Celiac.com 07/30/2009 - Here is Dr. Ron Hoggan's response to Slate's unfortunate article "Throwing Out the Wheat" which was written by Daniel Engber:
Dear Mr. Engber,
“For every patient whose intestinal biopsy turns up positive, he says, nine or 10 more test clean but commit to going gluten-free all the same.”
This ratio is well established in the medical and scientific literature. The rate of gluten sensitivity, as measured by IgA and IgG antibodies against gliadin, (a protein family that is a sub-group of gluten) constitutes about 10% to 12% of the general population. That is about ten times the rate of celiac disease found in the general population.
These anti-gliadin antibodies (AGA) clearly demonstrate that gliadin proteins or derivative peptides are reaching the bloodstream and sensitizing the immune system to this foreign (non-self) protein. Many of these gluten sensitive individuals experience all of the same signs and symptoms as celiac patients.
Similarly, you state: “Since there's no way to "prove" a case of gluten-intolerance in the lab...”
This is grossly inaccurate. Although many practitioners will state that AGA are non-specific, I doubt that any of them would argue against the statement that the presence of AGA clearly indicates that gliadin or its fractions have managed to get into the bloodstream. When they say AGA are non-specific, they simply mean that these antibodies are not associated with any specific disease. They seem to be found in a wide range of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and behavioral/psychiatric disorders.
You also say: “If you're paying more attention to what you eat, there's a good chance your symptoms will lessen. That's not because gluten or red meat or another food is damaging your small intestine; it's because eating less makes it easier for your gut to recover.”
This assertion is based on a flawed assumption. Gluten-free foods are much more calorie-dense than those made with gluten. Thus, a common mistake made by those beginning a gluten-free diet is to eat about the same quantities they are used to eating. For instance, if one is in the habit of taking two sandwiches in their lunch, they are likely to pack two gluten free sandwiches. Since the gluten-free bread is much more nutrient dense. Increased nutrient densities apply to pasta, baked goods, and almost all gluten-free substitutes. Thus, the switch to eating a gluten-free diet usually leads to eating less, not more, as you claim in the above statement.
Later you state: “Chances are you'll have reduced your total intake of carbs, and thus the amount of Î±-amylase in your gut.” For the reasons stated above, this is also inaccurate.
You go on to say: “In other words, the mere fact of being on a gluten-free diet could make you more sensitive to grains and cereals—which would only reinforce your conviction that you're gluten-intolerant.”
I am not aware of any data indicating a reduction of alpha almylase in the context of a gluten free diet. I would be amazed if you can find any such data. It reflects an assumption about the production and function of amylase that appears indefensible to me.
The low carb craze has followed a very different path to the media, and began with a fellow named Banting in the 1800s whose doctors suggested a low carb diet to him as a means of losing weight. It worked, and he published a pamphlet about it. It saw a resurgence in the form of a ketogenic diet in the 1920s, at Johns Hopkins, as a treatment for epilepsy. Subsequent development of anti-seizure medications during the 1930s left the treatment without any patients, so it was abandoned until 1997 with the airing of First Do No Harm, a movie about one child’s plight and his parents’ struggle to find a treatment for his life threatening seizures.
Meanwhile, research suggested that the growth of insulin sensitive tumors might be stalled by a ketogenic diet, and various case reports and subsequent clinical trials both support that perspective and indicate that most folks won’t maintain such a boring diet.
The gluten-free diet was suggested by a concerned mom in 1932 and it was fully 18 years before Dr. Willem Karel Dickie’s doctoral thesis would be accepted and the world would begin to treat celiac disease with a gluten free diet.
I won’t bore you with the details of this evolution but there are many twists and turns to the story of gaining acceptance of a gluten-free diet for the effective treatment of celiac disease.
Both of these developments occurred quite separately. The two things they have in common are:
1. They both gained popular notice and support through the Internet, and;
2. They both defied conventional medical wisdom when they were first considered.
Your graph simply identifies the impact that the Internet has had on democratizing health care.
Your ill-informed attack on a gluten free diet is regrettable because it suggests it is a fad diet rather than a therapeutic one. At best, that will make it more difficult for people to get cooperation when trying to look after their own health by avoiding gluten. At worst, it will dissuade people from sticking to their diets if they believe your false assertion that gluten sensitivity cannot be identified in a lab. It can be, and is, on a very regular basis.
Your information on celiac disease was mostly well researched and solid, but you clearly did not put any thought or effort into finding out about gluten sensitivity (often called gluten intolerance). I wish you would correct some of this misinformation, as it is really misleading and potentially harmful.
Daniel Engber responded to the above email insisting that “it's impossible to prove gluten intolerance in the lab.” And that “Many of the strongest advocates for those with this condition describe it as one that can only be diagnosed by process of elimination. Or, to be more specific, by an elimination/reintroduction test.”
He also challenged me asking if
“All those who have AGA are gluten-intolerant?”
Then he said that he just doesn’t believe it.
Here is my reply:
July 31, 2009
Thanks for your response.
I don't know who these "strongest advocates" are, but your information about elimination/reintroduction testing being the only way gluten sensitivity is absolutely inaccurate. Check with any reputable blood testing lab that does IgA and/or IgG anti-gliadin antibody testing. They will set you right on this score.
The presence of AGA in the bloodstream is clear, incontrovertible evidence that the body is mounting an immune response against gluten. This antibody reflects a delayed-type food sensitivity that is sometimes erroneously called an allergy. This is gluten sensitivity. It may be transient, chronic, or permanent, but there can be no doubt that it reflects the condition that is referred to as gluten intolerance. Not everyone who is gluten sensitive will show these antibodies but, yes, everyone who shows these antibodies is gluten sensitive. It is a basic principle of immunology that elevated selective antibodies reflect prior or current exposure of these antigens to the bloodstream.
You must have spoken with Alessio Fasano to get that quote. Just ask him about AGA testing. He will tell you the same thing I'm telling you. I have discussed these and related matters with him at some length.
I think you are mistaken in your claim that you linked to anything that Joe Murray said. I'll be very surprised if he has said anywhere that a gluten-free diet leads to eating less (although he has repeatedly said it can cause weight loss in the context of celiac disease). Could you tell me where this link appears?
Nonetheless, even if the volume of food consumed is less (more on that in a moment) the increased caloric density would very likely be offset by the significant increase in caloric density of gluten-free foods. While Dr. Murray has treated and spoken with many more celiac than I have, I'd be willing to wager that I have observed many more of them while eating. :-)
Apparently I misunderstood your thesis. I took you to say that public awareness of low-carb/Atkin's dieting and gluten sensitivity followed a largely parallel path because they are both pop culture trends that reflect a kind of hysteria about nutrition that is not based on science. Thus, I offered some data showing that the rise in public awareness of these two nutritional perspectives are based on scientific insights and the rapid increase of public awareness of these issues in 2004 and 2006-2008 was probably the result of improved access to information on the Internet in combination with scientific discoveries during those periods. I should have detailed the discovery and development of serological tests for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity as well as the research that began to reverse the vilification of saturated fats at about the same time.
The vast majority of those eating a gluten-free are eating a very high carb diet. On this issue your article is quite misled and misleading. Please take the time to respond again, as I am most interested in that link to Joe Murray's comments. I also urge you to look at the significance and nature of AGA serum antibodies. Gluten sensitivity is readily demonstrated by these simple blood tests.
Monday, August 03, 2009 4:50 PM
Dan replied admitting that he had not, after all, linked to an article by Joe Murray. The link he apparently intended to put in was the following: http://www.montanaceliacsociety.com/physiciansmanual.htm
I responded with the following message:
Mon 8/3/2009 9:02 PM
I gave you the wrong url. Please try this one:
I'm wondering how you can continue to assert "it's impossible to prove gluten intolerance in the lab" when I have given you ample information to the contrary as well as directing you to blood testing labs (Great Smokies, Immuo, Imco Diagnostics, etc. etc.) that will verify my assertion. There is also a wealth of information in the peer reviewed medical literature supporting what I'm saying. I'd be happy to provide a list of relevant research reports if you are interested.
You don't mean to suggest that this quote from Joe Murray somehow justifies your above assertion do you? Just pick up a telephone and give him a call. I'm very confident that he will not support your notion that gluten sensitivity cannot be identified in the lab. Do remember that Dr. Murray is a sub-specialist in celiac disease. He may not be a big fan of assertions of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but he won't deny that the AGA blood tests establish immune sensitization and hence, gluten sensitivity. Rodney Ford and Marios Hadjivassiliou are a couple of other world renowned researchers who are reporting AGA as a significant marker of serious disease in the absence of celiac disease.
Your assertion that "it's impossible to prove gluten intolerance in the lab" was the lynchpin of your entire article. Without it, you may have to acknowledge that you have just discredited a group of people who, on the basis of solid science, are trying to improve their health. Yet you have set back their relationships with skeptical family members and friends based on your inadequate research.
I really do think that you owe these people a retraction or at least a statement that mitigates some of the damage your article is doing.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009 3:14 AM
Dan responded saying that he thought we were having a semantic argument. It became clear to me that he was confusing gluten sensitivity with gluten sensitive enteropathy – which is another name for celiac disease. He thought I was talking about latent celiac disease.
He insisted again that gluten intolerance is not defined by any standard such as celiac disease is. He went on to say:
“If you want to define "gluten intolerance" and/or "gluten sensitivity" so it applies to some subgroup of those who suffer from symptoms related to gluten, that's fine with me. I'm using the phrase "gluten intolerance" to describe all those who experience relief from the gluten-free diet without having been diagnosed with celiac.”
I responded with the following:
From: Ron Hoggan, Ed. D.
Tue 8/4/2009 11:01 AM
To: Daniel Engber
Subject: RE: Throwing Out the Wheat
It sounds like you may be confusing gluten sensitive enteropathy with gluten sensitivity. The former is a descriptive name for celiac disease, while the latter indicates an immune system sensitized to gliadin.
Selective antibodies are produced in response to foreign proteins or peptides that have breached a barrier (skin or mucosal) and are now present in the bloodstream or imbedded in self tissues. The immune system reacts as if these foreign proteins were bacterial invaders. (In fact, they are cytotoxic and neurotoxic but that is not at issue here (1, 2). If there was only one event during which gliadin proteins or peptides reached the circulation, as might be the case during a bout of flu, for instance, AGA levels usually diminish quite quickly. Thus, when a person shows elevated levels of AGA, the condition is usually chronic. It indicates that they are leaking gliadin proteins and/or peptides into the bloodstream. Celiac disease only afflicts between 10% and 15% of these people with elevated AGA. Serological tests for celiac disease identify endomysium antibodies (EMA) and tissue transglutaminase (tTG). There is no debate about the foregoing. It is common knowledge and is accepted by the vast majority of researchers and practitioners working in this area.
The controversy comes in when we ask what elevated AGAs mean. Many claim that it is a non-specific finding. That is, AGAs are not diagnostic for celiac disease or any other currently recognized disease. They are much more common among those with autoimmune diseases, AIDS, and several other groups, but they do not provide any clues that will help diagnose a particular illness. AGAs are also found in some apparently healthy individuals. The only condition for which they fairly specific is what is often called a "leaky gut". However, most practitioners do not recognize increased intestinal permeability as a disease entity. There is no debate regarding the connection between elevated AGAs and leakage of gliadin into the body. In the past, the debate has been about whether AGAs are diagnostic for any disease and whether a leaky gut is an issue of any real concern.
However, in the late 90s, researchers at U. Maryland, working to develop a cholera vaccine, found a protein messenger called zonulin. As its presence increases in the intestinal lumen, it relaxes the tight junctions between gut epithelial cells (3). Zonulin is overproduced by some individuals in response to gluten ingestion. It turns out that those with celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, and a variety of autoimmune diseases are particularly inclined to produce excessive quantities of zonulin in response to gluten ingestion (4).
Similarly, Marios Hadjivassiliou and his neurological research group at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield have found that AGA are elevated in more than half of all patients with neurological disease of unknown origin and only about a third of those have celiac disease. The remaining two thirds are simply gluten sensitive, as identified by AGA (5).
Variation in zonulin production, from one individual to another, is likely the factor that determines gluten sensitivity.
Gluten sensitivity does not identify celiac disease, latent celiac disease, or any other enteropathy that I'm familiar with. It identifies an immune system sensitized to gluten. Avoidance of gluten in such cases can help to avoid developing additional autoimmunity, just as it sometimes does in celiac disease, but current evidence suggests that it will usually not reverse it once that autoimmunity has begun.
The use of Rodney Ford's term "gluten syndrome"(2) might well have saved us considerable cyber ink, as we might have been able to begin by disagreeing about the value of a gluten free diet across the gluten syndrom spectrum, rather than taking several emails to determine that you were equating gluten sensitivity with celiac disease.
- Paganuzzi AS, Zucco F, Cardelli M, de Angelis I, Mattei R, Pino A, Rocca E, Zampaglioni F.Cytotoxic effects of wheat gliadin-derived peptides.Toxicology. 1985 Dec;37(3-4):225-32.
- Ford RP.The gluten syndrome: a neurological disease. Med Hypotheses. 2009 Sep;73(3):438-40. Epub 2009 Apr 29.
- Drago S, El Asmar R, Di Pierro M, Grazia Clemente M, Tripathi A, Sapone A, Thakar M, Iacono G, Carroccio A, D'Agate C, Not T, Zampini L, Catassi C, Fasano A. Gliadin, zonulin and gut permeability: Effects on celiac and non-celiac intestinal mucosa and intestinal cell lines.Scand J Gastroenterol. 2006 Apr;41(4):408-19.
- Visser J, Rozing J, Sapone A, Lammers K, Fasano A. Tight junctions, intestinal permeability, and autoimmunity: celiac disease and type 1 diabetes paradigms. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 May;1165:195-205.
- Hadjivassiliou M, Gibson A, Davies-Jones GA, Lobo AJ, Stephenson TJ, Milford-Ward A. Does cryptic gluten sensitivity play a part in neurological illness? Lancet. 1996 Feb 10;347(8998):369-71.
- Clemente MG, De Virgiliis S, Kang JS, Macatagney R, Musu MP, Di Pierro MR, Drago S, Congia M, Fasano A. Early effects of gliadin on enterocyte intracellular signalling involved in intestinal barrier function.Gut. 2003 Feb;52(2):218-23.
I should have added that since Dan was using the phrase gluten intolerance “to describe all those who experience relief from the gluten-free diet without having been diagnosed with celiac,” he has defeated his own argument. If a person has symptoms and they get relief from a gluten free diet, they would have to be pretty self destructive, foolish, or self-indulgent to go back to eating gluten.
In a private email I received from another person, he said: “After reading his original article I had the distinct feeling that a girlfriend of his (or friend/relative) had gone on a gluten-free diet and had recently dumped him--maybe because he wasn't so supportive of this change...but I don't have any proof... ”
I am most inclined to agree with this poster’s suspicions.
Finally, I forwarded a copy of the letter titled: “Is gliadin really safe for non-coeliac individuals? Production of interleukin 15 in biopsy culture from non-coeliac individuals challenged with gliadin peptides” by D Bernardo1, J A Garrote2, L Fernández-Salazar3, S Riestra4, E Arranz5 from Gut 2007;56:889-890; doi:10.1136/gut.2006
These investigators report that “gluten elicits its harmful effect” on all the individuals they studied, not just those with celiac disease. I believe that Jefferson Adams has written a detailed account of this research that appears elsewhere on celiac.com.
Although Mr. Engber declined to give me permission to publicly post his emails, and hence, his side of this discussion, I have invited Dan to respond to the above on celiac.com, as I would like to give him every opportunity to either provide some evidence to support his unfortunate claims about non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or to retract his damaging comments in the original article he penned. Although I have been a little rough on him, I do hope he will present his side of this debate, as it is of great importance to many individuals who must negotiate with friends and relatives to safeguard their health.
These people would not dream of casually scattering rat poison on food to be served to a loved one. However, they seem to feel imposed upon by those who are gluten sensitive, because they do not want gluten scattered on their food. This attitude is just as inappropriate and sometimes, just as dangerous as scattering rat poison on food.