Celiac is not a disease

Celiac is not a disease. Lest you think I’ve gone off my rocker, let me explain.

Say that, of 100 people you know who smoke, only 1 gets lung cancer. Do we declare that the only person who has problems with cigarettes is the poor unfortunate guy or girl with the one lung cancer? Shall we ignore the 60 cases of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, the 10 abdominal aortic aneurysms, the 5 thoracic aortic and iliofemoral aneurysms, the oral, tongue, and laryngeal cancers, and the several dozen other conditions that typically develop in smokers–but not as imminently fatal as lung cancer?

In other words, do we dismiss all these conditions that fall outside of lung cancer just because . . . they’re not lung cancer?

Of course not:All the conditions caused by smoking are important, even potentially debilitating, crippling, or fatal, even if they don’t “qualify” as lung cancer.

Then why do we do this with celiac disease? Modern wheat and its various components (alpha gliadins, omega gliadins, glutens, glutenins, amylopectin A, wheat germ agglutinin, alpha amylase inhibitors, and others) trigger an entire range of health conditions. Readers of the Wheat Belly message understand that consumption of any food made with modern wheat can cause:

–Accumumulation of inflammatory visceral fat (a “wheat belly”)
Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, diabetes
Gastrointestinal disruption–acid reflux/heart burn, esophagitis, esophageal stricture, bowel urgency/irritable bowel syndrome, worsening of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease)
Neurological impairment–from mind “fog” and behavior outbursts in children with autistic spectrum disorder and ADHD, to paranoia and hallucations in schizophrenia, to food obsessions in those prone to bulimia and binge eating disorder, to triggering of mania in bipolar illness, to depression in the depression-prone. Also add cerebellar ataxia, peripheral neuropathy, and dementia to the list (“gluten encephalopathy”).
Joint pain and arthritis–Including both “wear-and-tear” osteoarthritis as well as inflammatory forms like rheumatoid.
Autoimmune diseases–The peculiar potential for the gliadin protein of wheat to “unlock” the normal intestinal barriers, allowing foreign antigens access into the bloodstream, is the first step in autoimmunity, the immune system’s misguided effort to eliminate the “intruder,” such as your thyroid gland, colon, small intestine, synovial lining of your joints, skin, thymus, liver, pancreas, even brain.
Skin disorders–Skin rashes and damage from wheat are as varied as they are ubiquitous. There is hardly a skin condition that is not caused by wheat. (Not to say that all skin conditions are caused by wheat–they are not, but that, of all the myriad skin conditions experienced by humans, virtually all have been associated with wheat consumption.) This ranges from the level of nuisance, such as acne, to the level of life-threatening, such as leg gangrene.

There’s plenty more, from cataracts, to calciuria, to porotic hyperostosis (disfigurement of the skull from iron deficiency). Shall we ignore all the other conditions attributable to wheat consumption just because they are not celiac disease? Do we regard the one smoker with lung cancer as the only one with disease–and the rest don’t count?

Okay, I think you can begin to appreciate the absurdity of labeling celiac a “disease”: The disease ain’t celiac; the disease is wheat.

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115 Responses to Celiac is not a disease

  1. Rene says:

    Sensationalism sells! Look at all the attention the doctor’s comments have generated. I have been GF for over a decade due to minor anaphylaxis (eliminating wheat allowed me to swallow again!) and reading Wheat Belly solidified my choice to continue to do so. Getting the word out that there are other reasons for going GF besides celiac is needed. I can’t even count how many times I have heard the comments “if you are not celiac, a GF diet is just a fad” or “if you eat organic whole wheat you are fine” or even “if you grind your own fresh at home you are safe”! The word needs to get out and this is helping greatly to do that. Since wheat is not “GM”, most people think it is safe and healthy for you.

    I had decided to start eating wheat again in order to be tested. I developed neuropathy after 2 weeks that has taken months to get rid of. I read Wheat Belly 3 weeks in and swore off wheat for the rest of my life whether I am truly intolerant or not. My husband is now GF also. If you are celiac, you know to stay away from wheat. It’s the other 95% that need to get the message. Keep up the good work Dr Davis!

  2. Stephanie Todd says:

    Cool. Cancer is not a disease! The author makes perfect sense. Glad she set me straight! Can’t wait to tell all my cancer-ridden friends that they have nothing wrong with them.

  3. GuyB says:

    That was a great title for your post Dr. Davis! It really got a lot of people reading and responding!
    Thanks for your two books, great reads with life saving info!

  4. Mrs.Miniver says:

    Stephanie Todd’s comment on cancer certainly makes me pause…nice to know there is no danger in trying a gluten-free/gliadin-free diet for a couple of weeks to see whether your symptoms improve. Dr. Davis is one of the few doctors in the U.S. who is seeking to eliminate the CAUSE of illness instead of just masking the symptoms with drugs that are the beginning of yet another slippery slope of meds. Makes me wonder whether those who are skeptical have a financial interest in Pillsbury or Kraft or Kellogg’s or…

  5. Sandy Brill says:

    Dear Dr. Davis,
    Thank you for Wheat Belly and the Wheat Belly Cookbook, from which I have learned so much and am benefiting greatly, along with my husband. If I have been off wheat for a few months, and I would like to be tested for celiac disease, how long do I have to be consuming gluten for the test to be accurate? (I understand if you’ve been off it, the test won’t be accurate.) I have had some barley, and perhaps a little wheat in some soy sauce when eating out, but in very small amounts. Thank you for your time. Sandy Brill

  6. Avijit Bajpai says:

    Celiac Diseases have more to do with Dietary Allergies than infections and habits. Gluten can well be one of the cause of the problem. I’ve bumped into an informative blog post discussing the food items to be included in meals to avoid Gluten allergy. Check it out:

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  8. Boundless says:

    Blame everything but the cause.

    Being members of Sam’s Club, we are afflicted with an unwanted subscription to “Healthy Living”, which is full of Random Things To Try Doing Because We Have No Real Idea Why The Consensus Diet Is Making You Fat And Sick (plus ads for products Sam’s carries).

    The August 2013 edition contains an article “living a gluten-free life” by Stefano Guandalini, MD. It’s not actually about living a gluten-free life. It’s a vehicle for pushing the “hygiene hypothesis” of why celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are increasing. You can find similar sermons on the web (also featuring Dr.G), such as:
    (this webmd article, by the way, puts the celiac+NCGS population at 10%).

    The hygiene hypothesis conjectures that modern childhood has, due to higher hygiene, inadequate exposure to bacteria, leading to less robust gut flora. Put another way, the epidemiology of gluten-tied ailments is changing because the VICTIMS have changed, and aren’t tough enough to eat wheat. None of the articles I scanned had the least hint of consideration for whether the food itself had changed, particularly the gluten-bearing grains.

    A staple of these sermons is: don’t go GF unless your doctor tells you to, or even: don’t go GF unless you are actually celiac
    And Dr. Guandalini wants you to follow that path by:
    1. genetic screening
    2. blood tests for anti-bodies (which presumably means deliberate gluten exposure)
    3. biopsy of the small intestine
    And the only treatment? GF diet.

    How about we just do that anyway.

    I sense the shadowy hand of Big Grain here. They cannot allow it to be true that their product is a human toxin, so they are could be behind this propaganda campaign that the victims are to blame. And they don’t even need to pay off Dr. G., because he gets a steady stream of patients running up huge bills for pointless labs.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Boundless, you are an absolute champion! Very well said.

      I don’t know if Stefano Guandalini is dishonest and is being paid to articulate this message or whether he is just ignorant, or both. If it’s ignorance, it is ignorance of a shameful degree.

      • Boundless says:

        At the very least, Dr. G. has to know that over 80% of the time, the celiac testing will be false negative, and thus a total waste of money, aggravation and time.

        “hygiene hypothesis” must be the emerging name for this new It Can’t Be The Wheat propaganda initiative. Jones, in that AACCI hatchet job, called it “the clean theory”.

  9. Isabel says:

    I am very confused by your logic. So should we change the name from “celiac disease” to “wheat disease”
    Personally I am not convinced by your argument and reasoning, but then I have had a very conventional medical training. This article has been successful though in getting a lot of attention – thanks for the thought provoking writing.

    • Boundless says:

      > So should we change the name from “celiac disease” to “wheat disease”

      Perhaps wheat induced food poisoning. As I remarked in the “older” comments:
      “Celiac is kind of like poison ivy. Some have little or no response to the toxin. Some have an acute response, which predisposes them to future acute responses, and even spontaneous outbreaks. The rash is called urushiol-induced contact dermatitis. Is it a “disease”? No, it’s just an allergic reaction, one that can require hospitalization (and if you have this allergy, don’t eat mangoes).”

      > … but then I have had a very conventional medical training.
      Do try to avoid fitting this profile :)
      What’s Up With My Doctor?

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  11. Sarah says:

    You’re kidding right? Please be kidding.
    You’re adding misconceptions and hype to fad dieters everywhere.
    Saying celiac isn’t a disease is making us sound like hypochondriacs. I realize your solution is for everyone to go g/f. Do you honestly thing that’s going to happen? I don’t. By saying it isn’t a disease you are minimizing the damage that gluten does to our bodies. Major damage.

    Also, boundless, if I hear one more person call it an ALLERGY I’m going to explode. It’s an autoimmune DISEASE.

    • Boundless says:

      > You’re kidding right? Please be kidding.

      Absolutely not. Where do we draw the line on what is a “disease” and what is not? Obesity was lately classified as a disease. 99.999734% of the time it is no such thing. Is alcoholism a disease? I don’t think so.

      > You’re adding misconceptions and hype to fad dieters everywhere.

      The age of fad diets is about to end.

      > Saying celiac isn’t a disease is making us sound like hypochondriacs.

      Absolutely not. You have a testable genetic predisposition that indicates a severe immune response to something that should never have been considered a human food.

      > I realize your solution is for everyone to go g/f.

      Not just. Also low-carb, high-fat, entirely grain-free, PUFA-free, soy-free, organic, and non-GMO :).

      > Do you honestly think that’s going to happen?

      Of course not, just like people still smoke. But smokers can no longer pretend that they are unaware of the health consequences (or worse, {circa 1950} that smoking actually has health benefits, which is comparable to vegetarians who today eat pure gluten {seitan}, thinking it’s a superfood).

      > By saying it isn’t a disease you are minimizing the damage
      > that gluten does to our bodies. Major damage.

      Well, I respect your reaction, but you’re making that up. Gluten damages us all. Celiacs are damaged faster and more severely.

      > … if I hear one more person call it an ALLERGY I’m going to explode.
      > It’s an autoimmune DISEASE.

      So how who you feel about people routinely getting Cyrex array 3 testing?
      40% will come back as gluten-sensitive (compared to perhaps 2-5% for celiac).

      Apart from over-extending the meaning of the word “disease”, the celiac diagnosis is presently impeding progress in eliminating this toxin from the food chain. Far too many MDs and nutrition specialists think that if you test negative for celiac, you’re free to consume gluten.

      • sarah says:

        How do I feel about Cyrex testing? Honest answer, I’m not sure. I don’t have all the information I would need to determine if it’s alarmist crap or the real deal. What I do know is that research hasn’t determined what size of peptide is needed or what other proteins/peptides can cause our cells to create antibodies to our own cells and enzymes that triggers intestinal damage. That’s the autoimmune part of celiac. That’s why we have more damage than normal people. Normal people do not have this biological response. There are others that have symptoms, but don’t have the autoimmune component (non celiac). I think these are the people you are talking about and as I understand it each case is different. I would agree with your last statement, but I think it’s more of a personal responsibility issue than a drs telling you what to do issue. If you fell like crap after eating gluten or grains, don’t eat them.
        My beef with this article is not with that aspect. I think it would be awesome if nobody ate gluten. It would make my life a hell of a lot easier. my problem is with spreading alarmist misinformation that confuses the general public and ultimately makes it harder for people like me to eat out or go shopping. The new labeling law is an excellent example of how good intentions get it wrong.