Our dear friend Eric has requested that I respond to the many articles that have come out recently attacking “gluten intolerance.” Now, to be clear, I have an actual gluten allergy. Not an intolerance, not a sensitivity, not a desire to lose weight or to stop farting in my sleep, but a real bona fide allergy. It is a thing that I had diagnosed by a real doctor, not a nutritionist, and if my doctor boyfriend can attest to anything, it’s that my allergy is real and awful. I am not a fair weather gluten eater; I don’t occasionally have a slice of pizza when I’m drunk, and I certainly don’t “cheat.” This is not a diet that I chose, but an allergy that I regrettably realized in high school when my body rebelled against me and my natural Jewish penchant for bread. I don’t say this to elicit pity (it’s been over 10 years with this allergy, your pity gives me no solace), but to provide you with the perspective from which I analyze these articles.
The recent articles that I am referring to are in response to a study done in Australia. This study was a follow-up to a 2011 study that found that individuals without celiac disease experienced gastrointestinal distress when eating a diet containing gluten. This new study endeavored to figure out if it was actually gluten or other food products that were causing these celiac-like reactions, mainly bloating, pain, and all the diarrhea. Participants were placed into three groups: subjects consuming a large amount of gluten, a reduced amount, and a placebo/control group. The sample size was incredibly small (N = 37), but it included cross-over and was double-blinded, which makes results more significant. Researchers found that individuals in all three groups, despite what they were actually fed, complained about having gastrointestinal pain, bloating, and nausea. Apart from this inadvertently proving more so that the placebo effect is a real thing, this study was also trying to suggest that the majority of people who claim to have gluten sensitivity only think that they do, when, in fact, they just imagine that they have pain even if they consumed no gluten whatsoever.
So, maybe it’s something else? Maybe other triggers (dairy, complex carbohydrates, self-righteousness) cause people gastro pain. This, however, is not my gripe. Here is my gripe: the fact that gluten intolerance has now been labeled as fake sheds a negative light on people with ACTUAL allergies. The kind that make you explode in a rash whilst vomiting and pooping a lot. The kind that, if go unchecked, can send you to the hospital for all kinds of fun tests that require you to drink sodium picosulfate to void your bowels before you get knocked out and they can shove a camera up your bum. If you didn’t think Kitty was sexy before, I’m sure this rant is turning you.
To debunk the claims that people with gluten allergies don’t actually know what gluten is, I give you a real scientific explanation! WITH PICTURES! Gluten is a composite of protein, meaning that it is made up of two proteins: gliadin and glutenin. It’s found in wheat and grains – barley, rye, spelt, oats (a controversy I have no time for), and all of the things that make your pasta and bread taste chewy and delicious.
Now, gluten sensitivity means that someone has an intolerance to gluten, where an allergy is an immune response. While the former might get a bellyache when they eat bread, the latter will break out in hives and probably require some kind of medical intervention or attention. The most intense reaction people have to gluten is actually an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease (actually spelled coeliac, but this is America and we spell things however we want). This disorder causes serious damage to the small intestine when an individual absorbs gliadin (remember that little gluten protein?), and results in an inflammation and cutting of the small bowel tissue. Basically, if you have celiac disease, gluten gonna cut a bitch. Still with me? No? Whatever.
Now, let’s discuss the recent “trend” that is the gluten-free diet. This includes Paleo, FODMAPs, Atkins (does anyone still even do that?), and I’m sure the list goes on. Hey, it all makes my life easier, since now this whole gluten-free fad is everywhere. But I hate the reaction I get when I say that I have a gluten allergy while I order food in a restaurant. “So can you just not eat it at all, or can you have a little?” “Will you get super sick?” “That includes rice and potatoes, right?” “Are you on a diet?” NO. Unless you want me to wreck your bathroom or start scratching myself like a junky with formication outside of your restaurant as a form of advertising, hear what I’m telling you: I have an allergy. I get that it must be frustrating to hear other people claim to have a gluten allergy and then see that same person tear into the breadbasket at the table. Or, conversely, to have people tell you that they have an allergy just because they don’t like something. Someone told me, after I told the waiter of my allergy before ordering, that they always tell the waiter that they have a severe garlic allergy because they hate it so much. I wanted to punch them in the face. This is the kind of person that makes me look like a nuisance in restaurants. To me, this is the equivalent of someone saying that they really hate bee stings while sitting adjacent to someone going into anaphylactic shock. Sure, you don’t like it, but you aren’t going to get violently ill or die, so I CARETH NOT.
So, while these recent articles claiming that gluten sensitivity/intolerance is not real, don’t stretch this to cover actual gluten allergies and celiac disease. Sure, there are people that think that a gluten-free diet will help them lose weight, and decide to restrict their food intake by choice. They’re wrong, but sometimes seeing dumb people act in their natural environment is entertaining. Also, I’m sure that there are people who believe that a gluten-free diet is the Buddhist equivalent of living an enlightened life. Or perhaps they claim that when they went off of “gluten,” akin to their rehab stint where they went off of heroin, they felt so much better and had more energy. And this is where that study is useful – these people are probably reacting to something else like dairy, or are just annoying and crazy. Trust – if I could still eat bread, I’d bite your hand off if it got in my way. But I won’t, because while I won’t die, for about a day or two, I’ll wish I were dead. And if you’re anywhere near me, you probably will, too.
Thanks for listening, even though I know you zoned out after the first few sentences. Now, go eat a big ass burger/sandwich/loaf of bread/cake in honor of me, please! This is Kitty, signing out.