Policy Point Wednesday - Should We Tolerate Gluten Intolerance?

Policy Point Wednesday - Should We Tolerate Gluten Intolerance?

Recently, there's been a lot of news about a study which, using controls, tested patients suffering from non-celiac gluten intolerance. The nuts and bolts of the study is that these patients who showed digestive system symptoms were actually intolerant of a group of fermentable carbohydrates that occur in many foods including wheat, and showed no intolerance of the protein gluten.

This study brought up another discussion: WBEZ's Monica Eng and Louisa Chu asked why it's OK to be intolerant of people who believe they're intolerant of gluten. They do have a point - in my opinion, what people choose to eat or not is their own business. I'm less concerned about people making choices than I am about people "selling" their choice to the public at large.

I think that we're doing ourselves a disservice culturally by choosing to follow trends and not look for evidence - while giving up gluten isn't a big deal, it's the tip of an iceberg. Anecdotal evidence has its place, but that place is not medical decision-making. The cultural shift towards correlative or anecdotal evidence as support for major lifestyle decisions has very serious ramifications when we take it outside of the kitchen. For instance, we're now in the middle of a whooping cough epedemic because, despite overwhelming evidence disproving the premises behind the anti-vaccine movement and the criminal fraud conviction of the doctor who drove it, there are still people afraid to vaccinate their kids. 

I'm equally uncomfortable with the often concurrent idea that experience is more valid than science - an idea I believe is bolstered by media attention to correlative and anecdotal medical studies instead of rigorous studies using controls and blinds. I also think before you embark on a major lifestyle change you should check in with your doctor, not your neighbor.

Filed under: Food and Science

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