Gluten has become a nutritional buzzword, as diet fads and food and health trends have put the protein found in wheat in the spotlight. Sufferers of celiac disease, a digestive disease that causes gluten intolerance, have real cause to avoid gluten, as exposure to even tiny amounts can trigger severe complications; but the anti-gluten trend has also made a big impact among those with no allergy to the protein.
People who have no known health condition aggravated by gluten have been adopting a gluten-free diet on the perception that it’s healthier, and that even non-celiac individuals experience adverse effects from gluten. There’s even a term for it: non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). But recent research has questioned whether NCGS is a real condition.
The anti-gluten craze is no mere diet fad. It’s actually based in scientific research: for example, a 2011 study of gluten sensitivity found that individuals without celiac disease appeared to experience more gastrointestinal issues and tiredness on a gluten diet compared with those on a gluten-free diet.
Researchers from the above study, however, didn’t uncover how gluten might be causing these issues and have since questioned their results. They’ve recently released findings from another study, in which they’ve concluded that gluten might not be the cause of gastrointestinal and other issues among people without celiac disease. When a number of people who identified themselves as having NCGS followed a gluten-free diet, the symptoms they or a healthcare provider had blamed on gluten didn’t improve. Based on this study, it appears that some of the issues we’ve associated with gluten may in fact be caused by other food sensitivities.
What does this mean for you? If you haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease but truly feel better on a gluten-free diet, you may want to stick with that plan. On the other hand, those who have been avoiding gluten because of general health claims may want to take a second look at the issue. If you’re experiencing symptoms that you think may be associated with gluten, the best idea is to visit your doctor and consider all possible dietary causes before you remove gluten from your meal plan.
 Biesiekierski JR, Newnham ED, Irving PM, et al. Gluten Causes Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Subjects without Celiac Disease: A Double-Blind Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. American Journal of Gastroenterology [early online publication]. January 11, 2011.
 Biesiekierski JR, Newnham ED, Shepherd SJ, et al. Characterization of Adults with a Self-Diagnosis of Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity. Nutrition in Clinical Practice [early online publication]. April 16, 2014.