Gluten-free Diets: Are They for Everyone?

Should wheat be your biggest dietary worry? Dr. Art Hister discusses the growing popularity and potential effects of gluten-free diets

Credit: iTinette

It’s somewhat easy to diagnose celiac disease, but there are no reliable tests for gluten sensitivity

Will banishing wheat from your diet bring you all the health benefits touted by a growing number of gluten-free proponents?

According to a Twitter post by that well-educated physician Miley Cyrus, if you switch to a fully gluten-free (GF) diet, “the change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing.” And for who don’t know what gluten is, it’s a protein in rye, barley and wheat.

So when you go GF, you must avoid anything made with regular flour, such as bread, cake, pasta and many other things you’d be surprised to learn also contain gluten (most soy sauces, beer, lunchmeats, even some ice creams).

Many people claim to have discovered better health by abandoning wheat products, but are all these people imagining their wheat-related symptoms? Or have they really found the path to wellness? Would everyone, then, feel better by curtailing their gluten intake?

Celiac Disease and Related Conditions

I was diagnosed with celiac disease (CD) — an autoimmune toxic reaction to ingesting gluten — in 1974, back when no one knew much about CD, let alone gluten. This forced me to become a GF expert to stay well, since untreated CD is related to a significantly higher rate of other autoimmune conditions (MS, Type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, etc.), as well as some cancers, all of which has kept me pretty strict about staying GF all these years.

So here’s the single answer to those above questions: We have no idea.

Although it’s somewhat “easy” to diagnose CD (a positive blood screening test followed with a small bowel biopsy, one of those things which, like opera, is better left for someone else to enjoy), we have no reliable tests for gluten “sensitivity.” So if you think you’re sensitive to gluten, no one can tell you that you aren’t.

Consequences of Going Gluten-Free

But then it’s important to ask, “Are there negative consequences to giving up gluten?”

Despite the protestations of GF proselytizers like Dr. Cyrus, there are several potential drawbacks to going GF, including:

  1. A limitation on where you can dine because depending on how strictly you follow a GF diet, you may be able to eat out in only one or two establishments. (Here are some tips for dining out gluten-free).
  2. You can become quite neurotic (I’ve witnessed restaurant servers being positively grilled by a new GF adherent).

Otherwise, eating GF isn’t hard. In fact, there is one rarely mentioned terrific benefit: Because you have to read food labels much more carefully, you become much more conscious of the stuff (that’s the polite term) they put in lots of the food you eat. 

Dr. Art Hister is a medical writer and health analyst for Global TV.

Originally published in TVW. For daily programming updates and on-screen Entertainment news, subscribe to the free TVW e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.