Gluten-free diets for weight-loss? Not unless you've got Celiac Disease!

We know several people who are on gluten-free diets for Celiac Disease (CD), but until this morning I hadn't been aware that others regarded this as a weight-loss method. So let's go back to what gluten is and what problems it causes.

Basically gluten is a protein from three grains, wheat, barley and rye. It's often found in baked goods. Many people, in fact apparently an increasing number of people, are sensitive to gluten and should avoid consuming gluten-containing products. An article in the Journal "Gastroenterology" July 2009 by a Mayo Clinic group headed by Dr. Joseph Murray found a four-fold increase in undiagnosed CD between groups tested ~1950 and current age-matched groups.

But it's considerably more complicated than that. Some people are extremely sensitive to gluten. If they ingest it in any form, and gluten is ubiquitous, found in lip gloss, on envelope flaps, in soy sauce and ketchup, they develop an autoimmune reaction and are said to have Celiac Disease. Three million Americans are felt to have this entity which can lead to a multitude of very serious complications.

But, like those of us who say we're lactose sensitive, there are at least three varieties of what people think of as gluten sensitivity. Perhaps twenty million in the US are felt to have milder gluten issues without full-blown Celiac Disease; not a lot is known about this group. In a similar fashion, I'm lactose intolerant, but, I can drink a small amount of milk without developing major problems.

Then there's a smaller number who are actually allergic to something in wheat and can develop severe symptoms, including asthma or shock, after eating wheat products. Again, I know individuals who, after drinking milk, end up with severe problems; they're actually allergic to another milk protein.

So recently there's been a host of gluten-free products developed; those are very helpful and appropriate for people with CD, but others have seized upon the concept of using these foods as a weight-loss tool. The short answer is Don't! Many of the new gluten-free food products are high in carbs, fat and calories and relatively low in fiber, iron and vitamins.

There's an excellent review of CD in "Scientific American, July 27,2009, that I was able to print out from an online source. The author is Dr. Alessio Fasano who heads the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research. His group has found a substance called zonulin that increases gut permeability and is working with tests for an antibody that may be a biomarker for gluten sensitivity.

So the gluten-free diet may not be the only answer for patients with CD and researchers are working hard to find other treatments. In the meantime, for the rest of us, that diet is clearly not the way to lose weight.

One Response to “Gluten-free diets for weight-loss? Not unless you've got Celiac Disease!”

  1. Jenny says:

    I haven't been tested for CD, but I don't eat gluten anymore because I feel better without it. I must be one of those 20 million.

    Thanks for the information!

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