Gluten sensitivity without celiac disease

Gluten free is big business.  In a range of conditions, eliminating gluten has been advocated to improve symptoms.  The most frequent problem in which a gluten-free diet (GFD) may be beneficial is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  A selected summary in Gastroenterology discusses this topic (Gastroenterology 2012; 142: 664-73).

This review highlights an article that showed improvement in a double-blind randomized trial (Am J Gastroenterol 2011; 106: 508-14) & then reviews the topic more broadly.  The study is the first randomized controlled trial that suggests that nonceliac IBS patients may improve with a GFD.  The study looked at 34 patients with IBS who had improved with a GFD & had no evidence of celiac disease (either negative HLA-DQ2/DQ8 or duodenal biopsy).  Then 19 patients had 16g of gluten per day reintroduced; control patients were offered equivalent food that was gluten-free.  The gluten products in the study were free of fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols to avoid confounders (What to make of FODMAPs).  The patients who continued a GFD had less reported pain, bloating and tiredness.  The GFD group reported good control of symptoms the previous week in 68% vs. 40% in the study group.

The commentary notes that ‘gluten sensitivity’ is big business, accounting for 1.3 billion in 2011 expenditures.  Companies like General Mills, Betty Crocker, PF Chang’s, and Subway are offering gluten-free choices.  Since immune activation and low-grade inflammation may be important for IBS, it is possible that some foods trigger these processes.  At the same time, individuals with reported gluten sensitivity have not been shown to have increased intestinal permeability; this is in contrast to celiac disease (BMC Med 2011; 9; 23).

There may be more patients with IBS who will benefit from a GFD due to gluten sensitivity than patients with celiac disease.

Additional references:

  • -Nutr Clin Pract. 2011;26:294-299.  A gluten-free diet (GFD) is commonly recognized as the treatment for celiac disease. It also has been investigated as a treatment option for other medical conditions, including dermatitis herpetiformis, irritable bowel syndrome, neurologic disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, and HIV-associated enteropathy. The strength of the evidence for the use of a GFD in these nonceliac diseases varies.
  • -Clin Gastro & Hep 2007; 5: 844. GFD in IBS pts (w/o celiac)
  • -Am J Gastro 2009; 104: 1587. Gluten sensitivity in IBS (w celiac)
  • -Gastroenterology 2011; 141: 1187. Prevalence of celiac similar in IBS as general population though higher number (7%) with celiac antibodies (esp gliadin).
  • -Am J Gastro 2008; 103: S472 (abstract P687) Serology for Celiac in IBS patients same as in controls. n=566. n=555 controls.
  • -Clin Gastro & Hep 2007; 5: 844. d-IBS patients may respond to gluten-free diet, especially if positive HLA-DQ2 expression or positive celiac serology.
  • -Lancet 2001; 358: 1504-08. n=300 uninvestigated pts w IBS criteria & 300 controls. 66 w positive serology; 14 w biopsy-proven celiac dz, 43 w normal biopsies. Odds ratio of 7 to have celiac compared to control group (2 w biopsy-proven disease).

12 thoughts on “Gluten sensitivity without celiac disease

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