Two Stories about Gluten Sensitivityin LA Times are Signs of Progress

by Melissa Diane Smith

(Opinion) – It used to be that I was the only one writing about non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a condition largely dismissed by mainstream doctors. Major newspapers wouldn’t come close to touching the subject. Now, seven years after my Going Against the Grain book came out, the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper with a circulation of three-quarters of a million people, has run a story “Gluten sensitivity: A long road toward discovery” and a follow-up story a few weeks later, “Going gluten-free – for many reasons.”

True, the first story was a short, first-person account by a reader in the newspaper’s My Turn section – not a story reported on by a reporter with research – but it still speaks volumes about how the topic of gluten sensitivity is slowly but surely reaching the mainstream, due in large part to everyday people continuing to speak out about their experiences, whether their doctors believe them or not. The personal story included in the Times probably sounds familiar to most gluten-sensitive people: The woman had a “nervous” stomach with occasional diarrhea. It was labeled “irritable bowel syndrome.” Doctor said to eat more fiber. Patient eventually read about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity and asked her doctor about them. Her celiac blood test came back negative. Doctor had never heard of gluten sensitivity, so he told her not to worry about gluten. But her stomach continued to bother her. Eventually she took gluten out of her diet on her own and has had her health dramatically improve. Experiences similar to this one are all too common for people who are gluten sensitive.

The second story, which appeared on July 7, covers the many different types of people embracing and benefiting from a gluten-free diet. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Another group embracing gluten-free foods are people who do not have celiac disease but have gastrointestinal problems that improve when they go on a gluten-free diet. In “gluten sensitivity,” there is an immune response or associated condition even though the patient might not have the small-intestine findings on a biopsy to meet the criteria for celiac disease, says Dr. Eric Esrailian, director of general gastroenterology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. “Gluten intolerance,” on the other hand, refers more to the symptoms a person feels, similar to the term lactose intolerance. No one knows how many people truly fall in these two categories, Esrailian adds.

What is so telling about the two gluten sensitivity stories in the LA Times in a little over two weeks is how much progress has been made in just seven years. Shortly after my book came out in 2002, a reporter contacted me for information on the unadvertised troubles of grains. I filled her in on non-celiac gluten sensitivity and other grain-related health problems and even arranged for her to interview one of my clients. Two stories came from that. The lead story, “Rethinking Our Daily Bread,” led with the personal story of my client who lost weight and improved his health going against the grain. (Unfortunately the article never identified him as my client.) The second story was a shorter sidebar, “Gluten Free May Add to Quality of Life” (which can be downloaded at my Press Kit site). Although the end of that story briefly said that some people say they feel better eating gluten-free, the term “gluten sensitivity” never appeared in either story. It was disappointing, of course. But, now, it’s seven years later and gluten sensitivity is in the title of a story and actually defined by a UCLA doctor in another story in the very same newspaper that wouldn’t mention the condition seven years ago! That’s progress.

It shows that even though many mainstream doctors don’t acknowledge gluten sensitivity, the condition is gradually being accepted by the general public, precisely because everyday people push the issue and won’t let the subject die. The grassroots movement generated by gluten-sensitive people has brought more people (including newspaper editors and some doctors!) to see gluten sensitivity as a valid subject to cover and spread the word about.

I once asked a gluten sensitivity researcher why many doctors and media sources were so resistant to accepting gluten sensitivity. He told me that changing longstanding beliefs in medicine takes time. He settled down my impatience with the process and gave me the long view of the situation: It might take 15, 20 or 25 years, but gluten sensitivity would eventually be acknowledged, helping countless people’s health.

It’s now seven years later and a major newspaper has run two stories on gluten sensitivity in a span of about two weeks. That means we’re ahead of schedule. Gluten sensitivity is slowly but surely seeping into the public consciousness and researchers investigating it and doctors examining patients with it are following.

© Copyright 2009 Melissa Diane Smith

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