The vast majority of people who avoid gluten don’t have celiac disease or even a gluten sensitivity, but as reader Rachel can attest, there’s a big upside to the proliferation of all the GF products and menus fueled by the fad (even as Hamblin noted the downsides):
I found out 10 years ago this month that I had Celiac. I was having horrible stomach pain, reflux, ulcers, etc, and at 19 I had zero quality of life. My biopsy came back positive for Celiac but my blood-work was negative, so my doctors weren’t sure at the time how to diagnose me.
Going gluten-free 10 years ago was one of the most overwhelming and terrifying things I had ever experienced. My doctor flat told me I could continue to eat gluten but I would most likely develop colon cancer by the time I was 40.
I was living in Nashville, where everything was fried, I had no family around me, and nothing was labeled on food items. I remember crying in the grocery store because I had no idea what to buy. I thought, “Am I ever going to be able to eat a sandwich again??” I ate corn tortillas, hummus, eggs, and cheese for an entire month until I found some resources on Celiac.
As there has been a lot more awareness of Celiac over the years and even a cool factor to being gluten free, I have found it much easier to live this way without getting sick. I have traveled around the world and all over the U.S. and it’s been almost a non-issue with many places. I’m grateful for the awareness.
(Also, as a helpful hint, if I get gluten in my meal, I’ve found that sipping Apple Cider Vinegar in water helps alleviate the symptoms. I’m note a doctor, but it helps tremendously.)
On the flip side, I tend to get many disparaging looks when I ask for a gluten free menu, if something has gluten in it, or when I tell people I’m not able to eat it. In fact, I'm more likely to not tell someone and either go hungry or try to figure out an alternative option because of the negative responses.
I know that Celiac is genetic, and though I don’t have children right now, I worry about if they will inherit the gene and whether or not I should start them on a gluten-free diet as babies. I guess I’ll just have to take it one day at a time, but all I know is that I’ll still be gluten free even when it’s not a cool thing to do.
You asked, so here’s my gluten-free story (safe for Celiacs to read):
I’m not a Celiac, but I do have Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory autoimmune disorder which often causes similar symptoms in the digestive tract. When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s, a course of steroids followed by immunosuppressive drugs was enough to keep me in relatively good health.
Slowly, though, my symptoms returned. After two years, I was again underweight and anemic (a six-foot-tall male in my twenties, I weighed about 130 pounds at my lightest), with chronic, debilitating stomach pains and other symptoms which made my life very hard.
Friends who hadn’t seen me in months asked about my health as soon as they laid eyes on me. On more than one occasion, I experienced stomach cramps so severe I vomited until there was nothing left but bile. Occasionally, upon standing up too quickly, my vision would fade and my head would spin until I fell to the ground or found something to hold onto. These weren’t the kind of symptoms that can be alleviated through the placebo effect.
People suggested going gluten-free, but I resisted it until I was desperate for many of the reasons laid out in James Hamblin’s piece (much of which I still agree with). But it worked. The pain receded. My digestion improved. I gained 30 pounds, leaving me thin, but not skeletally so.
I asked my gastroenterologist about this, and they suggested I pursue a low-FODMAP diet, which restricts foods like wheat which contain sugars that ferment during digestion. It kept the worst of the symptoms at bay and, along with my medicine, kept my inflammation at a low level. Eventually, even that low level of inflammation caused enough complications that I was put on more powerful medicine, but I've never again been as sick as I was.
In the end, it wasn’t the gluten that bothered me; it was the wheat itself. I found I could drink gluten-free beer, for example, but only the kind that was made from sorghum or other wheat substitutes. Wheat beer with the gluten removed still made me sick, and trace amounts of gluten never bothered me at all. But despite the fact that I wasn’t a Celiac, the availability of gluten-free products was a huge boon for me.
I appreciate what you, James, and TheAtlantic are trying to do by educating the public on these issues. There’s so much pseudoscience surrounding this topic that I’m sometimes embarrassed to admit that I prefer to avoid wheat. But to suggest, by omission or otherwise, that Celiacs are the only people who can benefit from the explosion of gluten-free products ignores the clinical and day-to-day experiences of a great number of people, and I think that’s worth mentioning.
This reader’s on the same page:
Credible sources place the percent of Americans with celiac as high as 1-in-35. But that understates the problem by ignoring people who are allergic to wheat but do not have celiac.
Since I was young my fingers swell (not subtly) when I eat wheat products, and it seems to be more likely to happen with products that are known to be high in gluten (like pizza). Yet I test negative for celiac.
Is the test imperfect? Am I allergic to wheat? I’ve no idea, but it is not a trivial matter. I’m afraid we are in another of those moments when experts think they know it all, while there is much more to be learned.
A reader in Bend, Oregon, is far from gluten-free but nevertheless provides some good, er, food for thought:
Some people have commented that the increased gluten sensitivity in recent decades is due to modern, hybrid wheat varieties, high processing, added gluten, and/or a move away from traditional bread dough fermentation. Michael Pollan’s view was summarized in The Huffington Post piece “Michael Pollan Wants You To Eat Gluten”:
Pollan goes on to say that some people would do well to experiment with fermentation. More specifically, he thinks fermented sourdough is a smart alternative for a healthy gut. Fermented foods in general have been found to be beneficial for gut health, but sourdough bread has a more specific benefit, according to Pollan.
“[The] tradition of fermenting flour with sourdough breaks down the peptides in gluten that give people trouble,” he said. “Anecdotally, I’ve heard from lots of people that when they eat properly fermented bread, they can tolerate it.”
There is some emerging research to support Pollan’s perspective: A 2008 study fed subjects with gluten intolerances either sourdough or regular bread. Similarly, a very small 2012 study fed sourdough to participants with celiac, finding few to no physical side effects.
There are essentially two ways to turn flour into bread. The first is the way it was done for most of human history: let the flour absorb as much water as possible and give it time to ferment, a process that allows yeast and bacteria to activate the dough. Kneading then binds the two proteins that come together to form gluten.
Most of the bread consumed in the United States is made the other way: in place of hydration, fermentation, and kneading, manufacturers save time by relying on artificial additives and huge industrial mixers to ram together the essential proteins that form gluten. . . . Most bakers, even those who would never go near an industrial mixing machine, include an additive called vital wheat gluten to strengthen the dough and to help the loaf rise.
I’m lucky; I can eat plenty of gluten and stay extremely healthy. I even eat seitan sometimes, which is pure wheat gluten. Yum.
[Avoiding gluten] has not been shown (in placebo-controlled studies) to benefit people who do not have the disease. Celiac disease is known to affect about one percent of people. Yet in a global survey of 30,000 people last year, fully 21 percent said that “gluten free” was a “very important” characteristic in their food choices. Among Millennials, the number is closer to one in three. The tendency to “avoid gluten” persists across socioeconomic strata, in households earning more than $75,000 just the same as those earning less than $30,000, and almost evenly among educational attainment. The most common justification for doing so: “no reason.”
He goes on to detail the downsides of gluten-free replica products. A reader responds with a solid bit of advice:
As someone who has had a lifelong gluten allergy (and gave it to two of my three kids), the increased “trendiness” is a mixed bag. Yes, it mean more choices, but it also means that people think my disease is just a trendy lifestyle choice and not a real thing. My general recommendation is not to use too many wheat substitutes. Instead of a gluten-free sandwich, have a salad or meat and veg. Instead of beer, have wine or hard liquor.
One of my part-time jobs right out of college, while interning and waiting tables, was doing research for a book that my roommate and his celiac-suffering business partner were putting together to help people travel and dine out gluten free. This was late 2004, and I had never heard of gluten, nor had any peers I talked to about the research gig. So over the past decade it’s been remarkable to see how rapidly and widespread “gluten free” has become. Now my best friend is GF, for dermatological reasons, as is my mother, who swears that her GF diet has snuffed out some mild health problems—and she’s been a nurse for 40 years, so she’s very science- and health-oriented. Here’s another gluten-free reader who works in the sciences:
I work in human research. Getting people to keep accurate records of what they eat, or to maintain a specific diet for a long enough time without keeping them in a lab environment 24/7 is incredibly difficult if not impossible. I am gluten-free due to promising science on Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (I am not celiac). If you have a problem linked to inflammation, it makes sense to see if going gluten-free can reduce that inflammation.
In the future, as more and more studies are done, they may find the culprit is other than gluten, or that gluten without other natural enzymes in food that’s more alive or containing more of the plants original components might be healthier.
As an N of 1, if I eat gluten now, I get depressed the next day. I don’t seem to have any other negative symptoms as others with celiac do. There is no other “cure” for Hashimotos, but I tend to have fewer symptoms of Hashimotos (lethargy, weight gain, skin issues) when I remain gluten free. I went off it for a while, started eating gluten again, and gained 20 lbs. But this might be also attributable to the fact that more foods were available (i.e. a whole pan of brownies).
I am realistic and yet still making the best choice for myself. I can understand if others are concerned it’s a harmful fad, but there also might actually be something to it, and so I don’t think it should be readily dismissed either.
Neither does this reader:
I recall Nobel prize winner Dr. Barry Marshall commenting that half of what is taught in academic gastroenterology is flat wrong. [CB note: I couldn’t quickly find that quote, but here’s a Kathryn Schulz interview with Marshall about how he was right about ulcers when everyone else was wrong.] So it was not surprising to find see solid research in the last few weeks showing that common reflux medications, proton pump inhibitors, pushed so hard by gastroenterologists, are strongly linked to dementia and cardiac dysfunction. [CB: Here’s a recent report along those lines.]
I have been gluten free for a dozen years. I am not celiac, don’t even have the DNA for it. Prior to going gluten free, which was against gastroenterologists advice, I suffered from chronic severe reflux and GI problems daily and was becoming overweight. Within months after going strictly gluten free, every trace of reflux and GI distress disappeared and over 12 years have never returned. Within six months of going gluten free, I lost the 35 excess pounds I was carrying and have stayed at my ideal weight ever since.
My toughest problem in going gluten free was weaning myself off the proton pump inhibitors that GI docs had pushed on me. What they failed to tell me is that if you start these meds and go off them, you get rebound hyper-acidity at double your pre-med levels, and that lasts a couple of months. Great for pharma marketers. I used an Internet protocol from Jacob Teitelbaum MD to wean myself off PPIs in a couple of months. Never a hint of reflux since, in a dozen years.
I wonder what is motivating the recent quasi-academic push back against gluten-free living? So many such as myself have found gluten-free living to resolve a host of problems even though not celiac. I wonder if the financial interests involved are pushing back. But then I recall Hanlon's razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is explained by incompetence.”
I know through experience that GF people love to talk about going gluten free, so if you’d like to sound off on the subject, drop us an email. Update from a reader with some quick advice:
To those out there (like myself) who are gluten free to decrease inflammation, I caution you about the risk of added sugar in products labeled as GF. What has helped me is to not eat processed GF foods as much as possible and focus on fruits, veggies, nuts, good fats and protein. It is not easy because I often feel deprived. Hence my new focus on detoxing myself off the sugar as much as I can without adding another feeling of deprivation. Sigh.
The fast-food dinner Trump hosted was also an argument: about government, about political messaging, about himself.
How does that line go? All fast food served warm is alike, but every fast-foodstuff consumed after it gets cold is unhappy in its own way?
Regardless: Taste was not, by all appearances, a top concern when it came to the culinary offerings that the White House presented to visiting members of the Clemson Tigers football team on Monday evening. It was the visuals, instead—items from McDonald’s and Wendy’s and Burger King and Domino’s, many of them piled, in their branded packagings, atop silver platters—that were the point: the gleaming tongs next to the wilting boxes of Filets-O-Fish. The plastic containers of dipping sauces, sorted by flavor, stacked cheekily inside gravy boats. The many faces of Wendy, wrapped recursively around a series of Singles. The French fries arranged, haphazardly, in cardboard cups bearing the seal of the White House. The gilt candelabras lending soft light to the guilty pleasures. A little bit P. T. Barnum, a little bit Hieronymus Bosch, a little bit Beauty and the Beast, had “Be Our Guest” been staged by Willy Wonka and also set in the apocalypse: The scene was grinning and a bit grotesque, and that was the point. A portrait of Lincoln gazed down upon the spread and at the man who would claim credit for it, perhaps wondering anew what God hath wrought.
The NBPC once opposed “wasting taxpayer money on building fences and walls along the border.”
In advocating for border security, President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to enlist Border Patrol agents and their union, the Washington Post reports, even bringing union leaders for Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the White House “to tout the wall.”
That isn’t surprising in one sense: Lots of politicians use uniformed law-enforcement officers as political props. But in another sense, it is rather strange. Typically, unions zealously oppose anything that makes the labor of their members less necessary. The Luddites smashed automated looms. The grocery-store checkers are against self-checkout kiosks. The fast-food workers don’t want touch-screen ordering.
Why would union officials representing men and women who patrol the border be in favor of a barrier intended to stop migration better than humans?
For years, British Prime Minister Theresa May insisted that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” Her adversaries used those words against her in Parliament.
LONDON—The likelihood of Britain leaving the European Union without a deal just got a whole lot higher—and Prime Minister Theresa May is largely to blame.
On Tuesday, British lawmakers overwhelmingly voted against May’s negotiated agreement with the EU, delivering a damaging (albeit foreseeable) blow to her Brexit strategy. The deal, which outlines the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and paves the way for the next phase of negotiations that will decide their future trade relationship, was reached by negotiators late last year. But it still needs to be ratified by both the British and European Parliaments before it can go into effect, and without such an agreement in place, the U.K. will leave the bloc without a deal on March 29.
When Donald Trump gives interviews, it’s usually to Fox News. When he gives interviews to Fox, it’s usually to the channel’s opinion side, not to tougher questioners such as Chris Wallace or Bret Baier. But there he was Saturday night, talking to the normally friendly Jeanine Pirro and receiving what he called the most insulting question in his life.
“Are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?” Pirro asked, citing a New York Times article from over the weekend disclosing that the FBI in May 2017 had opened a counterintelligence inquiry into whether Trump was secretly working for Russia. She delivered the question dismissively, with a chuckle, but she asked it—and received a remarkable answer.
In the United States, carbon emissions leapt back up, making their largest year-over-year increase since the end of the Great Recession. This matched the trend across the globe. According to two majorstudies, greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide shot up in 2018—accelerating like a “speeding freight train,” as one scientist put it.
U.S. emissions do remain 11 percent below their 2007 peak, but that is one of the few bright spots in the data. Global emissions are now higher than ever. And the 2018 statistics are all the more dismal because greenhouse-gas emissions had previously seemed to be slowing or even declining, both in the United States and around the world.
As more and more walls are built along borders worldwide, a look at some famous and some lesser-known barriers across the globe.
The current debate in the United States about building up and reinforcing the border wall with Mexico may have distinctly American roots, but the problems, and the controversial solutions, are global. Growing numbers of immigrants, terrorist activity, continued drug trafficking, and protracted wars have sparked the construction of temporary and permanent border barriers in many regions worldwide. Our own Uri Friedman wrote in his 2016 article “A World of Walls,” “Of the 51 fortified boundaries built between countries since the end of World War II, around half were constructed between 2000 and 2014.” Below, a look at some famous and some lesser-known barriers across the globe.
A new study shows that gender-nonconforming kids who go on to transition already have a strong sense of their true identity—one that differs from their assigned gender.
Since 2013, Kristina Olson, a psychologist at the University of Washington, has been running a large, long-term study to track the health and well-being of transgender children—those who identify as a different gender from the one they were assigned at birth. Since the study’s launch, Olson has also heard from the parents of gender-nonconforming kids, who consistently defy gender stereotypes but have not socially transitioned. They might include boys who like wearing dresses or girls who play with trucks, but who have not, for example, changed the pronouns they use. Those parents asked whether their children could participate in the study. Olson agreed.
After a while, she realized that she had inadvertently recruited a sizable group of 85 gender-nonconforming participants, ages 3 to 12. And as she kept in touch with the families over the years, she learned that some of those children eventually transitioned. “Enough of them were doing it that we had this unique opportunity to look back at our data to see whether the kids who went on to transition were different to those who didn’t,” Olson says.
Elections have consequences, and the Iowa conservative’s sudden vulnerability back home gave House GOP leaders the permission they needed to act against his latest racist comments.
There are but a few guarantees about what each new session of Congress will bring: One is that Republicans and Democrats will bicker over government spending, and another is that Representative Steve King will say something deeply offensive about race, religion, or immigration.
So when House Republicans moved aggressively on Monday evening to kick the Iowa conservative off his two prized congressional committees, the logical question to ask was, why now? Why, after King’s 16 years in Congress and, in the words of one former top GOP aide, “a lifetime achievement award of awful comments,” did the party leadership finally decide to punish a lawmaker whose racism has long been obvious for all to see?
For months, the FBI listened as Mexico’s infamous drug kingpin allegedly trafficked drugs and arranged assassinations. Here’s how.
A pivotal moment in the trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the two-time prison escapee and alleged kingpin of Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa cartel, came when prosecutors played for the jury a phone call between Guzmán and a cartel operative nicknamed Gato. Guzmán, federal prosecutors allege, is overheard in the call directing a cartel member to bribe a commander in the Mexican Federal Police.
“Is he receiving the monthly payment?” Guzmán asks. Gato confirms the cartel is sending the officer regular bribes, then hands the phone over to the “federale” himself, who confirms the payment and pledges his loyalty.
Guzmán is facing charges of money laundering, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and murder stemming from his time allegedly running an empire that funneled drugs and guns throughout South America and between the U.S. and Mexico. In court, federal prosecutors have played multiple calls from Guzmán: asking for updates, ordering and moving shipments, haggling over the price of kilos, and praising or reprimanding his operatives as they carry out his commands. (“Take it easy with the police,” he scolds Iván “El Cholo” Cruz, the cartel’s top assassin, in one recorded call. “Well, you taught us to be a wolf,” Cruz replies.)
In November 1973, at the end of the Yom Kippur War, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made his first visit to Cairo, to meet Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s president. America was in the process of withdrawing from Vietnam and Richard Nixon was in the throes of the Watergate crisis that would soon drive him from office. The new secretary of state wanted to conceal the appearance of American weakness with effective Middle East diplomacy. To establish his credibility with Sadat and a broader Arab audience, Kissinger told him, “I will never promise you something I can’t deliver.”
Mike Pompeo would have done well to follow Kissinger’s example last week on his first visit to Cairo as secretary of state. Instead, in a speech to an Arab audience, he promised the world—and will surely deliver much less.