfelt G, Rantapää-Dahlqvist S, Elvin K, Truedsson L, Andersson BA, Dahle C, Ortqvist E, Gregersen PK, Behrens TW, Hammarström L. Selective IgA deficiency in autoimmune diseases. Mol Med. 2011 Aug 4.

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    Thank you for this article. I also thought that the "The Atlantic" piece was so sloppy. The author just spun out some very dated research and dismissed a medical condition that obviously does not affect anyone in her family. Joel Klein of "Newsweek" also ridiculed gluten intolerance but then guess what? Klein's son developed the condition. His son's stomach pain was greatly reduced by cutting out gluten. It is sad journalists try so hard to play the role of the tough skeptic, rather than approaching this subject with an open mind.

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    Guest Wendy Cohan, RN

    Posted

    Thank you for such a well-written concise response to the Atlantic article. As a celiac disease educator, people are always sending me articles, and I find that the mainstream media almost ALWAYS gets it wrong. Thank you especially for taking the time to include the references. Great job!

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    As someone who suffers from severe gluten intolerance--and who manages it by refraining from eating gluten--I was very disheartened to read this article. And it was published in a prominent magazine in which many people are going to read her unsupported claims and bingo! Now everyone who is on a gluten-free diet who doesn't have celiac disease is going to be suspect and made fun of, not to mention, the road we have to hoe to get allopathic doctors to take us seriously is further undermined. We don't need biased pieces like this published in national magazines.

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    Unfortunately, and scary enough that most MD's are not educated in the changing face of celiac and the impact of gluten on some folks without celiac. Drs. Green (Columbia) and Leffler (Beth Israel Boston) have new, great books out on celiac disease, but they need to focus on getting more professional journal pieces out to educate their (I will say it ignorant colleagues). Let's face it, the MD's don't want to admit that for decades the holistic docs have had it right regarding the dangers of gluten for many folks.

     

    When I see the negativity of testing for celiac (most folks are afraid to ask) and the ignorance about the tests to do or how to interpret these among many in the medical community, I always think about the great researcher Dr. Judah Folkman and how his theory of cancer tumors and angiogenesis was ridiculed widely by the medical community. He would have colleagues laugh out loud, yell things to him, and walk out of his presentations at medical conferences. This is the mentality we are dealing with until the MD experts in this area educate their colleagues sufficiently. I see the author of this piece on par with most of the medical community today regarding celiac and gluten sensitivity/intolerance.

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  • About Me

    As co-author of "Dangerous Grains" and "Cereal Killers", 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 our existence. Sure, the impact of gluten 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 am a retired school teacher. Over the last decade, I have done some college and university level teaching, but the bulk of my teaching career was spent working with high school students. My Web page is: www.DangerousGrains.com

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