When did we all develop problems with gluten? Slate considered this question a couple of months ago. The article links to a five year old article in USA Today with a quote from the executive director of the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America, “Marketers estimate that 15% to 25% of consumers want gluten-free foods — though doctors estimate just 1% have celiac disease, the best-defined and most severe form of gluten intolerance.” The Well blog of the New York Times also took on the issue of gluten intolerance vs. a health delusion based on a fad.
The vast majority of people who have problems with gluten are self-diagnosed. I know several people who are gluten intolerant, and I’m not impolite enough to ask to see a doctor’s note when they choose something other than my baked goods. Are these self-diagnosed people making a trendy health choice based on medical rumor and the placebo effect, or are they displaying agency and individual awareness of their symptoms that the medical system doesn’t recognize? From the Slate article:
… a randomized, blinded trial in Italy just showed that one-third of patients with gluten intolerance clearly felt better with gluten-free diets, which confirmed “a distinct clinical condition.” (Since most people can tell wheat-containing baked goods from their gluten-free substitutes, the investigators cleverly had all patients follow gluten-free diets and then take capsules containing either gluten or a placebo.)
Personally, if someone chooses and can afford to eat a gluten-free diet, and it makes him or her feel better, I don’t care whether the condition is “really real” or not. It gets a bit challenging trying to accommodate every dietary restriction, but viva la potluck. What do you think?