Clues to Gluten Sensitivity

By Melinda Beck, Wall Street Journal Health Journal, March 15, 2011

Lisa Rayburn felt dizzy, bloated and exhausted. Wynn Avocette suffered migraines and body aches. Stephanie Meade’s 4-year-old daughter had constipation and threw temper tantrums.

Some people claim that eating gluten products can cause health problems like body aches and chronic fatigue — and even some behavioral problems in children. WSJ’s Melinda Beck talks with Kelsey Hubbard about a new study that sheds light on what may be going on.

All three tested negative for celiac disease, a severe intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains. But after their doctors ruled out other causes, all three adults did their own research and cut gluten—and saw the symptoms subside.

A new study in the journal BMC Medicine may shed some light on why. It shows gluten can set off a distinct reaction in the intestines and the immune system, even in people who don’t have celiac disease.

“For the first time, we have scientific evidence that indeed, gluten sensitivity not only exists, but is very different from celiac disease,” says lead author Alessio Fasano, medical director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research.

The news will be welcome to people who have suspected a broad range of ailments may be linked to their gluten intake, but have failed to find doctors who agree.

“Patients have been told if it wasn’t celiac disease, it wasn’t anything. It was all in their heads,” says Cynthia Kupper, executive director of the nonprofit Gluten Intolerance Group of North America.

The growing market for gluten-free foods, with sales estimated at $2.6 billion last year, has made it even harder to distinguish a medical insight from a fad.

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