4

votes

Is gluten intolerance simply a mental thing?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created May 18, 2011 at 2:02 AM

Have you read this take on gluten intolerance and the brush off that it is a mental thing? It is about a tennis star who is on a winning streak after discovering his intolerance to gluten. So is it mental or real? http://sports.yahoo.com/tennis/blog/busted_racquet/post/Is-Novak-Djokovic-8217-s-new-gluten-free-diet-?urn=ten-wp706

6747a5447a3440b5c87ebf5f2c1e0ead

(231)

on May 29, 2012
at 11:01 PM

continued..Btw, you might be interested in "Brightsided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America" by Barbara Ehrenreich. She discusses the limitations of a positive outlook and how oftentimes it can actually be counterproductive.

6747a5447a3440b5c87ebf5f2c1e0ead

(231)

on May 29, 2012
at 11:00 PM

@ Anonymous Coward..I think you actually make a really good point. "Positive Thinking" seems to be a really pervasive (and somewhat dangerous) element in North American culture. Everytime something goes wrong, it's our fault for being broody or for failing to radiate cheer and exuberance at all times. Sometimes things just suck, like when consuming wheat makes your bum itch and your back red and patchy.

7255a87872b75e6f691d84dca769b87e

on October 17, 2011
at 01:04 PM

Whole grain bread baked with heart healthy canola and soybean oils should be eaten at every meal. {this message brought to you buy Monsanto}

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on May 19, 2011
at 04:38 AM

@AnonymousCoward -- yes, for Djokavic (or anyone) it could be psycho-somatic. For me, I "know" it is not. :) In practical terms, I don't get migraines if I don't eat wheat/gluten -- I assume the mechanism is physiological but I could be wrong --- it could be psychological.

Cf626d3fba66c18297b3f1116a920e58

(3417)

on May 19, 2011
at 03:25 AM

Absolutely. Have you ever been depressed for an extended period of time? You tend to get sick more often. It isn't the opposite, that the sickness is making you depressed, though certainly that can happen too.

Medium avatar

(5136)

on May 19, 2011
at 01:49 AM

Patrik, but a migraine headache is, after all, merely "all in your head" I don't think the question is meaningless. I think we live in a reality that accepts a certain amount of relatively true science. Is it absolute science? hell no, anyone with half a brain should be able to extrapolate that we don't know everything yet based on the sheer amount of progress made by science itself! But to say the entire discussion is meaningless is, to me, a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Medium avatar

(5136)

on May 19, 2011
at 01:37 AM

i think a more reasonable balance between 'which came first the chicken or the egg?' games when it comes to the brain/body chemistry could exist than what you are trying to portray here, AnonCow. Studies done on meditating buddhists will tell you training in consciously bringing on particular mental states does have positive physical effects. I cannot agree that is a bluntly black and white situation. Let's remember the mind is not a mystical exterior influence but also a solid part of our biochemistry that can be trained to some extent just like any other bit or nugget.

D10ca8d11301c2f4993ac2279ce4b930

(5242)

on May 19, 2011
at 01:27 AM

Most paleo people don't know if they have gluten sensitivity or not. They now that they react poorly to wheat and some other grains. This could be from a number of lectins and from a number of allergies. I know that my wheat and wheat related grain sensitivity is severe. It takes about a week for me to recover after on sitting of gluten, I mean wheat and wheat related grains. That's way longer than I would expect. Do I know that it's gluten? NO. I haven't been checked for celiacs and I haven't done a test in which I consume capsules of vital wheat gluten.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 10:04 PM

Yeah but if they had a more positive outlook on life their stress levels wouldn't have been so high and their villi wouldn't be blunted and inflamed!!!!!!!!1111

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 10:03 PM

Continued: I'm not rambling though so don't take this too seriously.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 10:03 PM

Continued: Those are the same kind of people who would respond to Djokovic doing poorly in a match and getting mad at himself by talking about him "getting down on himself" as if the causal chain goes from getting mad to doing badly rather than the other way around.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 10:02 PM

Continued: Of course that's sarcasm, but it illustrates how crazy these discussions are. I meet people all the time who like to mention how much illness is in your head and stuff by talking about how having a more positive outlook on life or something could cure you or whatever.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 09:59 PM

Yeah it's all in your head when your immune system goes wrong. If they had a more positive outlook on life and were less stressed, their immune system would've been stronger.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 09:56 PM

Continued: And that's what the distinction between being "in your head" vs. not seems to be in this discussion. Whether Djokovic's gluten intolerance was in his head or not, his improvement is the same, he reports the same results, his endurance increases by the same rate, etc. I can't figure out how to interpret the phrase "in his head" in a way that's different than I interpret the phrase "not in his head". They seem to point to the same exact things: A gluten-free diet, better performance, more consistent results, etc. What I'm saying is that the question is meaningless.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 09:53 PM

Continued: You say that if something isn't falsifiable, that doesn't mean it's untrue. Yeah, I agree. But you also say if it's not falsifiable, it's harder to prove. Well, I would actually say that it's not provable at all... because it's not even a proposition. If a proposition isn't falsifiable in your experience, it's just an empty statement. I would equate non-falsifiability with meaninglessness. If you can't falsify a statement, it's just a string of empty words.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 09:47 PM

Continued: But what's that have to do with whether it's in your head or not? Nothing. It would be useless to argue about whether those results were in your head or not. If we decide to refer to those results as "in your head" rather than not, nothing changes. You still get a migraine ~15% of the time. In other words, I can't even figure out how to interpret the distinction between it being in your head or not. Whatever side of that dichotomy we choose, you still experience the same thing, and you still avoid wheat/gluten for the same reason.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 09:44 PM

@Patrik: Yes, you can test your sensitivity to wheat/gluten by exposing yourself to it and seeing what happens. And if you do that test, you get a migraine ~15% of the time. So what's that prove? Well, apparently given the exact circumstances in each of those tests, you get a migraine ~15% of the time. And that's not a good thing, so it's one reason (at least in those particular circumstances) to avoid wheat/gluten.

95eda9fa0cec952b482e869c34a566b6

on May 18, 2011
at 08:54 PM

Positive antibody tests for tTGA or EMA. In the long run, it doesn't matter if you're convinced or not. It only matters to the person who feels better not eating gluten.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on May 18, 2011
at 07:56 PM

@AnonymousCoward -- your scientific rigor is appreciated -- let me make two points: 1) B/c something is not falsifiable does not make it untrue - just harder to prove. 2) I accidentally cured my migraines by not eating wheat when doing Atkins years ago. I can actually test my sensitity to wheat/gluten by exposing myself to gluten and getting a migraine ~15% of the time.

559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on May 18, 2011
at 04:19 PM

thanks for posting that link! when i quit eating gluten last year, i had never heard of the gut-brain axis and was astounded to find my brain function changing, and mood problems near-resolved. i've done a lot of reading since then... the podcast was affirming and enlightening.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on May 18, 2011
at 02:19 PM

I had IBS when I was 30 (seriously) and I cured it with acupuncture (seriously....or at least, I think it was the acupuncture). I continued to eat wheat at that time. So, if anybody asks me what causes IBS, I am going to tell them NOT HAVING NEEDLES stuck in you is the cause of IBS.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 03:32 AM

Yes your years of suffering from crippling stomach issues, inflammation and sickness were all in your head. And yes celiac disease (nevermind the second part of the name, the sequence of letters we use to describe something neither proves nor disproves any proposition) is all in your head too. And your infinitely better life is also in your head. End of story. Sorry. (But then again, see my reply to Lee. These discussions are useless because whether it's "in your head" or not, it's the same damn result.)

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 03:29 AM

What would somebody with celiac disease say that would be so convincing?

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 03:29 AM

Maybe your IBS was simply a mental thing. And your arthritic pain. And everything else. But the problem with these discussions is there's nothing falsifiable about any of these claims. What if Djokovic's improvement really is just in his head instead of not? Well, what changes? He reports the same improvement, posts the same better results, etc. Nothing is different. So I say this is a useless discussion. We're better off arguing about distinctions that actually mean something.

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on May 18, 2011
at 02:50 AM

I saw the WSJ report on this http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703509104576327624238594818.html?mod=googlenews_wsj and I was sad to see the "...or is it all in his head?!" angle. But, great that he's not pigeonholed by an ignorant reporter as celiac and instead differentiated as part of a much larger contingent who are also legitimately allergic.

34a367e60db77270bd7096dc04270fdc

(4171)

on May 18, 2011
at 02:36 AM

I don't believe gluten intolerance or the effects of being intolerant to gluten is something created in someone's mind. I've never been tested for gluten allergy but I know how I feel after eating bread, pasta etc that contain gluten. It doesn't feel like it agrees with me and I think that's how a lot of people determine that they are intolerant to gluten.

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14 Answers

11
B3e7d1ab5aeb329fe24cca1de1a0b09c

(5242)

on May 18, 2011
at 02:40 AM

No, it's not mental. The mechanism of how gluten can damage the gut wall are well understood and scientifically proven and accepted.

Could the effects be magnified by the mind? I would say it's quite possible, like a lot of conditions that can become psychosomatic.

And then there is the concept of the gut brain axis. That an unhealthy gut effects brain health and vice versa. The Healthy Skeptic has a fascinating podcast on the subject. I highly recommend checking it out, its a really interesting field of current research.

http://thehealthyskeptic.org/the-healthy-skeptic-podcast-episode-9

559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on May 18, 2011
at 04:19 PM

thanks for posting that link! when i quit eating gluten last year, i had never heard of the gut-brain axis and was astounded to find my brain function changing, and mood problems near-resolved. i've done a lot of reading since then... the podcast was affirming and enlightening.

8
Cf626d3fba66c18297b3f1116a920e58

(3417)

on May 18, 2011
at 02:37 PM

Only if the immune system is a mental thing. That'd make AIDS a figment of our imaginations and autoimmunity some sort of pro-level masochism from Mars.

Medium avatar

(5136)

on May 19, 2011
at 01:37 AM

i think a more reasonable balance between 'which came first the chicken or the egg?' games when it comes to the brain/body chemistry could exist than what you are trying to portray here, AnonCow. Studies done on meditating buddhists will tell you training in consciously bringing on particular mental states does have positive physical effects. I cannot agree that is a bluntly black and white situation. Let's remember the mind is not a mystical exterior influence but also a solid part of our biochemistry that can be trained to some extent just like any other bit or nugget.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 09:59 PM

Yeah it's all in your head when your immune system goes wrong. If they had a more positive outlook on life and were less stressed, their immune system would've been stronger.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 10:02 PM

Continued: Of course that's sarcasm, but it illustrates how crazy these discussions are. I meet people all the time who like to mention how much illness is in your head and stuff by talking about how having a more positive outlook on life or something could cure you or whatever.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 10:03 PM

Continued: Those are the same kind of people who would respond to Djokovic doing poorly in a match and getting mad at himself by talking about him "getting down on himself" as if the causal chain goes from getting mad to doing badly rather than the other way around.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 10:03 PM

Continued: I'm not rambling though so don't take this too seriously.

Cf626d3fba66c18297b3f1116a920e58

(3417)

on May 19, 2011
at 03:25 AM

Absolutely. Have you ever been depressed for an extended period of time? You tend to get sick more often. It isn't the opposite, that the sickness is making you depressed, though certainly that can happen too.

6747a5447a3440b5c87ebf5f2c1e0ead

(231)

on May 29, 2012
at 11:01 PM

continued..Btw, you might be interested in "Brightsided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America" by Barbara Ehrenreich. She discusses the limitations of a positive outlook and how oftentimes it can actually be counterproductive.

6747a5447a3440b5c87ebf5f2c1e0ead

(231)

on May 29, 2012
at 11:00 PM

@ Anonymous Coward..I think you actually make a really good point. "Positive Thinking" seems to be a really pervasive (and somewhat dangerous) element in North American culture. Everytime something goes wrong, it's our fault for being broody or for failing to radiate cheer and exuberance at all times. Sometimes things just suck, like when consuming wheat makes your bum itch and your back red and patchy.

5
D10ca8d11301c2f4993ac2279ce4b930

(5242)

on May 19, 2011
at 01:29 AM

Most paleo people don't know if they have gluten sensitivity or not. They know that they react poorly to wheat and some other grains. This could be from a number of lectins and from a number of allergies. I know that my wheat and wheat related grain sensitivity is severe. It takes about a week for me to recover after one sittings worth of gluten, I mean wheat and wheat related grains. That's way longer than I would expect. Do I know that it's gluten? No. I haven't been checked for celiacs and I haven't done a test in which I consume capsules of vital wheat gluten. I don't really care to either. I know what to avoid. No sense obsessing over the why.

5
60199d3a580a4e17969059609e48e678

on May 18, 2011
at 02:27 AM

there is probably a mental aspect about this tennis player being on a winning streak. It could be that nixing the gluten has made him feel more energetic and this could contribute to him doing better in his games. I noticed that my mental state altered greatly towards the positive side once I nixed gluten from my diet. I say its a bit of both.

4
6d81a9a26ae23f9c15729b76483439db

(110)

on May 18, 2011
at 03:22 AM

Giving up wheat has cured my IBS, so no, the problem was not in my head, far from it, LOL. The problem was at the other end of my digestive tract. And the fact that the arthritic pain in my knees went away was an unexpected bonus that was a complete surprise.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 09:44 PM

@Patrik: Yes, you can test your sensitivity to wheat/gluten by exposing yourself to it and seeing what happens. And if you do that test, you get a migraine ~15% of the time. So what's that prove? Well, apparently given the exact circumstances in each of those tests, you get a migraine ~15% of the time. And that's not a good thing, so it's one reason (at least in those particular circumstances) to avoid wheat/gluten.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 03:29 AM

Maybe your IBS was simply a mental thing. And your arthritic pain. And everything else. But the problem with these discussions is there's nothing falsifiable about any of these claims. What if Djokovic's improvement really is just in his head instead of not? Well, what changes? He reports the same improvement, posts the same better results, etc. Nothing is different. So I say this is a useless discussion. We're better off arguing about distinctions that actually mean something.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on May 18, 2011
at 07:56 PM

@AnonymousCoward -- your scientific rigor is appreciated -- let me make two points: 1) B/c something is not falsifiable does not make it untrue - just harder to prove. 2) I accidentally cured my migraines by not eating wheat when doing Atkins years ago. I can actually test my sensitity to wheat/gluten by exposing myself to gluten and getting a migraine ~15% of the time.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on May 18, 2011
at 02:19 PM

I had IBS when I was 30 (seriously) and I cured it with acupuncture (seriously....or at least, I think it was the acupuncture). I continued to eat wheat at that time. So, if anybody asks me what causes IBS, I am going to tell them NOT HAVING NEEDLES stuck in you is the cause of IBS.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 09:47 PM

Continued: But what's that have to do with whether it's in your head or not? Nothing. It would be useless to argue about whether those results were in your head or not. If we decide to refer to those results as "in your head" rather than not, nothing changes. You still get a migraine ~15% of the time. In other words, I can't even figure out how to interpret the distinction between it being in your head or not. Whatever side of that dichotomy we choose, you still experience the same thing, and you still avoid wheat/gluten for the same reason.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on May 19, 2011
at 04:38 AM

@AnonymousCoward -- yes, for Djokavic (or anyone) it could be psycho-somatic. For me, I "know" it is not. :) In practical terms, I don't get migraines if I don't eat wheat/gluten -- I assume the mechanism is physiological but I could be wrong --- it could be psychological.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 09:56 PM

Continued: And that's what the distinction between being "in your head" vs. not seems to be in this discussion. Whether Djokovic's gluten intolerance was in his head or not, his improvement is the same, he reports the same results, his endurance increases by the same rate, etc. I can't figure out how to interpret the phrase "in his head" in a way that's different than I interpret the phrase "not in his head". They seem to point to the same exact things: A gluten-free diet, better performance, more consistent results, etc. What I'm saying is that the question is meaningless.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 09:53 PM

Continued: You say that if something isn't falsifiable, that doesn't mean it's untrue. Yeah, I agree. But you also say if it's not falsifiable, it's harder to prove. Well, I would actually say that it's not provable at all... because it's not even a proposition. If a proposition isn't falsifiable in your experience, it's just an empty statement. I would equate non-falsifiability with meaninglessness. If you can't falsify a statement, it's just a string of empty words.

Medium avatar

(5136)

on May 19, 2011
at 01:49 AM

Patrik, but a migraine headache is, after all, merely "all in your head" I don't think the question is meaningless. I think we live in a reality that accepts a certain amount of relatively true science. Is it absolute science? hell no, anyone with half a brain should be able to extrapolate that we don't know everything yet based on the sheer amount of progress made by science itself! But to say the entire discussion is meaningless is, to me, a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

3
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 09:23 PM

every time i happen to consume the stuff, i can see that gluten intolerance is as mental as a... bone fracture

3
A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

on May 19, 2011
at 01:12 AM

Oh yeah, I am sure it was all in my head when I almost died around my first year of life, before someone figured out I was a celiac... They thought I had blood poisoning and got me through transfusions and what not... an extremely "sensitive" doctor asked my Mom why I brought a corpse to his cabinet. in the end only gluten-free diet helped. I was saved b/c a young kid-doctor had a silly idea of checking me out on celiac.

So yeah, I must have had a pretty mighty imagination ;-)

3
91219405abedbfd400ce00dea242a00f

(1044)

on May 18, 2011
at 03:43 PM

There's truly no argument to whether it's psychosomatic or not. All you need to look at is the gut biopsy of someone with Celiac disease. The villi are blunted and inflamed. Hard physical evidence.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 10:04 PM

Yeah but if they had a more positive outlook on life their stress levels wouldn't have been so high and their villi wouldn't be blunted and inflamed!!!!!!!!1111

2
Medium avatar

on August 21, 2011
at 12:21 AM

Of course, it's absolutely mental.

[This message brought to you by Archer Daniels Midland]

7255a87872b75e6f691d84dca769b87e

on October 17, 2011
at 01:04 PM

Whole grain bread baked with heart healthy canola and soybean oils should be eaten at every meal. {this message brought to you buy Monsanto}

2
95eda9fa0cec952b482e869c34a566b6

on May 18, 2011
at 03:08 AM

No, it isn't purely mental. Just ask anyone who has celiac disease.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 03:29 AM

What would somebody with celiac disease say that would be so convincing?

95eda9fa0cec952b482e869c34a566b6

on May 18, 2011
at 08:54 PM

Positive antibody tests for tTGA or EMA. In the long run, it doesn't matter if you're convinced or not. It only matters to the person who feels better not eating gluten.

1
7255a87872b75e6f691d84dca769b87e

on August 20, 2011
at 09:27 PM

Gluten intolerance is NOT all in the sufferers' heads. If you look at the anecdotal evidence you'll see gluten is legitimately harmful even for non-celiacs. Even the cornellian professor cited in the WSJ article deems " a gluten-free diet might have benefits for those with mild allergies, or even no allergy at all", but the journalists overshadow his claims with his other idea that the tennis player's winning streak could also possibly be mental.

Gluten intolerance is not all in MY head, at least, when I can't get out of bed the day after a pizza party and lie with a 20 bpm jump in resting heart rate. Big Agra wishes it were, so it will send it's slimy tentacles out into journalism to secure the place of grain and soy in our lives. I think the mental factor does affect Djokovic's tennis playing capabilities, but gluten intolerance is real, and Djokovic's newfound glory off of gluten is not coincidental.

1
C2502365891cbcc8af2d1cf1d7b0e9fc

(2437)

on June 14, 2011
at 09:29 AM

I didn't eat it for six months. Then I had a slice of pizza. My body went into shock about six hours later.

1
2252835aff520dea9a78270d5d73d502

(58)

on May 18, 2011
at 02:31 AM

I find it ridiculous that claims are being made that gluten intolerance is mental! So this is meaning to tell me that my years of suffering from crippling stomach issues, inflammation and sickness are all in my head? What a crock. Obviously there is truth to the notion that your mental state has a great effect on your health, but to claim that coeliac disease (yes, that's right, it's a DISEASE) is all made up in sufferers heads is an insult. My life is infinitely better since I eliminated gluten from my diet. End of story. read this article http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/lifestyle/your-christchurch/5003944/The-truth-about-gluten and take note of the comments from a gastroenterologist .

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on May 18, 2011
at 03:32 AM

Yes your years of suffering from crippling stomach issues, inflammation and sickness were all in your head. And yes celiac disease (nevermind the second part of the name, the sequence of letters we use to describe something neither proves nor disproves any proposition) is all in your head too. And your infinitely better life is also in your head. End of story. Sorry. (But then again, see my reply to Lee. These discussions are useless because whether it's "in your head" or not, it's the same damn result.)

0
Bfb1e614db6554653202d7252216f404

on June 13, 2011
at 07:57 PM

If a painful stomach ache out of nowhere that leaves me practically bedridden is in my head then I have more problems then I thought. As a personal trainer and someone who promotes having a clear head and positive mental state I don't think it's a mental condition. I think the fact is we eat too much man-made food and humans aren't meant to consume it. The paleo diet works because fruits, vegetables and meats aren't altered and turned into cereal and bread. I don't know if I have celiac disease but I know after I went on an elimination diet a lot of things changed, and I thought my mental state got even better. I have more awareness to what foods bother me and so far anything with wheat/gluten such as bread and pasta bothers my stomach as well as Silk Soy Milk and cashews. I have difficulty breathing after crustaceans, and dairy makes my skin breakout. Is that all in my head?

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