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A balanced look at gluten sensitivity

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Even though it doesn’t appear on any calendar, May 2014 will go down in history as “gluten sensitivity month.” After RealClearScience picked up on a 2013 paper that brought into question the existence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), news sites were obliged to post their own analysis of the article, and the blogosphere was alight with pro- and anti-gluten posts. One of the authors of the paper in question, Dr. Peter Gibson of Monash University, was even mentioned on the People magazine website, which gives him the distinction of being the only researcher to be published alongside the Kardashians.

Photo by flickr user surlygirl used under a CC licence.

Photo by flickr user surlygirl used under a CC licence.

The Monash paper,1 which was previously discussed on SBM, suggested that it might be the fructans in wheat and not gluten that is responsible for symptoms in IBS sufferers who feel better on a gluten-free diet. Fructans belong to a group of short-chain carbohydrates known as FODMAPs that are readily fermented by bacteria in the intestine. If fructans were really to blame for wheat-induced gastrointestinal symptoms, this would be good news for IBS sufferers currently on a gluten-free diet — for some, a diet low in FODMAPs would be less restrictive than one without gluten, making it less prone to nutritional deficiencies.

As it stands, the existence of NCGS has neither been proven nor disproven by anyone. But gluten sensitivity sits at the intersection of several dilemmas in medicine today and, unlike how it’s betrayed in the media, is hardly an all-or-nothing affair. Proving it wrong will not instantly heal the people who have prescribed themselves a gluten-free diet. Proving it wrong will not produce a cure for IBS, a shorter time to a celiac diagnosis, or the correct way to handle potential celiac disease. Neither will proving it right. In the eyes of one gluten avoider, “Modern medicine is really good at crisis intervention…[but] they don’t do well with chronic issues”.2

With these issues in mind, it’s time to move past the media debates and fad dieters and take a balanced look at NCGS. This overview will use four recent articles by the Monash group1, 3, 4, 5 as a framework to uncover some of the factors contributing to the gluten sensitivity phenomenon. Even though it has been gone over many times, a discussion of the FODMAPs study is still in order — in fact, essential — to appreciate the central importance of the elimination diet in diagnosing a food sensitivity. Along the way, we’ll get an idea of who the gluten sensitive might be, how successful gluten-free diets really are, and how challenging it is to pursue a celiac diagnosis.

Some definitions

To refresh, here are some of the key ideas discussed:

  • Gluten: A protein found in relatively large amounts in wheat, but also found in other grains.
  • Celiac disease: A genetically-linked autoimmune disorder caused by the small intestine reacting to gluten. Causes pain, altered bowel movements and malnutrition.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome: A diagnosis made purely on the basis of symptoms (bloating, pain and either diarrhea, constipation, or both), with no known current cause.
  • Elimination diet: A diet which removes specific foods or classes of foods from the diet in an effort to identify the trigger to an allergic reaction or symptom(s).

A food sensitivity is born

In 2011, an international panel of experts defined NCGS as “a non-allergic and non-autoimmune condition in which the consumption of gluten can lead to symptoms similar to those seen in celiac disease”.6 Non-intestinal symptoms can include behavioral changes, bone or joint pain, muscle cramps, leg numbness, weight loss, and chronic fatigue.7 But this is only a working definition, and there is still a lot of uncertainty as to what NCGS actually represents, even for its proponents.

So far, NCGS appears to be a heterogeneous phenomenon, with at least three different and potentially-overlapping subtypes6, 8:

  • A type reminiscent of celiac disease — a family history of celiac disease or the celiac HLA genes but no increase in intestinal permeability and no auto-immune response.
  • A type reminiscent of irritable bowel syndrome — intestinal motility issues but a greater frequency non-intestinal symptoms.
  • A type reminiscent of food allergies — prior history of allergy or concurrent food sensitivities and some immunological markers for celiac disease, but no activation of mucosal basophils by gliadin.

Multiple subtypes imply multiple mechanisms, and this too needs to be ironed out for NCGS. Sapone et al.9 described NCGS as “an inflammatory condition mostly supported by innate immune mechanisms,” which differentiates it from celiac disease and wheat allergy, and in vitro evidence suggests that other poorly-digested wheat proteins known as amylase-trypsin inhibitors might trigger the innate immune response.6 Changes in intestinal microbiota may also play a role in NCGS.10 And, of course, the fructans have their own special magic.

The backstory

When NCGS was officially created by consensus, things weren’t proceeding according to the normal order. Celiac researchers, mainly centered at the University of Maryland, were pretty convinced that they had seen non-celiac patients whose symptoms had improved on a gluten-free diet. They searched for a set of biomarkers that would shed light on these cases, but found nothing consistent except for the absence of two celiac hallmarks — an autoimmune response and increased intestinal permeability.6, 8

From a food sensitivity perspective, however, searching for biomarkers is putting the cart before the horse. Food sensitivities, like cow’s milk protein intolerance or certain food additive intolerances, are only recognized after they have been demonstrated in studies using a double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge (DBPCFC). The DBPCFC works regardless of the mechanism behind the reaction, so it can be used before any biomarkers have been identified.

Back in 2011, only one study had been completed on gluten sensitivity using a DBPCFC,3 and this first bit of positive evidence came from the Monash group. The study looked at a small group of IBS sufferers who identified themselves as gluten sensitive and who tested negative for celiac disease. They could only enter the study if their symptoms — abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or tiredness — were currently well controlled by a gluten-free diet.

Most DBPCFC studies use a crossover design, but the first Monash study randomly divided the participants into test and control groups. All participants continued on their usual gluten-free diet during the course of the study and were challenged with either gluten-free or gluten-containing low-FODMAP bread and muffins. The gluten group experienced greater gastrointestinal symptoms and tiredness compared to the control group, so it looked like gluten could induce GI symptoms on its own.

Shortly thereafter, a group at the University of Palermo11 used a DBPCFC to see whether any of their IBS patients were affected by wheat. In the end, they reclassified 30% of the 920 patients as suffering from wheat sensitivity. Notice I said wheat sensitivity — this study used capsules of wheat flour as the challenge instead of gluten. It also differed from the Monash study in that it included a stricter elimination diet before and during the challenges, not just relying on participants to maintain their own gluten-free diets.

The elimination diet — or the baseline diet — just may be the most important part of a DBPCFC. It puts everyone on a level playing field, stabilizing symptoms and doing away with any effects that might carry over from the participants’ normal diets. An elimination diet excludes the food under investigation and, if the study is thorough, all other foods or food additives that might produce a reaction. If symptoms don’t improve by the end of the elimination diet, then the study is on the wrong track.

The Palermo researchers were looking at a broader set of food sensitivities than just wheat. Gluten-free participants were asked to resume a normal diet for 2-4 weeks before beginning the elimination diet, which excluded wheat plus cow’s milk, eggs, tomato, and chocolate — foods known to aggravate IBS — and any other triggers identified by the participants. A challenge was considered positive if symptoms returned after having disappeared during the elimination diet. Of those testing positive for wheat sensitivity, the majority were also positive for cow’s milk protein intolerance when challenged separately; half were also sensitive to eggs and tomato.

Since many different foods are commonly, although not universally, reported to trigger or worsen IBS symptoms, the Palermo study didn’t go far enough to determine whether NCGS (or wheat sensitivity) is really its own entity outside of IBS or to explain the possible overlap between the two conditions. On the other hand, the Monash results were significant because gluten alone seemed to have caused an adverse reaction in IBS sufferers. But this result needed to be replicated under stricter conditions, so 2013 brought a new paper from the Monash group1 on a second gluten trial.


In IBS, the enteric (intestinal) nervous system is easily overstimulated, leading to abnormal contractions and an exaggerated perception of pain. Food triggers IBS symptoms by stimulating the enteric nervous system directly through various chemical receptors or indirectly by pressure.12 FODMAPs — which include fructans, galactans, polyols, fructose, and lactose — lead to more pressure in the intestine than other foods because they are poorly absorbed, rapidly fermented, and osmotically active.13 In other words, they cause gas and loose stools. The low-FODMAP diet, developed in 2008 by the same group at Monash University that we have been discussing, is the first comprehensive diet plan shown to reduce symptoms in the majority of IBS sufferers.14

Before the low-FODMAP diet, avoiding single foods like wheat or milk wasn’t always effective in treating IBS14; eliminating more than one carbohydrate type, like fructans and fructose, seems to have an additive effect that controls IBS symptoms better.15 That said, not everyone with IBS is sensitive to all of the FODMAPs, and the diet is highly customizable. The effectiveness of the low-FODMAP diet means that any diet study involving IBS sufferers must control for the effects of high-FODMAP foods.

The second DBCPFC study from the Monash group — the one that has received all the media attention — was a randomized crossover trial using stricter diets and stricter testing to make sure that participants did not have latent celiac disease. In this trial, meals were provided and additional snacks were logged. Here they ran two experiments — one where the elimination diet excluded high-FODMAP foods and the other where the elimination diet excluded high-FODMAP foods, dairy, and known triggers of pharmacological food intolerance reactions.

In the first arm of the study, participants were given challenge foods containing gluten, gluten plus whey, and pure whey, each separated by a washout period. Overall, symptoms improved during the low-FODMAP elimination diet but worsened for each of the challenges. Individually, though, only 3 out of 37 showed a significant response attributable to gluten when all challenges were considered.

In the second arm, 22 people from the first group were rechallenged with foods that contained gluten, whey, or no additional protein. This phase, which was meant to verify the results of the first using an even stricter elimination diet, could not reproduce any of the previous reactions. For example, only 2 out of 22 responded to gluten in the second arm, and these were not the same people who responded to gluten in the first.

One blogger took issue with the fact that many of the participants reacted to whey: “If some of the ‘placebo’ and low-gluten patients were, in fact, sensitive to whey, then that would invalidate the results of the study.” But that’s not true. The point to remember is that most people did not react to the same challenge food twice, and only one person consistently reacted to whey. Furthermore, it isn’t a catastrophe in a study like this if someone reacts to the placebo — this can happen for many reasons, including just having a bad day. What matters is how the reaction to the real challenge compares to the placebo reaction; if it is significantly greater, then the challenge is positive.

What did the researchers conclude? Considering both arms of the study and the immunological testing that also took place, no evidence of gluten-specific effects were found in patients on a low-FODMAP diet. They did not conclude that gluten sensitivity does not exist, only that “gluten may not be a specific trigger of functional gut symptoms once dietary FODMAPs are reduced.” That, however, does not settle the debate over gluten sensitivity. What the two Monash trials have shown us is the correct elimination diet to be used when looking for NCGS.

Gluten free with symptoms

The story doesn’t end there, though. From the Monash work we also learned that a good number of gluten-free dieters continue with the diet even though their symptoms do not completely resolve. This came out in two ways. To be included in the two Monash studies, participants needed to have well-controlled symptoms on a gluten-free diet. For the second study, for example, 147 volunteers were screened using several questions, one being, “Do you currently feel in control of your symptoms?”4 To this, 22% answered “no,” 3% answered “sometimes,” 16% answered “mostly,” and 59% answered “yes.” Then, when participants rated their symptoms at the beginning of the study, 11 of 37 were under significant distress, and 22% of the group significantly improved while on the low-FODMAP elimination diet.1

It is tempting to think that the people who did see complete improvement on their own gluten-free diet were not really sensitive to gluten in the first place, but we don’t have the data to support this — only 58% of the larger group believed that they were strictly gluten free, and it is not clear how many of the gluten ‘cheaters’ still had symptoms. As the researchers pointed out, we also do not know how the symptomatic group felt before they began avoiding gluten — perhaps they had actually improved quite a bit on a gluten-free diet, but just not completely. Another explanation is that FODMAPs were really to blame for their symptoms, and avoiding only wheat wasn’t enough to provide complete relief.

It isn’t surprising that a person could be mistaken about having gluten sensitivity. According to someone like Dr. Oz, gluten sensitivity can be diagnosed by avoiding gluten for a while — say two weeks or a month — and then trying some to see what happens. But avoiding a staple food like wheat amounts to a major change of eating habits, and it is likely that wheat will not be the only food that is eliminated. For those who aren’t accustomed to performing experiments on themselves, these diet instructions don’t explain that any and all foods excluded during an elimination diet must be excluded for the entire diet and then used as a challenge later on. On top of this, placebo challenges really are necessary, and one round of challenges may not be enough — when symptoms are subjective or when a strong nocebo effect is expected, the active and placebo challenges should be randomized and repeated three times.6, 7

Oddly, many participants from the second Monash study opted to continue their gluten-free diet after the study ended because the diet made them “feel” better.5 This intrigued the researchers, so they invited the participants back for a third study to find out whether gluten was affecting their mental state.5 This trial proceeded along the same lines as the second, and mental state was assessed using the Spielberger State Trait Personality Inventory. Gluten still had no impact on gastrointestinal symptoms, but it did induce feelings of depression. This is a very interesting result because it could explain the lure of the gluten-free diet; however, researchers are still a long way off from uncovering a definite link between gluten and depression, transient or otherwise.

The missing celiacs and other sufferers

The final bit of information from the Monash researchers comes from the 147 people who applied to participate in their gluten studies.4 Of these, 44% had initiated their gluten-free diet themselves; the rest were following the advice of an alternative health professional (21%), dietitian (19%), or general practitioner (16%). In the surveys that followed, the researchers determined that two-thirds had not adequately excluded celiac disease, meaning that 15% had not been tested at all for celiac disease and that 29% of those who had undergone duodenal biopsies did not consume enough gluten beforehand for the results to be valid [see 18]. This includes half of the tests initiated by general practitioners.

Considering that one in 56 people with symptoms will have celiac disease,19 it is important to know why people feel confident diagnosing themselves with gluten sensitivity without first ruling out the more serious problem. Even if they do maintain a strict gluten-free diet for their entire lives, without a formal diagnosis, these people with possible celiac miss out on follow-up care, accommodations by schools and employers, and tax breaks or food subsidies in many countries. The truth is, many have pursued a celiac diagnosis or wish that they could have pursued one. The decision to go it alone is not taken lightly — consider these situations pulled from stories posted online:

  1. They met the serologic for celiac disease but had a negative biopsy.
  2. Their doctor won’t test them even though they have asked.
  3. Their doctor says that they cannot have celiac disease because they are overweight.
  4. Their doctor told them that they are too old to have celiac disease.
  5. They were not told to or told not to do a gluten challenge before the endoscopy.
  6. Their doctor ordered a colonoscopy to check for celiac disease.
  7. They already believe that they have celiac disease because of their symptoms and family history.
  8. An alternative practitioner told them that they have celiac disease because their reaction to gluten is severe.
  9. They are already gluten free and don’t want to “get glutened” again in order to be tested.
  10. Having a celiac diagnosis won’t affect their commitment to a gluten-free diet.
  11. They believe that the Cyrex test is more thorough than conventional celiac testing from a doctor.
  12. They believe that celiac disease is only a minor part of the spectrum of gluten-related disorders.
  13. They are worried that their health and life insurance premiums will increase.
  14. They don’t want a preexisting condition on their the health insurance records.
  15. They do not have enough money for an endoscopy.
  16. Their health insurance wouldn’t pay for an endoscopy.

Regardless of what we might think about these reasons, they paint the picture of a larger problem. Roughly 80% of celiac cases go undiagnosed,20, 1 a situation that The Lancet has described as a “public health farce”21 in light of the millions of healthy people who choose to be gluten free. Undiagnosed celiac disease can lead to osteoporosis, anemia, infertility, certain intestinal cancers, other autoimmune disorders, and an increased risk of mortality, although the latter is still under debate.3, 4 Still, the average time to receive a celiac diagnosis has been around 11 years.22

Right now we don’t know how many people with self-diagnosed gluten sensitivity actually have celiac disease, but the Monash data tells us that this is a significant concern. Efforts are being made to cut down the time it takes for a celiac diagnosis, but progress is slow.22 Increasing celiac awareness among physicians is part myth busting and part reeducation, and in the absence of mass screening, doctors must be able to spot non-GI or “atypical” symptoms and associated conditions that suggest the presence of the disease.23 At the same time, the protocol for diagnosing celiac disease is being reexamined24 — in Europe, the duodenal biopsy, currently regarded as the gold standard for celiac diagnosis, can be omitted in certain circumstances.25

We also don’t know how often potential celiac disease is actually mislabeled as gluten sensitivity. Potential celiac disease describes cases where serologic and genetic markers for celiac disease are positive but the biopsy is negative.22 There is no consensus on whether to treat potential celiac disease, nor, for that matter, whether it is a real problem or just a false-positive result.5,9 Some evidence suggests that a gluten-free diet is beneficial,26 while another report describes patients whose symptoms spontaneously improved even though they continued to eat gluten.27 Until the issues surrounding celiac and potential celiac disease have been resolved, non-celiac gluten sensitivity — or at least one of its subtypes — cannot be clearly defined.

Where do we go from here?

In a large Australian survey from 2013, roughly 7% of respondents had diagnosed themselves with gluten sensitivity.28 The gluten free fad is just as popular in Australia as it is in the US,1, 2 so this figure might also estimate the prevalence of gluten sensitivity here, even though a 2009 estimate was much lower at 0.55%.29

Who might be in the 7%? Some with IBS, some with a botched celiac diagnosis, some with potential celiac disease, some who are intolerant to foods that they inadvertently eliminated because of their new diet, some who get only a psychological benefit from avoiding gluten, some whose symptoms continue despite their best efforts, some who really are hypochondriacs, and perhaps some with NCGS as its own entity. It doesn’t even matter whether non-celiac gluten sensitivity exists — these people will remain.

But it’s going to be a while until gluten sensitivity is understood. According to Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at the Massachusetts General Hospital, NCGS stands where celiac disease stood 40 years ago.8 Even so, all we need are a few good DBPCFC trials to answer the basic question as to whether gluten sensitivity exists. This may be easier said than done, however, as the Monash group found such a strong nocebo effect in their trials that they now believe that future research should involve IBS sufferers who have not tried a gluten-free diet before.30

In the meantime, more people will suspect that they are sensitive to gluten, and if they are not to be lost to self-diagnosis or alternative medicine, the medical community must be able to lead them through the process of sorting out their suspicions. The Monash researchers have suggested an interim pathway for diagnosing gluten sensitivity, which includes:4

  1. The adequate exclusion of celiac disease.
  2. The exclusion of other dietary triggers, like FODMAPs or other foods suspected by the individual.
  3. A gluten-free diet, if symptoms did not resolve or improve in Step 2.
  4. Blinded gluten challenges, if symptoms did improve in Step 3.
  5. Rechallenges with gluten to establish their gluten threshold.

As a clinical approach, this moves us away from thinking about gluten sensitivity in all or nothing terms and addresses the issues one person at a time.

The author

Laurie Laforest, PhD is a former materials scientist turned computer programmer turned food intolerance mom. She blogs at to clear up misconceptions on the nature, the prevalence, and the diagnosis of food intolerance.


  1. Biesiekierski JR, Peters SL, Newnham ED, Rosella O, Muir JG, Gibson PR. No Effects of Gluten in Patients With Self-Reported Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity After Dietary Reduction of Fermentable, Poorly Absorbed, Short-Chain Carbohydrates. Gastroenterology. 2013 Aug;145(2):320–328.e3. PMID 23648697
  2. Moore LR. “But we’re not hypochondriacs”: The changing shape of gluten-free dieting and the contested illness experience. Social Science & Medicine. 2014 Mar;105:76–83. PMID 24509047
  3. Biesiekierski JR, Newnham ED, Irving PM, Barrett JS, Haines M, Doecke JD, et al. Gluten causes gastrointestinal symptoms in subjects without celiac disease: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011 Mar;106(3):508–514. PMID 21224837
  4. Biesiekierski JR, Newnham ED, Shepherd SJ, Muir JG, Gibson PR. Characterization of Adults With a Self-Diagnosis of Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity. Nutrition in Clinical Practice [Internet]. 2014 Apr 16 [cited 2014 Apr 26]; Available from: PMID 24740495
  5. Peters SL, Biesiekierski JR, Yelland GW, Muir JG, Gibson PR. Randomised clinical trial: gluten may cause depression in subjects with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity – an exploratory clinical study. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2014 May;39(10):1104–12. PMID 24689456
  6. Mansueto P, Seidita A, D’Alcamo A, Carroccio A. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: Literature Review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2014 Feb;33(1):39–54. PMID 24533607
  7. Sapone A, Bai JC, Ciacci C, Dolinsek J, Green PH, Hadjivassiliou M, et al. Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification. BMC medicine. 2012;10(1):13. PMID 22313950
  8. Catassi C, Bai J, Bonaz B, Bouma G, Calabrò A, Carroccio A, et al. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: The New Frontier of Gluten Related Disorders. Nutrients. 2013 Sep 26;5(10):3839–53. PMID 24077239
  9. Sapone A, Lammers KM, Casolaro V, Cammarota M, Giuliano MT, De Rosa M, et al. Divergence of gut permeability and mucosal immune gene expression in two gluten-associated conditions: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. BMC Med. 2011 Mar 9;9:23. PMID 21392369
  10. Carroccio A, Mansueto P, D’Alcamo A, Iacono G. Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity as an Allergic Condition: Personal Experience and Narrative Review. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2013;108(12):1845–52. PMID 24169272
  11. Carroccio A, Mansueto P, Iacono G, Soresi M, D’Alcamo A, Cavataio F, et al. Non-celiac wheat sensitivity diagnosed by double-blind placebo-controlled challenge: exploring a new clinical entity. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2012 Dec;107(12):1898–1906; quiz 1907. PMID 22825366
  12. Gibson PR, Shepherd SJ. Food choice as a key management strategy for functional gastrointestinal symptoms. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2012 May;107(5):657–666; quiz 667. PMID 22488077
  13. Gibson PR, Shepherd SJ. Evidence-based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms: The FODMAP approach. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010 Feb;25(2):252–8. PMID 20136989
  14. Halmos EP, Power VA, Shepherd SJ, Gibson PR, Muir JG. A Diet Low in FODMAPs Reduces Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology. 2014 Jan;146(1):67–75.e5. PMID 24076059
  15. Shepherd S, Gibson P. The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet: A Revolutionary Plan for Managing IBS and Other Digestive Disorders. Workman Publishing; 2013. 290 p. ISBN 9781615190805
  16. Gellerstedt M, Bengtsson U, Niggemann B. Methodological issues in the diagnostic work-up of food allergy: a real challenge. Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology. 2007;17(6):350. PMID 18088015
  17. Bindslev-Jensen C. Standardization of double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenges. Allergy. 2001;56(s67):75–7. PMID 11298015
  18. The number of those improperly tested for celiac disease could actually be a little lower than 29% since the researchers judged the adequacy of the prerequisite gluten challenge against the current Australian guidelines (at least four weeks of 16 g of gluten per day), and this duration and amount may be higher than necessary:
    Leffler D, Schuppan D, Pallav K, Najarian R, Goldsmith JD, Hansen J, et al. Kinetics of the histological, serological and symptomatic responses to gluten challenge in adults with coeliac disease. Gut. 2013 Jul 1;62(7):996–1004. PMID 22619366
  19. Fasano A, Berti I, Gerarduzzi T, Not T, Colletti RB, Drago S, et al. Prevalence of celiac disease in at-risk and not-at-risk groups in the United States: a large multicenter study. Arch Intern Med. 2003 Feb 10;163(3):286–92. PMID 12578508
  20. Rubio-Tapia A, Ludvigsson JF, Brantner TL, Murray JA, Everhart JE. The prevalence of celiac disease in the United States. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2012 Oct;107(10):1538–1544; quiz 1537, 1545. PMID 22850429
  21. Gluten-free diets: vital or vogue? The Lancet. 2012;380(9843):704. PMID 22920739
  22. Catassi C, Fasano A. Is this really celiac disease? Pitfalls in diagnosis. Current Gastroenterology Reports. 2008;10(5):466–72. PMID 18799121
  23. Collin P. Should adults be screened for celiac disease? What are the benefits and harms of screening? Gastroenterology. 2005 Apr;128(4):S104–S108. PMID 15825117
  24. Caio G, Volta U. Coeliac disease: changing diagnostic criteria? Gastroenterology and Hepatology from bed to bench [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2014 Jun 4];5(3). Available from: PMID 24834212
  25. Husby S, Koletzko S, Korponay-Szabo IR, Mearin ML, Phillips A, Shamir R, et al. European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition guidelines for the diagnosis of coeliac disease. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 2012;54(1):136–60. PMID 22197856
  26. Kurppa K, Collin P, Viljamaa M, Haimila K, Saavalainen P, Partanen J, et al. Diagnosing Mild Enteropathy Celiac Disease: A Randomized, Controlled Clinical Study. Gastroenterology. 2009 Mar;136(3):816–23. PMID 19111551
  27. Biagi F, Trotta L, Alfano C, Balduzzi D, Staffieri V, Bianchi PI, et al. Prevalence and natural history of potential celiac disease in adult patients. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2013 May;48(5):537–42. PMID 23506211
  28. Golley S, Corsini N, Topping D, Morell M, Mohr P. Motivations for avoiding wheat consumption in Australia: results from a population survey. Public Health Nutrition. 2014 Apr 17;1–10. PMID 24739252
  29. DiGiacomo DV, Tennyson CA, Green PH, Demmer RT. Prevalence of gluten-free diet adherence among individuals without celiac disease in the USA: results from the Continuous National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009–2010. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2013 Aug;48(8):921–5. PMID 23834276
  30. Biesiekierski JR, Muir JG, Gibson PR. Is Gluten a Cause of Gastrointestinal Symptoms in People Without Celiac Disease? Current Allergy and Asthma Reports. 2013 Dec;13(6):631–8. PMID 24026574
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The Anaesthetized Queen & the Path to Painless Childbirth

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L0058939 Clear glass shop round for Chloroform, United Kingdom, 1850-‘Did the epidural hurt?’ I ask Rebecca Rideal—editor of The History Vault—one morning as we sit outside the British Library.

‘Not really.’ She hesitates, clearly wanting to say more without divulging too much information. ‘I mean, it’s nothing compared to the labour pains. The hardest part was lying still while the anaesthesiologist administered the needle.’

Rebecca is one of many friends of mine who have now endured the pains of childbirth. Nearly all of them (with the exception of one) did so with the aid of anaesthetics and pain medication. Not one of them regretted it.

Of course, there was a time when women had no choice but to give birth naturally, and often did so while sitting up in a birthing chair. The experience was wrought with dangers, not least the risk of ‘childbed fever’ which claimed the lives of thousands of women, including Henry VIII’s wife, Jane Seymour.

But even if a woman escaped with her life, she couldn’t avoid the pain.

All this changed in November 1847, when Dr James Young Simpson—a Scottish obstetrician—began using chloroform as an anaesthetic. Earlier that year, Simpson started using ether to relieve the pains of childbirth, but he was dissatisfied with the smell, the large quantity needed, and the lung irritation it caused. Ether was also highly explosive, which made it dangerous to use in candlelit rooms heated by fireplaces. It was then that David Waldie, a chemist from Liverpool, recommended chloroform to Simpson.

On the evening of November 4th, Simpson and his two friends experimented with it. At first, they felt very cheerful and talkative. After a short time, they passed out. Impressed with the drug’s potency, Simpson began using chloroform as an anaesthetic, and indeed, the first baby born to a mother under the drug’s influence was named Anaesthesia.

M0003274 Sir J. Y. Simpson and two friends, having tested chloroform

It was soon after this that the Duchess of Sutherland sent a pamphlet on Simpson’s discovery to Queen Victoria who was then in her sixth pregnancy. The Queen’s distaste for pregnancy was well-known. She considered it ‘wretched’ and experienced ‘occasional lowness and a tendency to cry’ after the birth of her first two children.[1]

Unfortunately, it was also at this time that the first chloroform fatality occurred when 15-year-old Hannah Greener died within 3 minutes of inhaling the chemical. The Queen was hesitant, and decided to forgo the new drug during her delivery of Princess Louise in March 1848. But the labour pains were severe, and so when Victoria became pregnant again a year later, she wrote to the Duchess of Sutherland, enquiring after her daughter who had just given birth using chloroform. Further discussion followed amongst the Royal medical household, but the decision was made once more to abstain despite assurances from the the physician, John Snow, that chloroform was perfectly safe when administered correctly. And so on 1 May 1850, Victoria endured her seventh labour without the aid of anaesthetics.

L0000578 J. Snow, "Chloroform and other anaesthetics", title pageBy 1852—when Victoria became pregnant with Prince Leopold—attitudes towards the drug were beginning to change. Most importantly, the Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, had become an advocate of its usage. Albert, a long-time champion of the sciences and President of the Royal College of Chemistry, had had lengthy discussions with Dr Snow about the administration of chloroform and the distinctions between giving it to patients undergoing surgery (which required full unconsciousness) and women in labour. Wishing to ease his wife’s pains, Albert urged Victoria to submit to the drug.

On 7 April 1853, Snow was summoned to Buckingham Palace. A lot was at stake. If the good doctor were successful in using chloroform to ease the Queen’s delivery, he would silence critics of childbirth anaesthesia and help pave the way to painless labour for women everywhere.

Lucky for Snow, the birth was simple and uncomplicated. Prince Leopold was born within 53 minutes of his administration of the drug, which Victoria described as ‘that blessed Chloroform… soothing, quieting and delightful beyond measure’.[2] Snow later wrote in his medical casebooks that Queen was ‘very cheerful and well, expressing herself much gratified with the effect of the [drug]’.[3]

Not everyone was pleased with the outcome, however. Some protested on religious grounds; others for medical reasons. The Lancetquestioned the veracity behind claims that the Queen had even used the drug in her last delivery.

A very extraordinary report has obtained general circulation [that]…Her Majesty during the last labour was placed under the influence of chloroform, an agent which has unquestionably caused instantaneous death in a considerable number of cases. Doubts on this subject cannot exist…In no case could it be justifiable to administer chloroform in perfectly ordinary labour…These facts being perfectly well known to the medical world, we could not imagine that anyone had incurred the awful responsibility of advising the administration of chloroform to her Majesty…[4]

These doubts aside, Queen Victoria’s use of the drug was overwhelmingly lauded, and led lead to a public fervour for painless childbirth. The editor of the Association Medical Journal called it ‘an event of unquestionable medical importance’, and hoped that this would remove ‘lingering professional and popular prejudice against the use of anaesthesia in midwifery’. [5]Women everywhere were requesting chloroform to ease their labour pains.

Dr Snow was discreet about the details of that fateful day in Buckingham Palace, though he was questioned often about the event. On one occasion, one of his patients refused to inhale the chloroform he was hopelessly trying to administer lest he tell her ‘what the Queen said, word for word, when she was taking it’. Snow cleverly replied that ‘Her Majesty asked no questions until she had breathed very much longer than you have; and if you will only go in loyal imitation, I will tell you everything’.[6]

Shortly after the lady gave birth, Snow slipped away, leaving his promise unfulfilled.

Queen Victoria was destined for one final pregnancy. In 1857, she gave birth to her ninth child, Princess Beatrice (pictured below with the entire family). Once again, Dr Snow successfully administered chloroform during the delivery, securing the path to painless childbirth for women everywhere.


1. Roger Fulford (ed.), Dearest Child: Letters between Queen Victoria and the Princess Royal, 1858 – 61 (1964), p. 195, 162. Originally quoted in Stephanie Snow, Blessed Days of Anaesthesia (2008), p. 82.
2. Quoted in Matthew Dennison, The Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria’s Youngest Daughter (2007), p. 2.
3. Ibid.
4. Lancet I (1853), p. 453.
5. Association Medical Journal (1853), p. 318.
6. John Snow, On Chloroform and other Anaesthetics (1858), p. xxxi. Originally quoted in Snow, Blessed Days of Anaesthesia, p. 88.

*This article is dedicated to my dear friend, Marla Ginex, who any day will give birth to her second daughter. Good luck and lots of love.

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Schnell mal Videos auf Youtube GIFen: GIF YouTube

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Gif YouTube ist ein schönes Gimmick (nicht von YouTube), welches es möglich macht, auf einfachste Weise GIFs der dort gehosteten Videos zu erstellen. Einfach in der URL “gif” vor “Youtube” eintippen, Zeit festlegen, rendern, fertig. Hier ein kurzes Beispiel von Cyriaks Malfunction.

Um ein Video in ein GIF umzuwandeln, gebt einfach nur “gif” vor der YouTube-URL ein und schon lädt die Seite des Angebots. Anschließend kann noch die Startzeit und die Länge des GIFs ausgewählt werden – maximal können es 10 Sekunden sein. Gibt man keine Startzeit ein, werden automatisch die ersten 10 Sekunden des Videos umgewandelt. Als Abschluss noch einen Titel auswählen und fertig.

Bei dem Angebot handelt es sich natürlich um kein offizielles von YouTube oder Google. Da auch die Bezeichnung “YouTube” in der URL vorkommt und es dem Videoportal wohl nicht gefallen wird dass die Videos so einfach abgegriffen werden, kann man eher nicht davon ausgehen dass das Angebot dauerhaft Online bleiben wird.

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August 16, 2014

5 Comments and 12 Shares

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4 public comments
3 days ago
sick burn
New York, NY
3 days ago
Suddenly recent programming on Mtv, History channel, and TLC are starting to make sense...
Orange County, Cali, USA
3 days ago
Aberdeen, SD
4 days ago
ok now explain Arts and Entertainment
The Belly of the Beast

Ophelia the Racist

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Occasionally the Atheism+ forum generates some good points.

Most of the thought provoking posts come from little eureka moments, when the Atheism+ forum proles discover that their forefathers at FreeThoughtBlogs and their cousins at Skepchick are departing from the ten commandments of cyber social justice.

For example, it's inevitable that one of the Atheism+ crew discovers that PZ Myers' humor is often reprehensible. Likewise Skepchick often condones absurd abusive tactics in some support of no clear goals in particular.

More recently, Atheism+ has discovered latent racist biases in its own ranks.

The story's beginnings:

  1. A friend of Ophelia Benson's posts a picture of a "virginity test" conducted in Nigeria to Facebook
  2. Facebook axes her account because the image was very graphic
  3. Benson recounts the story on her blog and includes the photograph

Benson states:
[...] The problem is not Acharya posting the graphic image, the problem is what is being done to those little girls.
Acharya (the Facebook profile owner) is quoted: (emphasis added)
I posted the uncensored, shocking photo on Facebook because it is important to see the utter indignity these poor girls must suffer – this horrible abuse is now being done in the West. How can we battle it, if we can’t see what it is? As we can see from this Google Images search, the photograph is still there – is Facebook going to ban Google Images as well?
Benson adds:
Time to rattle Facebook’s cage again.

To describe the image so one not Google it and ruin their day - the photograph depicts a number of girls, barely clothed and lying beside each other on the ground in a setting that is not recognizable as anything at all resembling a modern medical institution, let alone a sterile environment.

In the photo several older women can be seen "examining" the girls with their hands. No instruments can be seen in the photo - not as much as a latex glove is present.

There can be little doubt that the scene depicts a crude test for virginity, as it's difficult to imagine something so strange and adhoc being a part of any necessary medical procedure. The girls are being abused - the practice must stop.

Meanwhile, back in our land of first world dramas... what happens next?

Atheism+ shows up.

The Atheism+ thread: [TW:rape] "Exploitation Porn" and Exposing Atrocity

AndyTheNerd writes:
I just had to see a graphic photo of little kids getting raped. Which of course is nothing compared to the horror of that actually happening, I am fully aware. I got no trigger warning, it was not hidden behind a cut, it was right there in my RSS feed. See, my feed reader (Feedly) takes the first image on the page and turns it into an icon along side a preview snippet of the text. Which in this case was said graphic photo. Thanks, Ophelia Benson. 
And what, pray tell, was the content of this post? How outrageous it was that someone else's Facebook account was permanently deactivated for sharing the uncensored photo for all to see. In my mind, sharing an uncensored video of child rape doesn't add anything to the educational value of the message being shared (exposing "virginity tests" for what they really are), nor does it add much shock value over what a censored photo would carry.
This isn't actually a rant, it's a question: am I completely off base here to think that Facebook is in the right and the sharer was in the wrong? Am I overreacting to think that people shouldn't have to look at rape? Am I off-base to think that these photos are actually exploiting those children? Or am I just worried about my little pristine sanitized bubble not being popped?

Kassiane adds:
For once facebook is right. Wow.
Onamission5 writes:
If it was the rape of my kids on public display for anyone to shockhorror or ogle over, I'd be beyond viciously traumatized, as would my kids. The rape of any child, anyone at all, is not shock fodder. I felt the same way about display of the Steubenville victim. How was reposting still shots of her rape on outraged blogs any different *for her* from passing them around her school?
ApostateltsopA writes:
Child rape porn on FTB. Disappointed and furious.
[...] At least I agree it is an atrocity. Jesus fucking christ on a wafer that is some sick, sick shit. Apparently if you get raped in Africa he images are anthropology. I called it dark anti-inspiration porn I can not believe what I am seeing.
armoredscrumobject writes:
That is indeed an outrageous state of affairs, but in this situation it's obscene to treat this like a standard let's-all-invoke-the-Streisand-effect situation and give Facebook top billing as the villain.
I can't wait until someone finds the photos my abuser has and posts them around to protest child sexual abuse. Anthropology!
Yeah I'm getting so much ageism and racism from this. They're brown AND young, so these aren't pictures of people being raped being posted without consent, it's a nature documentary featuring animals.

I just literally can't get my head into a place that agrees with the identity and other protections offered to western victims, admittedly highly imperfectly, and the brazen unedited image posted on FTB. How does someone hold onto that level of cognitive dissonance? "Anthropology" my ass.
oh this isn't the first time Ophelia's had major issues with stuff that isn't feminism -- which, we should all be reminded, usually means "liberation for well-off able white cis women and fuck everyone else" in practice.

That comment thread is an absolute train wreck. I can't believe that people are actually saying those things, particularly Acharya S. People who disagree with her support child abuse? Reprehensible. 
The "thread" is the comments back at Benson's blog, where the Facebook-poster of the photo is defending her choices:

it is not difficult to understand how an ANTHROPOLOGICAL IMAGE of a RELIGIOUS and COMING OF AGE RITUAL is different from the trash people keep fixating on. The photo in question was in a magazine story about a initiation ritual performed in Africa. These virginity tests are described graphically on Wikipedia and elsewhere. They are done PUBLICLY and with great pride by an entire CULTURE, not filmed in a back room by a bunch of pedophiles. Honestly, where IS your mind at?
Moreover, this invasive procedure is now being done increasingly in the West, and entire governments such as the Canadian are now having to deal with this issue. I can guarantee that the doctors dealing with this issue are seeing much worse than what is in this photo – they are undoubtedly also reading medical and anthropological literature with many such images in them, possibly dating back decades, as this CULTURAL PRACTICE is very ancient.
As I’ve stated repeatedly, I was raised on National Geographic magazine. I have read many anthropological stories, while it appears the barely literate critics are ignorant of the world at large.
The people making vile comments are displaying their own psyches, and I do not appreciate these disgusting remarks and insinuations – again, they reflect your own minds. And such abuses of persons trying to expose these practices and prevent them from occurring in our lands will only help this tradition to flourish.
If we allow such ugliness chase activists from the stage, there will be no voices for the millions of women and children who are at risk for this invasive and abusive practice. SHAME ON YOU for trying to bully us into silence with your nasty interpretations and myopic vision.
In the meantime, Ophelia and I are actually trying to HELP these poor females, while you with your perverse mentalities are standing in the way. Again, for shame! I would also bet that the people making such foul comments are misogynists and sexists in significant part. I reject this mentality and will continue to fight for females globally not to be oppressed by this intrusive practice. An entire state in Indonesia wants to make this abuse MANDATORY for ALL schoolgirls, and you’re going to sit here giving us flack? Disgraceful and disgusting.
It’s ugliness like this practice that needs to be banned, not those who expose it. Whose side are you on? That of the abusers?
Indeed, she actually did bold the word misogynists to describe the Atheism+ critics.

As no discussion would be complete without the Nazis, Benson brings us back to war:

Hey, you know who else didn’t give consent to being photographed naked and abused? The piles of corpses being bulldozed into mass graves after the Allies liberated the death camps.
You know another? Kim Phuc, the nine-year-old Vietnamese girl running naked down a road screaming in pain from the napalm burns on her back. She appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

Who is correct?

Perhaps neither.

Benson's mention of Kim Phuc brings up a good point. Sometimes photographs of truly evil events help many understand the gravity of the situation.

It's easy to read of a bomb ripping apart a building and killing some number of the 7 billion individuals on the planet. It's not quite as easy to dismiss witnessing the events rendered as something other than sterile English sentences on broadsheet.

Enter Diane

Thanksgiving of 2013, an interesting story appeared on Twitter. It was the story of Diane, a lady who allegedly became absolutely irate about a late flight and harassing airline staff. Diane apparently made a huge fuss about not seeing her family, not quite understanding that the audience did not care as they were experiencing the same distress.

Elan, the Twitter author of the story, traded notes with Diane. The notes sent to Diane were generally designed to provoke, insult and shame Diane. The notes were received were in character, painting Diane as angry, assertive and humorless.

Ophelia Benson wrote several lengthy posts about Elan's story, first picking up a story that Diane may have had cancer. When it was not apparent the cancer story was true, Benson (fairly) argued that Elan's behavior was out of line.

The wrap up of the story was Elan admitting that Diane did not exist and the entire story was fabricated.

In response, Benson writes:

So it was comedy, staged for the world’s entertainment.
What genre of comedy? Humiliation comedy; public shaming comedy; hipster guy taunting an unhip woman in unhip jeans comedy, with the pretext that she was self-absorbed and slightly rude to a flight attendant. That kind of comedy. “Edgy” – which is hipster-speak for mean.
I see it as more of a Milgram experiment than a witty short story. Much more. The fact that so many people admired his reported self-righteous bullying tells us a lot, whether that’s what Elan Gale intended or not. Way too many people pushed the dial all the way up, merely because the guy in the white coat hipster hair told them to.

This sharp criticism of the game of public humiliation is a rare sight on "social justice" blogs. Usually public shaming is the unquestioned norm. That it took a fake story about a woman to potentially change this says a great deal.

But it's interesting also in the context of the "exploitation porn" in the earlier discussion.

If a "social justice" blogger shares a humiliating photo under the banner of potentially preventing further victimization, then that is easily explained as necessary. Presumably it's also fine if the only apparent result from the share is the "activist" feeling good about themselves and raking in a bit more ad revenue.

At the same time, creating a fictional comedy based on an angry old white lady getting a piece of someone's mind is apparently taking things too far.

Angry women on US Airways flights need space.

Girls in developing nations need to be followed around by photographers.

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