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Is the gluten-free diet torture?

I am extremely annoyed by a recent article in Newsweek online where Dr. Peter Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, is quoted as saying, “I don’t think people should torture their children unnecessarily,” referring to people who put their children on a gluten-free diet without a diagnosis of celiac disease.

While I highly respect Dr. Green and Dr. Fasano, both quoted in the article, I really think that doctors need to start thinking outside the celiac box when it comes to gluten. They know that 1% of the population has celiac, defined by a blood test and biopsy. But can they know for sure that the other 99% of the population does NOT have a problem with gluten? No, they can’t know this, and they don’t know this.

Perhaps the celiac blood tests are actually doing more harm than good to a segment of the population that has some form of gluten intolerance but not the strictly defined celiac disease. Here’s why: Someone goes to his doctor, gets tested for celiac, tests negative, is told he doesn’t have celiac and therefore can eat gluten, and is sent on his merry (unfortunately, not so merry) way. How sad for those people who would feel better on a gluten-free diet — but won’t try it because the tests and the doctors tell them they don’t need it, and shouldn’t go on a gluten-free diet… because it is torture! Because fibromyalgia, headaches, sleep disorders, learning disabilities, and rashes are much better than a gluten-free diet.

I really don’t understand why a doctor wouldn’t say, “Sure, try it. See how you feel and let me know what happens.” What could it hurt? And how about autistic children? Dr. Fasano is quoted in the article as saying, with regards to autism, “I don’t think there’s too much scientific basis to justify [the] broad intervention of a gluten-free diet.” So what? It’s not like autism is scientifically based in the first place… the medical community doesn’t know why it happens or why it is increasing, but it is. Why not try the diet? If it helps any autistic children, doctors should suggest it or at least not discourage it.

“I’d rather have chemotherapy again than do a gluten-free diet.” This is what a 65 year old man said to me today after I suggested that an autoimmune disease he has (polymyalgia rheumatica — the same one my mom had before going gluten-free) could be helped by a gluten-free diet. He had been through chemotherapy for prostate cancer. What? Someone would choose chemotherapy over giving up wheat? That sounds absolutely crazy to me… I guess people have different ideas of torture!

Want to read more? Here’s another opinion on the article from a mother of a child with autism.

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