It Can’t Hurt Right? Complimentary and Alternative Medicine and Gluten-Related Disorders

A recent study (G Boyer et al. Am J Gastroenterol 2019; 114: 786-91) examined the promotion of testing and treatment of gluten-related disorders among complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners. Thanks to Ben Gold for this reference.

Background: CAM expenditures in 2016 by Americans was $30.2 billion in 2016. “Studies have found that it is not uncommon for CAM clinics to make wide-reaching claims as to their abilities to diagnose a plethora of conditions.”  In the present study, the authors reviewed the advertising content of 500 CAM clinic websites with regard to gluten-related disorders..

Key points:

  • The authors further identified 232 claims from 114 clinic websites; 138 (59.5%) were judged as unproven or false.
  • “Some clinics advertised treatments that pose potential harm;” this includes the sale of digestive enzymes promoted to digest gluten and which purport to allow the person with celiac or nonceliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) to ingest gluten safely.  “This is a baseless claim that could lead to serious harm.”
  • “Other clinics falsely claimed that everyone should be on a gluten-free diet regardless of a diagnosis of celiac disease or NCGS.”

My take: Given the popularity of CAM along with the frequency of misleading claims, this suggests the need for increased regulation.  These websites are likely to increase confusion about the diagnosis and management of gluten-related disorders (which can  be confusing without any help!)

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