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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Most Alternative Medicine Celiac Disease and the Gluten-Free Diet Claims False or Misleading 

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Many practitioners of alternative medicine make marketing claims about diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). A team of researchers looked into those claims.


    Caption: Acupuncture points. Image: CC--Wikimedia Commons

    Celiac.com 05/29/2019 - Many practitioners of alternative medicine make marketing claims about diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)

    A team of researchers recently set out to assess the validity of marketing claims about diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) made by American chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists, and integrative medicine practitioners.

    The research team included Graham Boyer; Timothy Caulfield, BSc, LLB, LLM;  Peter H. R. Green, MD; and Benjamin Lebwohl, MD, MS. They are variously affiliated with the Department of Medicine, the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, New York, New York, USA; the Health Law Institute, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; and the Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.

    The team conducted a cross-sectional analysis of practitioner websites in ten US cities, looking for any mention of celiac or NCGS as well as specific claims of ability to diagnose, ability to treat, and treatment efficacy. The team then classified promoted treatments as true, false, or unproven, as assessed independently by two researchers.

    Out of 500 clinics identified by the team, 178 (35.6%) made a claim regarding celiac disease, NCGS, or a gluten-free diet. Websites for Naturopathic clinics showed the highest rates of advertising for diagnosis, treatment, or efficacy for celiac disease (40%), followed by integrative medicine clinics (36%), homeopaths (20%), acupuncturists (14%), and chiropractors (12%). 

    Integrative medicine clinics showed the highest rates of advertising for diagnosis, treatment, or efficacy for NCGS (45%), followed by naturopaths (37%), homeopaths (14%), chiropractors (14%), and acupuncturists (10%). They found no real differences in marketing rates from city to city. The team notes that, 138 of 232 marketing claims made by these complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) clinic websites were either false or unproven, that's nearly 60%. 

    However, the figure may be misleading. It is unclear why the abstract for the paper lumps together false claims with unproven claims, when the study clearly created separate categories and data for each. It gives the impression of some sleight of hand. How many were false, and how many were unproven. Remember false claims are almost always groundless, and have no basis in fact. Unproven claims may in fact prove to be true. There may be some basis or data to support unproven claims. That's not to say unproven claims are good, just that they are different from claims that are known to be false.

    By lumping together the numbers for false claims with those for unproven claims, and not clearly listing the data for each category in their abstract, the team does a disservice to their efforts, which is a pity, because the team's conclusions are sound: "A significant number of CAM clinics advertise diagnostic techniques or treatments for celiac disease or NCGS. Many claims are either false or unproven, thus warranting a need for increased regulation of CAM advertising to protect the public."

    Clearly better information and regulation of false or misleading advertising claims will be in the public's interest. However, so will more transparency in communication about the problem. Conflating data from separate categories may make for an alarming headline, but it doesn't tell the story accurately or clearly. Readers deserve to know the exact breakdown of false information compared to unproven information.

    That said, take advertising claims made by alternative health practitioners with a grain of salt. Do your research and know your facts.

    Read more in the American Journal of Gastroenterology: May 2019 - Volume 114 - Issue 5 - p 786–791
    doi: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000000238


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    Alternative Dr 's/practitioners I have seen or research use the term digestive issues. They do not use celiac/ncgs specifically. They do ask what your medical history/western diagnosis is,  but digestive issues and my gi symptoms or immune symptoms are what is discussed. personally I find most are compliant with regulatory "boxes" for Dr's terminology and use their particular industries terms appropritaly. The internet blog is where some alternative Dr's use western medical terms in my opinion. 

    I have used the alternative route for over 23 years dealing with my gi & immune issues. I was not diagnosed until 3 years ago by the 4th immunologist/allergist  including her gi team. When I left she knew I had used alternative years before to manage my misdiagnosis gi/back/inflammation  issues. She closed saying have you tried acupuncture you might find it helpful. 

    I personally think there is room in this world for both western and alternative disciplines. Most people who are open to alternative found their way there from need. Some practitioners have an us vs them thought process. I have seen a change over the past 23 years although slow. Attacking each other's industries/practices does not benefit the patient. 

     

    Edited by Awol cast iron stomach

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    It's also unclear how accurate alternative practitioners are at diagnosing.  Your article only mentions their marketing claims. 

     

    Celiac.com's forum is filled with members whose mainstream doctors pooh-poohed the idea that ingested gluten could cause their symptoms.  Many found relief only after an alternative practitioner suggested a gluten-free diet. 

    How can that be quantified when the study didn't look into whether a diet suggested by an alternative practitioner actually resulted in relief from serious symptoms? 

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    After being misdiagnosed by some six different M.D.'s, I finally went to an N.P.  He talked with me for about an hour asking questions and listening to my comments.  Finally, he said; "There is a disease called Celliac and I think this may be part of your problems.  We did the tests and I did indeed have Celiac.  I have been gluten free now for some 11 years and feel much, much better.  It took some time to heal the intestinal problems caused by Gluten.

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    On 6/3/2019 at 10:12 AM, Guest Allie said:

    It's also unclear how accurate alternative practitioners are at diagnosing.  Your article only mentions their marketing claims. 

     

    Celiac.com's forum is filled with members whose mainstream doctors pooh-poohed the idea that ingested gluten could cause their symptoms.  Many found relief only after an alternative practitioner suggested a gluten-free diet. 

    How can that be quantified when the study didn't look into whether a diet suggested by an alternative practitioner actually resulted in relief from serious symptoms? 

    Good points. Plus many of us get a variety of symptoms and if alternative helps then so be it. 

    9 hours ago, Guest vew573 said:

    After being misdiagnosed by some six different M.D.'s, I finally went to an N.P.  He talked with me for about an hour asking questions and listening to my comments.  Finally, he said; "There is a disease called Celliac and I think this may be part of your problems.  We did the tests and I did indeed have Celiac.  I have been gluten free now for some 11 years and feel much, much better.  It took some time to heal the intestinal problems caused by Gluten.

    So glad to hear it was identified and you were able to improve.

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    On 6/3/2019 at 8:12 AM, Guest Allie said:

    It's also unclear how accurate alternative practitioners are at diagnosing.  Your article only mentions their marketing claims. 

     

    Celiac.com's forum is filled with members whose mainstream doctors pooh-poohed the idea that ingested gluten could cause their symptoms.  Many found relief only after an alternative practitioner suggested a gluten-free diet. 

    How can that be quantified when the study didn't look into whether a diet suggested by an alternative practitioner actually resulted in relief from serious symptoms? 

    An excellent point. It currently takes up to ten years for an average patient to be diagnosed with celiac disease. If alternative practitioners can speed that along, then there seems to be little risk for the patient.

     

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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