Gluten concerns exaggerated

“I?m gluten intolerant.?

?Every time I eat wheat products, I get sick.?

?I went online and read about the symptoms of gluten sensitivity. I concluded I had it, so our family no longer eats anything that has gluten in it.?

?I watched Dr. Oz on television, and he had the author of the ?Wheat Belly? book, and they are very convincing in their claims that wheat is very toxic to humans. They even say wheat is GMO, and I will not buy anything that contains GMOs.?

All of the above statements I have heard from people I meet while traveling, or have read online in a blog or Internet chat room.

In my discussions with people, their comments reveals to me they do not fully understand what gluten intolerance is, much less know how it is correctly diagnosed.

Less than 1 percent of our population (0.5 percent) has been correctly diagnosed as gluten intolerant. And only about 0.6 percent has a condition relating to celiac disease. Overall, fewer than 6 percent have any sensitivities of any kind relating to wheat products and wheat gluten.

People who have adopted a gluten-free diet do not understand the implications this lifestyle has for the rest of their lives.

In the Journal Sentinel Online, Nancy Stohs writes: ?The problem is, even in healthy people, gluten?a protein found in wheat, rye and barley (and possibly oats)?is not an easy substance for the body to digest. If you eliminate it from your diet for any amount of time, it?s very hard to go back to a regular diet.?

That makes going gluten-free a bad idea even for people with symptoms who suspect they are gluten-intolerant.

?Because it is a lifelong genetic disease that can be passed on, it?s important to get a proper diagnosis,? Shilson said. ?And you have to be eating a regular diet (with gluten) or all the diagnostic tests will be rendered invalid.?

Healthy people who eliminate gluten also are exposing themselves to ?risks of some micronutrient deficiency or of excessive intake of carbohydrates,? said Stephano Guandalini, founder and medical director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.

Guandalini also suggests that our antiseptic lifestyle is to blame for a rise in allergies. We are not exposed to the bacteria like our ancestors were when an agrarian culture was predominant in all countries.

While attending a Wheat Foods Council meeting in Phoenix, Ariz., I learned that researchers were experimenting with lab rats, feeding feces of healthy rats to rats exhibiting allergic symptoms, and they immediately improved their resistance to allergies. Their gut assimilated the resistant strain of bacteria and restored the host rat to good health.

Researchers have also tested this on human subjects, coating the ?pills? with flavors that allows subjects to ingest them without difficulty. Initial results are encouraging.

Not that I suggest we all should begin consuming feces, but researchers are learning new ways to combat allergies.

Coming back to my conversations with people claiming to have gluten intolerance, my first question to anyone who truly wants to learn about this is: Have you been tested by a doctor that is an expert on wheat and gluten sensitivity? Most people have responded, ?No.?

A proper diagnosis is the first step in learning whether one has gluten intolerance or has celiac disease. Self-diagnosis is rarely effective as symptoms often mirror other diseases.

Plus, not every medical doctor has enough expertise to effectively make a diagnosis by only asking a couple questions. You may need a referral to a doctor who has extensive knowledge of gluten and celiac disease.

For those interested in learning more, here are a few links to check: grainsforyourbrain.org/ask-an-expert; jsonline.com/features/food/92134239.html and wheatfoods.org/.

Paul Penner, former president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, farms in the Hillsboro area. He has been active statewide and nationally regarding agriculture policy. This column was first published a year ago.