Gluten Sensitivity as a Nocebo

September 25, 2014 | By | 2 Replies More

There’s an awfully large amount of money being spent on special gluten free products.  How many of the people who buy these products really need them?   According to this article on Buzzfeed, not many.    The most memorable passages from this article:

17 million people may unnecessarily believe that they are gluten-sensitive. (Source: A Mayo Clinic survey in 2012, cited in a NY Times article.)

[We] spent $10.5 billion last year on gluten-free products. (Source: Mintel, a market research company, cited in the NY Times article.)

It is especially important because a psychological disease can spread as fast as any virus but be more enduring.

A 2012 Mayo Clinic survey concluded that only 1.8 million Americans have Celiac disease. Only 1.8 million people should be on a non-gluten diet. Compare this to the 18 million people who consider themselves “gluten sensitive”

According to this article many of the people who spend lots of money on gluten-free products, gluten serves as a “nocebo,” defined below by Wikipedia:

nocebo (Latin for “I shall harm”) is a harmless substance that creates harmful effects in a patient who takes it. The nocebo effect is the negative reaction experienced by a patient who receives a nocebo. Conversely, a placebo is an inert substance that creates either a positive response or no response in a patient who takes it. The phenomenon in which a placebo creates a positive response in the patient to which it is administered is called the placebo effect. The nocebo effect is less well-studied and well-known, by both scientists and the public, than the placebo effect.

What’s the evidence that gluten is not detrimental to most people who are committed to gluten free products?

This disease is largely self-diagnosed, and studies are starting to show that it may be real in a great number of cases. Professor and scientist Peter Gibson is no stranger when it comes to studying gluten. He did a study in 2011 that gave a lot of credit to the belief in (non-Celiac) gluten sensitivity. Seeing that NCGS had become a worldwide phenomenon, he revisited the topic in 2013 with a critical look at the original assumptions. These are the measures he took to validate his results:
Subjects were given every single meal for the duration of the study.Any other potential causes of bad stomach symptoms were removed from the diet. (Think lactose from milk.) Just in case you do not think he was serious, Peter collected nine days worth of urine and fecal matter. (Now that’s a topic of conversation.) The results were pretty shocking. They concluded that gluten in no way could have caused any of the negative symptoms that the subjects were suffering from.

 

Most claims of the need to be gluten free are starting to remind me of the phenomenon of facilitated communication regarding autistics.

Share

Category: cognitive biases, Food, ignorance, Propaganda, Psychology Cognition, Self Improvement, snake oil

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Green (trying to be) Girl says:

    I happened upon your blog page last night. Interesting thoughts you have!

    I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts here. I think people have jumped on this bandwagon and have gone too far.

    I do think if you eliminate gluten (or any other food or drink) which is what any doctor will tell you to try when trying to discover an issue from you diet and “desensitize” your gut flora from processing it, then go back to consuming it, you’ll get a sick feeling, which could be confused with intolerance of the substance. After a few consumtions your body then regulates the substance and you’re mostly fine (other than the overindulgence we’re all guilty of)…

  2. Happy to share some thoughts to the contrary, having seen firsthand the powerful effects of a diagnosed non-celliac going paleo. The gut biome appears to have a profound effect on so much of the body including emotional wellbeing.

    Absolutely, eating gluten-free muffins and brownies all day is no solution, but replacing gluten and wheat with real food is improving people’s lives every day.

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/a-tale-of-two-gluten-studies/#axzz3ElzsLmxx
    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/does-gluten-have-any-effect-on-non-celiacs/#axzz3ElzsLmxx

Leave a Reply