What’s So Bad About Gluten?


What’s so bad about gluten? Well, nothing, according to mainstream medicine and Dr. Pretlow. The idea that gluten has particularly harmful qualities is not universally accepted. The majority opinion is that obesity results from eating too much food, i.e. consuming too many calories, and then not doing enough physical activity to work them off.

And then there are doctors, nutritionists, professors, healing food specialists, dieticians, pharmacists, researchers, etc., who are convinced that wheat gluten is an obesity villain, or even the major cause of the epidemic. Dr. Mark Hyman has listed several ways in which wheat threatens our health. Most unfortunate are the 1% of Americans who are recognized to have an autoimmune condition called celiac disease. Professionals in the field believe a lot more of it exists undiagnosed or mistaken for other conditions. It has no cure but can be managed by total gluten avoidance. Otherwise, the stage is set for weight gain (obesity), diabetes and dozens of varieties of ill health. Additionally, another 21 million Americans don’t tolerate gluten well and experience generally milder versions of the severe CD reactions. Dr. Hyman explains:

Celiac disease results when the body creates antibodies against the wheat (adaptive immunity), but another kind of gluten sensitivity results from a generalized activated immune system (innate immunity). This means that people can be gluten-sensitive without having celiac disease or gluten antibodies, and still have inflammation and many other symptoms.

In the old days, a work party of miners would take a caged bird underground as their early warning system. Carbon monoxide would knock out the small, delicate animal before the miners were seriously affected, giving them time to escape. Replace poisonous gas with gluten and replace canaries with people who have CD, and it might be said that celiac disease patients are the canaries in the coal mine. For them, even a tiny amount of gluten can be devastating.

Though some estimates run higher, Dr. Hyman figures the average American ingests 55 pounds of wheat flour in a year. CD patients are perceived, in some quarters, as an early warning to the rest of us. The fear is that everyone is damaged by gluten, only with less drama and over a longer period. But it gets even more complicated. Dr. Hyman also blames a non-gluten glycoprotein that is present in whole wheat. Although wheat germ agglutinin or WGA does not cause an autoimmune reaction per se, it has been shown to increase inflammation throughout the body.

More confusion arises from the fact that, for unknown reasons, following a gluten-free regimen does not guarantee weight loss in either adults or children. A 2011 study assessed 142 children whose ages ranged from 13 months to 19 years, all proven by biopsy to have celiac disease. Writer Jefferson Adams summed up the outcome of that research:

Three out of four patients (75%) with an elevated BMI at diagnosis showed a substantial decrease in BMI z scores after following a gluten-free diet. Nearly half (44%) of those patients showed a normalized BMI after following a gluten-free diet… Patients with normal BMI at diagnosis showed sharply higher weight z scores after following a gluten-free diet, and 13% became overweight.

This means that normal weight individuals will likely gain weight on a gluten-free diet, and that just over one in ten will become overweight. However, for overweight and obese children with celiac disease, the results indicate that a gluten-free diet may be helpful in lowering BMI.

Perhaps the worst part of having either celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is the necessity to devote so much time to studying up on the substance and figuring out how to stay out of its way. The gluten avoider must acquire the instincts of a detective and the willingness to do a lot of scratch cooking. Buying “gluten-free” products off the shelf is not a desirable option, in Dr. Hyman’s view. He warns, “Processed food has a high glycemic load. Just because it is gluten free, doesn’t mean it is healthy. Gluten free cakes and cookies are still cakes and cookies!”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Three Hidden Ways Wheat Makes You Fat,” DrHyman.com, 01/25/13
Source: “Gluten-free Diet and Body Mass in Normal-weight and Overweight Children with Celiac Disease,” Celiac.com, 12/19/11
Image by Alex Clauss


2 Responses

  1. “The majority opinion is that obesity results from eating too much food, i.e. consuming too many calories, and then not doing enough physical activity to work them off.”

    Obesity is a complex and complicated condition that is caused and exacerbated by many factors. We aren’t all fat just because we stuff our faces and lay on the couch all day. How is this the “majority opinion” of anyone other than people seeking to grab a chunk of the multi-billion dollar diet industry?

    Making a simplistic and untrue statement like this makes me question the validity of the rest of the article.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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