The Gluten-Free Debate: Is This The Next Trans-Fat Mistake?

The Gluten-Free Debate: Is This The Next Trans-Fat Mistake?

The zealous approach that the CBC and other media are taking to discredit the Gluten-Free movement is a display of bad journalism. Months ago CBC Marketplace looked at Gluten-Free foods in a show called “Is Gluten-Free Healthier: The Truth Behind the Trend”. Host/Journalist Tom Harrington had one key message in that show: that Gluten-Free (GF) is only necessary for people who have Celiac Disease (CD). The show also concluded that people who choose to eat GF foods (or simply to live GF) to feel better may actually be putting their health at greater risk. The show implied the only test to justify a person’s decision to adopt the GF diet is the testing for CD, namely blood tests and intestinal biopsy. Finally Harrington and his guest “expert” said there isn’t any scientific justification for GF diets in any other conditions, and specifically stated the example of Autism.

If journalism, as I understand it, is supposed to present an unbiased account of the topic being explored, then Tom Harrington has certainly failed, and other media compounded it. Another CBC example of the anti-GF agenda aired on The Fifth Estate on February 27, 2015. In this article I intend to demonstrate the media, medical establishment and a vast percentage of the Canadian population are ignoring new information that shows (and proves) that there are undetected gluten allergies, sensitivities or intolerances that cause people to live GF. People who live or advocate for GF and who do not have CD are criticized and ridiculed for doing something unnecessary and possibly harmful. FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) does not have a place in health matters, especially when evidence indicates that another explanation is plausible.

Like the debate in the 1500’s over whether the world was round or flat (where Christopher Columbus had to prove that the world wasn’t flat) those who suffer ill-effects from eating gluten have to fight back to prove that you DON’T have to suffer from CD to be affected by gluten.

A more recent example of where science took too long to prove and gain acceptance to another food-industry mistake involves Trans-Fats. Most people now know that trans-fats are not good for humans, and can increase their risk for cardiovascular disease. Since 2005/06 the government established guidelines to reduce or eliminate the use of trans-fats in foods. A search of Medline (aka Pubmed, the information database of the National Institutes of Health) for “Trans fatty acids AND cardiovascular disease” results in a listing of 743 studies published in peer-reviewed journals. The earliest study showing the negative connection between trans-fats and heart disease was 1975, in the journal Atherosclerosis (1975 Nov-Dec; 22(3):499-516). The title of the paper was, “Relationship between the type of dietary fatty acid and arterial thrombosis tendency in rats”. In the 1970’s the theory in the medical and food industries was that margarine (made from trans-fats) would be “heart healthy” compared to a diet that contained saturated fats from meats and butter. This study stated:

“…the results indicated that the thromobgenicity of the saturated fatty acids increases with their chain length. As for the anti-thrombotic effect of cis fatty acids and their trans isomers, no obvious differences have been observed. Almost identical results were obtained when thrombogenicity was related to either absorption or composition of the dietary fatty acids.”

In simple English, this study said that trans-fats were as likely to cause heart disease as saturated fats. Unfortunately it took another 30 years of reproducing studies and lobbying to get governments and the medical industry to acknowledge that trans-fats were bad and should be reduced and eliminated. Millions of people were eating trans-fats for another 30 years, unaware that doing so placed them at risk.


For some reason, when millions of people claim that living GF helps them feel better or lose weight, that their depression has decreased or their Irritable Bowel Syndrome is reduced – the “experts” say they are wrong and are making a mistake. The media and the “experts” are making the mistake because they won’t look at the

Please consider the following to educate yourself about the pro-GF argument. First consider the following information about allergies:

  1. An allergy is defined as “an abnormal reaction of the body to a previously encountered allergen (aka antigen) introduced by inhalation, ingestion, injection or skin contact”. The body responds by producing antibodies that will recreate an allergic response whenever the person is exposed to the allergen again. These antibodies are also known as immunoglobulins (Ig’s). Seasonal allergies like hayfever are confirmed by tests that initiate an IgE response. IgE antibodies are also produced to foods such as dairy and peanuts. Other allergy reactions can be determined by the detection of IgG and IgA antibodies as demonstrated in this study:Nutr Clin Pract.2010 Apr;25(2):192-8“Among modalities used by many conventional and alternative practitioners, immunoglobulin G (IgG)-based testing showed promise, with clinically meaningful results. It has been proven useful as a guide for elimination diets, with clinical impact for a variety of diseases.“
    • IgG gliadin is one of the biomarkers doctors can use to confirm a diagnosis of celiac disease. This means that the person has an IgG allergy (also called sensitivity) to gliadin.
    • Many celiac patients also have IgG gluten antibodies as well.
    • Based on my clinical practice, a large proportion of the Canadian population will have a positive test result for IgG gluten.

    When I began my practice in 1997/98, patients often tested positive for wheat in their Food Sensitivity tests, but gluten was normal. In the past decade I have noticed an increasing trend to see both foods/food items being positive on the test.

    This causes me to wonder “what’s changing?” and “Why doesn’t the medical establishment want to check this out more?”

  2. Gluten is a known trigger or irritant for a subset of Autistic children, which has been proven by research.J Child Neurol 2010, 25:114 (Genuis SJ and Bouchard TP). Celiac disease presenting as Autism.Nutr Neurosci 2012, 15(2):85-91 (Pennesi et al). Effectiveness of the gluten-free, casein-free diet for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder: based on parental report. “Parental report of strict diet implementation … corresponded to improvement in ASD behaviors, physiological symptoms, and social behaviours (P<0.05).”

    Nutr Neurosci 2010, 13(2):87-100 (Whiteley et al). The ScanBrit randomised, controlled, single-blind study of a gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. “A report of a two-stage, 24 month study with 26 study children and 29 controls… Our results suggest that dietary intervention may positively affect developmental outcome for some children diagnosed with ASD”.

  3. Gluten may contribute to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)Bol Asoc Med P R 2010 Oct-Dec; 102(4):31-42 (Marti LF). Effectiveness of nutritional interventions on the function of children with ADHD and/or ASD. An updated review of research evidence. “Research on the effect of diet and nutrition on ADHD and autism has been increasing in the past two decades, particularly with symptoms of hyperactivity and attention…This updated review presents the evidence regarding the usefulness and limitations of the most frequent nutritional and dietary interventions in the treatment of ADHD”Clin Pediatr (Phila) 2011 Apr; 50(4):279-93 (Stevens et al). Dietary sensitivities and ADHD symptoms: thirty-five years of research “Oligoantigenic diet studies suggested that some children…are also sensitive to common non-salicylate foods (milk, chocolate, soy, eggs, wheat (the primary food containing gluten), corn, legumes)…A trial elimination diet is appropriate for children who have not responded satisfactorily to conventional treatment or whose parents wish to pursue a dietary investigation”.
  4. Gluten may contribute to SchizophreniaBol Asoc Med P R 2010 Oct-Dec; 102(4):31-42 (Marti LF). Effectiveness of nutritional interventions on the function of children with ADHD and/or ASD. An updated review of research evidence. “Research on the effect of diet and nutrition on ADHD and autism has been increasing in the past two decades, particularly with symptoms of hyperactivity and attention… This updated review presents the evidence regarding the usefulness and limitations of the most frequent nutritional and dietary interventions in the treatment of ADHD.”Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 2014 Sep 19 epub ahead of print (Nemani K et al). Schizophrenia and the gut-brain axis. “Several risk factors for the development of schizophrenia can be linked through a common pathway in the intestinal tract…A significant subgroup of patients may benefit from the initiation of a gluten and casein-free diet.”
  5. Gluten may contribute to Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative ColitisISRN Allergy 2011 Oct 27; 2011 Vojdani A. The characterization of the repertoire of wheat antigens and peptides involved in the humoral immune response in patients with gluten sensitivity and Crohn’s disease. “IgG and IgA antibodies in sera from those (gluten sensitive and Crohn’s disease) patients and healthy control subjects were measured against an array of wheat antigens and peptides. In gluten-sensitive patients, IgG reacted most against transglutaminase,…wheat extract, … and gliadin. In the sera of Crohn’s disease patients IgG reacted most against wheat and wheat germ agglutinin… Measurements of IgG and IgA antibodies…can enhance the sensitivity and specificity of serological assays for gluten sensitivity.”
  6. Gluten may contribute to Childhood Nephrotic Syndrome, a type of kidney dysfunctionPediatr Res 2014 Oct 13 epub ahead of print, (Uy N et al). Effects of a Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Diet on Childhood Nephrotic Syndrome and Gut Microbiota.

I hope it is now clear that people do suffer from eating gluten containing foods made with/from wheat, rye, barley and other gluten-containing grains, without being diagnosed with Celiac disease AND that there is evidence to support this claim. The evidence shown here is only the tip of the ice-berg.

To his credit, not all of Tom Harringtons’ information was incorrect. Modern GF diets do raise concerns for people who adopt the diets without understanding some of the potentially hidden problems like increased salt, or arsenic, or the fact that GF foods still contribute to the development of diabetes. As we say at Oakville Naturopathic Wellness Centre, there are good gluten-free diets and bad gluten-free diets. People need to be educated or directed to knowing what the good, healthy GF diet options are.

However, the reporting in Marketplace, The Fifth Esate and other un-informed, un-researched media will exacerbate delays in proper acceptance of gluten-sensitivity. The failure to debate this topic in a fair, balanced manner puts the health of the Canadian public at risk. We must avoid repeating history, as was the case with trans-fats. Let’s not take 30 years to accept that modern gluten may be harmful. It’s time to recognize this real disorder that can be called Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance (or Sensitivity).

It’s time for you to educate yourself and decide. If you need help confirming if you are sensitive to gluten, please see a Naturopathic Doctor or other health professional who has an open mind to this subject.

Scott Clack, B.Sc., N.D.
Naturopathic Doctor
Oakville Naturopathic Wellness Centre
Oakville, ON