Back in 2011, Peter Gibson, a gastroenterologist, conducted a study that found that gluten caused “gastrointestinal distress” in people without celiac disease. Gibson’s research was trumpeted far and wide by the kind of people who you never go out to dinner with. The thing is, Gibson only ever did the one study, and he found his results kind of suspicious. So he did a far more detailed one, and guess what? Turns out he was wrong the first time!
Gibson’s skepticism was reasonable: Gluten is a fairly harmless little protein, after all. The study is entitled “No effects of gluten in patients with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity after dietary reduction of fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates.” Which really should say it all, but here’s the results, fresh from the abstract:
In all participants, gastrointestinal symptoms consistently and significantly improved during reduced FODMAP intake, but significantly worsened to a similar degree when their diets included gluten or whey protein. Gluten-specific effects were observed in only 8% of participants. There were no diet-specific changes in any biomarker. During the 3-day rechallenge, participants’ symptoms increased by similar levels among groups. Gluten-specific gastrointestinal effects were not reproduced. An order effect was observed.
How meticulous was this study? So meticulous that Gibson collects the poop of all his subjects and tested it. So meticulous he fed them a carefully designed diet for days. This was the fussiest, most scientific nutrition study we’ve seen in a while, which admittedly isn’t saying very much, but still, the guy did his homework and thus is probably legit.
Keep in mind, we’re not talking about celiac disease, here. Celiac disease is very much a real and terrible thing. We’re talking about “Oh, I’ve stopped eating gluten, because I have a ‘sensitivity.'”
So, what about all those stories about how your friend’s coworker stopped eating gluten and magically stopped farting and also their poop became gold? Well, Gibson has an answer for that: “Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols”, better known as FODMAPs. They’re short-chain molecules you find in pretty much everything. And their connection to gastrointestinal distress is pretty well established, being that they wreak ungodly fecal hell on those suffering irritable bowel syndrome. In fact, a lot of “gluten-free” products are what people with IBS will be eating well after this annoying fad dies.
Guess what you also happen to cut down on, when you cut down on gluten? Yup: FODMAPs. In fact, that was the thrust of Gibson’s study.
In short, if you think you have celiac disease, go to a doctor and get tested. Otherwise, you probably don’t have it, so stop sending your food back. You’re embarrassing everyone at the table, and the waitstaff is spitting in your food.