Last week, there was a small item in the New York Times science section, Science Times, answering the question, “Other than celiac disease, is there any reason to avoid gluten in the diet?” There are reasons other than celiac disease for people to be intolerant of gluten, a protein in wheat and some other grains, but, as the Times item says, evidence is just not there to support health benefits of a gluten-free diet if you are not one of those affected.
Despite that, the gluten-free diet has become a fad, with all sort of claims from general well-being, to anti-cancer properties, to autism prevention behind it. None of the claims are supported by science, only by folk tales, by books and magazine articles and self-help lecturers.
But, of course, when you start talking about fad diets, you’ll get the faddists coming out of the woodwork. And so we have a letter to the editor, from a California reader:
Rather than casting doubt on the people who take on the economic, social and other hardships associated with a gluten-free diet, The New York Times should use its public platform to applaud them for taking responsibility for their health and encourage doctors to take a professional interest in what they can learn from these earnest patients.
— Tracy Haughton, Mill Valley, Calif.
Rather than believing quietly whatever bullshit people come up with, the New York Times should be using its public platform to cast doubt on that which has no evidence. And doctors should be looking at things that really work, and taking a professional interest in what they can learn from studying the real effects of foods and drugs. There’s no value in paying much attention to some vague story about how Aunt Gertrude took on the economic and social hardships of a fad diet, and her arthritis feels much better now.
People should take responsibility for their own health, and that includes eating properly. But before we start arbitrarily removing things from our diets — or, if you like, as we try removing them — we should be pushing for real studies of the effects, not accepting anecdotes and fuzzy science.