You’re Not Crazy for Going Gluten-Free

Finally! Medical researchers have started to figure out gluten sensitivity.

Posted Aug 03, 2016, used with permission.
Source:, used with permission.

Even if you don’t have celiac disease, gluten protein from wheat, rye or barley products can trigger an immune system response that causes similar symptoms, according to a new study from Columbia University published in the online medical journal Gut. For the first time, researchers have been able to figure out why so many people complain to their doctors about bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, headaches, fatigue, anxiety and/or “brain fog” when they eat wheat products, even though wheat allergy and celiac disease—conditions that are most likely to cause these symptoms—are ruled out in clinical examinations and laboratory testing.

What the Columbia researchers found in patients with self-reported gluten sensitivity was damage to the epithelial cells that form the tissue that lines the gastrointestinal (GI) tract as well as activation of the immune system in response to microbes that originate in the GI tract. Normally, epithelial tissue provides a barrier that would prevent such microbes from travelling from the gut into the bloodstream and to other parts of the body. As the patients reported improved symptoms following a restrictive (gluten-free) diet, the researchers also saw a decrease in immune system response and improvement in the condition of the GI tract.

Although more research must be done to determine the cause of epithelial cell damage and spread of harmful microbes, this acknowledgement should come as good news for those who have had to deal not only with the physical symptoms of intestinal damage but the mounting frustration of not being able to get a clear, recognized diagnosis or remedy from doctors, other than a self-imposed gluten-free diet. Not to mention raised eyebrows from unsupportive friends, family and restaurant-owners.


Uhde M, Ajamian M, Caio G, et al. Intestinal cell damage and systemic immune activation in individuals reporting sensitivity to wheat in the absence of coeliac disease. Gut. 25 July 2016. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2016-311964