Viewpoint: Self-diagnosed celiac disease is just the latest diet obsession of wealthy white people

Are you white and a little resentful that black people get their own cool disease, sickle cell anemia?  There is good news for you. Celiac disease is all the latest rage and you can be any color at all and claim it.

How do you know if you are gluten intolerant?  Elaborate assays?  DNA? At least a blood sample?  Nope, you just have to give up wheat and say you feel better and you are allowed to claim you have it. And proponents have even scarier numbers – they claim 97 percent of the people who have Celiac disease don’t know they have it, so their ranks are really much bigger.

Unfortunately, some people really do have Celiac disease, an actual immune disorder – gluten is like poison to them, not an “I feel better if I don’t eat a bagel” issue. Those sufferers are not the laughable one percent suddenly claiming they have Celiac disease, though.  Maybe fashion disease people grew up in the 1990s when teachers wanted all kids to be labeled ADD, or they are the types who go to parties today and determine 80 percent of other party-goers have Asperger’s.  They are used to having something.  They need it.

But for the real Celiac victims, there is good news, thanks to the fashion trend kind; due to the surge in gluten “sensitivity,” there are lots and lots of new products on the market to take your money. No surprise, since “Wheat Belly” was a New York Times bestseller.  Even Lady Gaga is on the bandwagon, claiming she is going gluten-free in order to lose some weight, despite there being no scientific evidence that going gluten-free causes weight loss, other than any sudden shock to your system causes weight loss – if Lady Gaga went on an all Meat Dress diet she would also lose weight. Heck, some studies even show that if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. Modern dietary science is downright revolutionary like that.

But Lady Gaga is a rich, white girl so Celiac disease is the perfect self-diagnosis to make in 2012.

“There are a lot of people on a gluten-free diet, and it’s not clear what the medical need for that is,” Dr. Joseph Murray, co-author of various studies from the Mayo Clinic , told Jeff Korbelik of the Lincoln Journal Star.

When I was younger, no restaurants had gluten-free options and gluten-free products were also hard to find in stores.  I mean, wheat has been in bread for thousands of years and we have done okay. Not now, people have really changed a generation after I graduated college. Who says human evolution has stopped?  Well, maybe it hasn’t stopped, maybe Americans are just evolving differently.  Social scientists want to believe, during an election year, that our brains are actually evolving differently for Republicans and Democrats, as an example.  A biology study by political scientists published in Trends In Genetics says they can map 60 percent of political affiliation to the genome. Might it be that there is also a new, left-right biology correlation to food and other diseases?

So it would seem, at least according to trends about other beliefs.  Along with believing more in UFOs, psychics and astrology than right-wing people, left-wing people also believe they are hyper-sensitive to food. That could be genetic and may lend credence to often-dismissed kooky claims that they can taste GMOs or are allergic to them.  Same with vaccines.  Anti-vaccine people are overwhelmingly left-wing; while a right-wing state such as Mississippi is almost at 100 percent vaccination, left-wing Washington State is sinking below herd immunity levels and kindergartens in Seattle report 25 percent non-vaccinated children.  Maybe they don’t need vaccines the way genetically inferior right-wing people do. It could be that left-wing people have co-evolved a much stronger immune system to go along with their super-smart brains. Well, except for celiac disease, they have a super-strong immune system.

Related article:  Low-gluten, high-fiber wheat varieties may begin to hit the market next year
1-22-2018 not a Celiac disease sufferer
No rash. She must be a Republican. Credit: Shutterstock.com

What do non-scientists out in the real world feel about the disease trend? A chef on Straight Dope noted:

How about a chef’s perspective? I do banquets for conventions and other large groups, and for the five years I’ve been doing this kind of work (been in foodservice for 27 years, but 5 in banquets/conventions), I’ve seen definite patterns.

Groups that skew toward membership with higher education levels and, usually, a more “liberal” or “left-leaning” tendency (environmental groups, women’s groups, advocacy groups, Democrat Party fundraisers, any group where the women far outnumber the men, etc.) tend to have a much higher percentage of members with “special” dietary needs, including gluten-free, all manner of allergies, vegans/vegetarians, lactose-intolerant, etc., while lesser-educated, more conservative types of groups and groups with more men than women tend to cheerfully eat whatever the hell we put in front of them.

No real shock there.  By itself, that is not evidence, but the people most inclined to have a “natural” fetish tend to invent reasons to justify it, and they can afford it.  Faux Celiac disease is for the agricultural 1 percent – if you can buy organic food, you can afford gluten-free too.

Hopefully more companies catch on to this public health crisis but some seem to be showing real leadership on the issue.  Chipotle’s must be in a panic, I thought, because that is where the demographic mostly likely to have trendy Celiac disease go for authentic Mexican food.  Nope, they are already aware. Most of their menu is available gluten-free.

I’m tempted to go gluten-free myself.  I am educated, I live in California, I assume I am supposed to be gluten-intolerant like an alarming chunk of middle class white women here are.  Plus, I wouldn’t want to miss out on this health boost the way I missed out on the other big dietary trends that promised to save America, like the Tapeworm Diet or the Macrobiotic Diet or that All Booze Diet.

We all remember how those made us thin and healthy.

Hank Campbell is president of the American Council on Science and Health, founder of Science 2.0 and co-author of the book Science Left Behind. Follow him on Twitter @HankCampbell.

A version of this article was originally published on Science 2.0’s website asCeliac: The Trendy Disease For Rich White Peopleand has been republished here with permission from the author.

537 thoughts on “Viewpoint: Self-diagnosed celiac disease is just the latest diet obsession of wealthy white people”

  1. This article is an ill-informed waste of space. People who give up gluten and feel better don’t self diagnose with celiac disease, but with “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”. Or they say they are going paleo without diagnosing themselves (in which case they avoid most of the processed food labeled “gluten free.”). The human species thrived for most of our history without wheat or grains, and our current diet is a radical departure from our history in many aspects. Why should people eat food that they discover makes them feel sick?

    • Anthropology and evolutionary biology would tend to disagree with your version of human evolution. There is hard evidence that grains have been part of the human diet for over 100,000 years. Have you published anything to support your radical departure from the known science?

      • Hard evidence? There have been archaeological discoveries of some bits of grass seed or sorghum on stone tools from an early time that have been touted as refuting the older idea that grains were a relatively recent addition to the hunter gatherer diet of scavenged meat and vegetables. But the evidence is hardly “conclusive”, and ancient grains were not the staple that they would become after the agricultural revolution, and were prepared differently – often fermented. But all you can do as a modern human is try different diets and see how it impacts your health. If a lot of people improve their health by eating an ancestral diet, why should anyone else complain?

        • Wow. You waded in with your insulting opinion that the article was “an ill-informed waste of space” and delivered an opinion of human diets and evolution that was both unsupported by any evidence and is out of step with both anthropology and evolutionary biology. Then you complain that you should be given a free pass to spread your misinformation to an online audience without any rebuttal? You can convert to any sort of belief system you want. Just don’t expect to be able to preach to a wide audience without any challenges. http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/11/ancient-oat-discovery-may-poke-more-holes-in-paleo-diet/
          https://phys.org/news/2015-08-big-brains-carbsthe-importance-dietary.html

          • You seem to be getting overly wrought up about this. The article made the dubious claim that privileged white elites were self diagnosing with Celiac disease for no good reason, and then proceeded to just dump on anyone who tries to improve their health by following a diet that the author does not approve of. I do realize that there are a lot of flaky diets that deserve scorn, but I don’t think that avoiding gluten falls in that category. And you notice that I didn’t put any degrees after my name or claim any right to preach without rebuttal? Anyone can Google a few terms and find various articles indicating some evidence that at some point paleolithic humans ate some grains – the ones mentioned being sorghum or oats (neither has gluten). or barley, which has a little gluten You can also note that grains would usually have been eaten in a sprouted form, like Essene Bread, which would have tended to make any gluten more digestible. Nothing there tells me that there is any good reason to doubt that eating wheat or gluten in its modern form can cause problems for some people (including me), even if they do not have a diagnosis of Celiac disease.

            But I will decline to continue this back and forth. I don’t know why you charge me will following a belief system, or preaching. I follow the evidence of my own experience, and I am continually modifying my practice based on new experiences and evidence, and I would urge anyone else to trust their own experience. If avoiding gluten helps you, don’t be intimidated by by this article. If a Paleo diet helps you, who cares if the people who originated it didn’t actually know everything paleolithic man ate? If eating wheat causes you no problems, go ahead.

            Peace, and have a good day.

        • It’s difficult to have a rational discussion with this guy, because he resorts to ad hominem non sequitur every time

          And he is as thick as a plank, he is the ruprecht of all the different medical websites

  2. Wow, this author is a nasty piece of ignorant waste.
    Yes celiac runs higher in white people, but rich? Are you kidding? My son was diagnosed at 18 months and I lived with it for 40 years. It was only because more people are diagnosed that my Dr even went looking for it.
    I spent the money to get the biopsy but not everyone has insurance. So why eat something that makes you feel bad.
    And yes if you avoid gluten and all grains that normally replace it you will lose weight. Anyone would. And I’m glad all those rich people are going gluten free, because of them I can go out to eat without making my server feel like their in medical school.

    • I think that the author made it pretty clear that there is a difference between the actual sufferers of celiac disease like you and your son and those that are jumping in on a ‘gluten-free’ fad.

      Unfortunately, some people really do have Celiac disease, an actual immune disorder – gluten is like poison to them, not an “I feel better if I don’t eat a bagel” issue.

      The danger from those who claim celiac disease when they are following the fad diet comes when they are observed eating a breadstick or sharing someones gluten-filled dessert after insisting to servers and kitchen staff that they need to eat gluten-free. It’s the ‘boy who cried wolf’ story. How many times can servers see that behaviour before they start to doubt everyone who requests gluten-free?

      • And just how would you treat somebody with coeliac disease?

        Simple question, but let’s see if you can answer it without the immature and petulant name calling.

        • I would not treat anyone with celiac in the medical sense because I am not that sort of doctor. However, I have written IEPs to ensure that students with celiac are treated with discretion, compassion and understanding for their medical condition.
          Immature and petulent name calling? I see you have consulted a thesaurus since our last encounter on another thread. Somewhat stalkerish behaviour there. It is a refreshing change from your repetition of “You are too stupid to realise you’re too stupid.” Or the maturity of your “Yes, another member of the bedwetters and dribblers Club that seems to characterize this website.” And then there was “Just as I thought, no balls or brains to answer the question, just more piss and wind.” Making your comment history private does not induce amnesia about your comments on other threads.
          By the way, the “trap” you set for Mike Stevens? The one based on your ‘research’ of his comment history to ‘catch’ him “flip-flopping” on scarlet fever? Where you were repeatedly patting yourself on the back and congratulating yourself on how much smarter you were than anyone else? He didn’t flip-flop. You mistook a quote from a previous comment that Mike was responding to as Mike’s own words. Perhaps you didn’t see the quote marks around the italics? Mike’s own take on scarlet fever follows the italics: http://disq.us/p/1eh8f19
          I think you owe Mike an apology for your mistake. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/611208fec024feacf452ca4f2788f9118cfd833166dd1a1acfac996eaa056bc4.png

          • Most definitely not. Prolonged lack of breathing is one of the seven signs of death. Not willing to go there yet.

          • Haha, for what?!
            To give a bit of his own Bad Medicine? Yes, pun intended.
            The petulant and sulking hypocrisy here is just amazing

          • “The petulant and sulking hypocrisy here is just amazing”

            Congratulations on finally achieving a little self-awareness.

          • Yep, another pitiful and gormless attempt to try and turn it around, but you’re too stupid to know, it never works.

          • And what about Mike’s other insulting comments, directed at other people? And including Mike’s various aliases and false Disqus accounts.

          • And Mike doesn’t owe an apology to everyone else?

            Oh the hypocrisy.

            This is just a small example of what Mike should be apologizing for…

            “Of course Wakefraud will sound believeable on his video clip…. He is a practiced conman, with a nice line in persuasive talk. It’s how snake-oil salesmen do their stuff.
            The gullible and credulous get fooled, then are unable to accept in their own minds that they have been fooled.
            …Cognitive dissonance 101.

            Or this?

            It was twenty years ago today,
            Andy Wakefraud taught the band to play,
            The antivaxers sure do lack some style,
            But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile.

            So may I introduce to you
            The act you’ve known for all these years
            Andy Wakefraud’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

            Andy Wakefraud’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,
            We hope you will enjoy the show,
            Andy Wakefraud’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,
            Sit back and let your immunity go.

            Andy Wakefraud’s Lonely, Andy Wakefraud’s Lonely,
            Andy Wakefraud’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
            It’s wonderful to be here,
            It’s certainly a thrill,
            You’re such a gullible audience,
            We’d like to take your money with us,
            We’d love to take you money.

            I don’t really like to stop the show,
            But I thought that you might like to know,
            That the faker’s going to sing a song,
            And he wants you all to sing along.

            So let me introduce to you,
            The one and only science fake,
            And his Lonely Hearts Club Band.

            Or maybe this??

            David Attenborough hushed tones:

            “…And here in this scientific backwater of the Texas swamps, we have the Greater Wakefraud. This cowardly beast can usually be found hiding behind the skirts of some warrior mama, uttering occasional whimpering noises, while the warrior mamas gather round to protect him, chanting “We believe!””

          • Again, more hypocrisy.
            He is impugning a doctors reputation, but the reputation has been dragged through the mud, by you knuckle grinders, who have not got a shred of evidence, because the man has never been prosecuted.

          • As I said, you’ve got nothing, apart from your pitiful name calling, because the man has never been convicted.

          • Buy a hand-picked group of his peers, which is hardly objective Justice.
            It certainly wouldn’t pass the test in a court of law.

          • If you had enough brains as you do to deliberately Misrepresent the previous comment, dare I say, you’d be a Doctor by now.

          • You keep puking up your relevant examples, I’m talking about an objective court of law, and not some liable case between two doctors.

          • Hahaha, more hypocrisy, no remember my original question was directed at Mike Stevens? Or doesn’t your attention span not go that far back?

          • I mention gormless, and lack of attention span, and you just proved me right.
            I was talking about Mike Stevens, do you know him, are you that feckless?

          • Earlier Peter: Wakefield never got his day in court!

            Later Peter: okay, he got his days in a couple of courts but it was fixed, I say! Fixed!

          • Are you really that gormless?
            You cannot keep on topic? Mike Stevens Mike Stevens, do you get it, Mike Stevens

          • Speaking of courts of law, here’s a link to Wakefield’s attempt to file a libel lawsuit. It was thrown out. Maybe if he had filed in England, where the BMJ and Brian Deer are located, and the British courts have a low bar for proving libel, he might have actually stood a teeny-tiny chance of winning. This way, he can whine about how the courts are against him, just because he filed on a different continent from where those accused of libel live and the court has no jurisdiction. Poor Andy! I can just picture him crying into his champagne while sitting by the pool of one of his million dollar mansions. http://www.bmj.com/content/345/bmj.e5328

          • And you wonder why people like you are not taken seriously.
            So Wakefield has got million-dollar mansions, mansions plural?
            And you have no Bias? Hilarious.
            And of course, you want to be taken seriously amongst your fellow cult members on these websites.
            That is even more funnier.

          • Of course, I have a bias against Wakefield. That was my point. He is utterly contemptible. He has been taking money from the desperate parents of autistic children who contribute to charities for autism research. Who gets the lions share of the charitable donations as a salary? Good old Wakefraud. The man is a snake oil salesman and scam artist of the lowest order. I mentioned the mansions to illustrate the extent of his ill-gotten gains. I would rather be homeless and hungry than sink to his level of preying on my fellow human beings.
            https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/charity-cash-funds-anti-vaccine-doctor-xr5lzkxfz

          • So how can you be objective about him, if you admit bias?

            Like all whistleblowers, they get condemned and vilified by their own peers.

            But the truth will out one day.
            The truth about vaccines will come out one day, just like the truth about Thalidomide came out years later.

            By the way, that newspaper article doesn’t claim he has million dollar mansions

          • My bias is based on a preponderance of the evidence that has accumulated against Wakefield over the past 20 years. It followed the publication of his paper and the rebuttals from experts in the field When other research groups tried to replicate the work in the paper, no one was able to reproduce his results.
            It was based on reading the findings of the General Medical Council who struck him from the registry. I also looked up his patent applications for autism testing and single vaccines that were filed at least a year prior to the publication of the fraudulent paper. Then there was testimony from his graduate student, Nicholas Chadwick, who found no evidence of the measles vaccine virus in tissue samples like Wakefield claimed.
            There was the damning revelation that Wakefield was paid to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds, again prior to his so-called research, by lawyers who wanted some scientific publication to back up their pending lawsuits.
            My bias is based on Wakefield’s bad actions. He is an unrepentant embarrassment to medical science. Arriving at a bias after examining evidence is not unfair. I wouldn’t trust Andy Wakefield to help a little old lady across the street without picking her pocket.

          • “My bias is based on a preponderance of the evidence…”

            If there is a preponderance as you say, let me see 20 or 30 examples.

          • The preponderance of evidence refers to quality rather than quantity. Hypothetically, if there was video evidence clearly showing you stomping a kitten to death, there wouldn’t be any need to get 20 to 30 people to testify that they witnessed the act, or that they heard you boast about doing so.

          • “The preponderance of evidence refers to quality rather than quantity.”

            Oh, I see haha.
            Ok, if there is a preponderance, then by logical conclusion there would be a lot of sources about said topic.

          • I see. Logic in your alternative universe means that lots of sources (quantity) with incomplete evidence are better than one indisputable piece of evidence (quality). The exact opposite of this universe.

          • Yes, but if there is a
            significant quality (in this case, bad behaviour by Wakefield as you claim) that in many cases there is a corresponding large quantity of examples…don’t you understand the basic laws of physics?
            Nevermind, rhetorical question.

          • “…stomping a kitten to death…”

            Interacting with Harris is more like beating a dead horse.

          • I had a different mental picture of Harris in action. I think he imagines himself as a world-class sniper, effortlessly killing his enemies with his bullets of science knowledge. Instead, he seems to be repeatedly shooting himself in the foot with a potato gun, crying “There, take that!” after every shot.

          • Ha ha…
            The feckless hypocrisy is off the chart.
            You made a false claim about the so called million dollar mansions of Wakefield, that you alleged he had around the world.

            And it turned out to be false.

            It seems you have shot yourself in the foot, many times, with a military assault style weapon.

            But please, continue with your infantile and inane hypocrisy, it’s so amusing to read.

          • I’m calling illiterate and liar on you. “so called million dollar mansions of Wakefield, you alleged he had around the world.” I said Austin, TX. I never mentioned any other place. Everyone can easily check my comment history to verify the following quotes:

            “Real estate records are public records in the US and are online. The Wakefields live in Austin, TX. Go look it up yourself.”

            “And you cannot do a simple search for real estate records in Austin, TX? Disqus has rules about showing people’s addresses. There are more than the Wakefields in those records, too.”

            You didn’t even bother to check the real estate records, did you? Or can’t you figure out how to type ‘real estate records in Austin TX’ into Google and then ‘Wakefield’ into the search box on the records site? And no, I will not post any addresses in the comments here like you keep requesting. Even though the information is in public records, I’m not going to dox anyone, including a scam artist and fraud like Andrew Wakefield.

            And another potato just bit the dust (or your foot if your aim was any better).

          • Another sad, pathetic and need I say, another hypocritical rant from you.

            You made false accusations regarding Wakefield, and his alleged ownership of million dollar mansions, not me so deal with it.

            So put up or shut up you dribbler.

          • Perhaps Harris thinks comment threads are somehow invisible, or people are blind, and they are unable to see all his lies.

          • I do wonder if he has gotten the idea somehow that posters can only see their own comments and subsequent replies.

          • So childish, I asked you to engage in a serious debate, and you backed out with weasel words.

            Ad hominem and non sequiturs seem to be the primary debating skills of many here, such as yourself.

            And not to mention the gross hypocrisy.

          • Please, please, Dr. Olins. When it comes to Mr. Harris, he possesses enough woo to be able to perform both tasks at the same time.

            You can’t possibly expect him to prioritize one atrocity over another.

          • “Of course, I have a bias against Wakefield. That was my point. He is utterly contemptible. He has been taking money from the desperate parents of autistic children who contribute to charities for autism research. Who gets the lions share of the charitable donations as a salary?”

            That accusation can be made and leveled at many doctors and many research organisations and charities, I can name many if you wish.

            You still haven’t proven that he has million dollar mansions.

          • Real estate records are public records in the US and are online. The Wakefields live in Austin, TX. Go look it up yourself.
            One house is in Carmel’s name, the other Wakefield Family Trust. The deed shows the transfer from Andrew J Wakefield to the trust in 2009.

          • And you cannot do a simple search for real estate records in Austin, TX? Disqus has rules about showing people’s addresses. There are more than the Wakefields in those records, too.

          • Oh, the cowards reply?
            You make the accusation, you back it up, because you would put the same onus on me, if it were the other way around.

          • And there you have it folks, complete capitulation of the argument.

            Which just goes to prove, that Ling Lang had nothing in the beginning, except to be a useful idiot for the industrial/pharmaceutical/medical industry.

          • He did sue in the UK – and lost, with the ruling pointing out that he was suing for PR purposes. This, in notoriously plaintiff-friendly Britain. The suit in Texas was filed to raise money from the gullible (something Wakefield has gotten good at, over the years).

          • Why should anyone apologize for calling a con artist what he is? Wakefield’s fall was an SIW.

          • Lets see…the man The New York Times magazine called “The most reviled doctor of his generation?”

            That Wakefield?

          • Of course not, because it’s all irrelevant to the discussion.
            Seeing as though you are a jarhead, do you need me to put it into simple monosyllabic words?

          • Of course not, because I’m afraid to hear the truth. it’s all irrelevant to the discussion.

            FTFY.

          • Oh, now you’re claiming the high moral ground and saying it’s not part of the discussion?

          • You say a lot of things you have no hope of substantiating, Peter, but that’s ok. It’s fascinating to watch.

          • Oh, so you are a retired marine are you?
            A jarhead that is part of US global hegemony, correct?

      • The point is who cares if someone choose not to eat gluten. The more people who eat gluten free foods create a need for more gluten free food.
        Why get into a tizzy and demean people who say they feel better not eating something.
        Yes I get frustrated at people who say they have to eat gluten free then munch on a breadstick but in the end their dollars drive vendors to create a better gluten free product.
        When my son was first diagnosed his choices were tasteless now he can order at Pizza 9.
        To say say it’s for rich white people is more offensive than the poseurs.

  3. First, please drop the racial characterizations.

    In my opinion, the wide variety of gluten free products is a good thing even if the actual benefits matter to only a few people.

    But meanwhile, there’s an emerging set of predators in the food business who are preying on people who choose to avoid gluten but who have not learned what it is. So we see gluten-free labels on products which never in a million years could have gluten. E.g. bacon, cheese, olive oil.

    • Back in the day when the food to avoid was cholesterol, you’d see “no cholesterol” on stuff that never had cholesterol in it, either, e.g. fruits, veggies.

  4. Love the article!!! I always ask for “extra gluten” when they offer me the gluten free pizza crust. Totally throws them off. LOL (except SSD is not a cool disease and I will never understand why gynecologists don’t screen black women. It would reduce the needless suffering.)

  5. Lazy writing. Even though the writer admits celiac disease is a real and serious condition, the term keeps getting switched out for what should be “gluten intolerance”. By the way, further study has shown that while gluten intolerance isn’t a thing, there are short chain carbs in bread, called FODMAPs, that people who claim to be gluten intolerant may be reacting to.

  6. Ask Dr. Murray the reason he and his research team who published extensively about a blood pressure medication causing celiac-like symptoms with intestinal changes never once noted an examination of that drug’s (with multiple generic manufacturers) inactive ingredients which included not only starches and gelatins often made from wheat, but other formulation fillers such as lactose and soy – which many celiac and gluten-sensitive folks also react to in addition to gluten.

    Landmark study ‘14 or ‘15 out of Columbia U showed that patients with celiac diagnosed via intestinal biopsy were studied. They were given like a dozen proteins from wheat – aside from the gluten proteins most of these folks reacted to several if not all of the non-gluten wheat proteins which to the researchers likely accounts for non-celiac sensitivity symptoms and in some pre-celiac state patients reacting to other proteins in wheat before the gene for gluten response kicks in.

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