Deconstructing Nonsense Asthma Claims About Food: Gluten Edition
Having studied health-related things in school, I have a long list of strong opinions on this topic. Shocker, right? Diet is one of those things, and here’s why: I don’t believe that any specific diet or supplement is going to cure or even treat my asthma. With the exception of people with legitimate food allergies who need to avoid certain foods (which may or may not cause asthma symptoms), those who have actual Celiac disease who need to avoid gluten to halt symptoms caused by the autoimmune response to gluten, people with other food intolerances (lactose, for instance), or in the cases of vitamin or mineral deficiencies, I do not believe that an array of supplements or dietary changes will improve my asthma.
For those who need a briefing on gluten, here’s what I know: gluten is present in wheat, oats, rye, and barley (and contains two proteins, which Google had to tell me). By the way, the use of the word “gluten” has gone up steadily since 1996 or so, though we’re nowhere near the peak in 1847, interestingly (Google Word Trends is da bomb, guys).1
So of course, one of my old YouTube videos about asthma got this comment which was promptly deleted—but not before I copied it here ;).
“I HAVE A CURE FOR ASTHMA - stop eating gluten. Asthmatics are allergic to gluten. Only takes 1 week on a gluten-free diet to start feeling good. It worked for me."
Nope. Let’s deconstruct this okay?
"I HAVE A CURE FOR ASTHMA!"
- Stop yelling, to start.
- Last I checked, asthma was still incurable. Per Google, on February 13, Medical News Today, Scientific American and even Deepak Chopra acknowledged this.
"Stop eating gluten. Asthmatics are allergic to gluten."
- No. People who are allergic to gluten are allergic to gluten.
- SOME asthmatics may be allergic to gluten because they are allergic to gluten, but they are not allergic to gluten because they have asthma.
- A paper from the University of Virginia, in Nutrition Issues in Gastroenterology, noted that there are many manifestations of wheat allergy in the 2015 article Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity - Where are We Now in 2015?. In asthma, this is most often manifested as occupational asthma (more on baker’s asthma here), wheat-dependent exercise-induced asthma; as well as rhinitis and contact skin reactions (urticaria). Wheat (gluten) allergy is NOT the same as Celiac disease (celiac disease is autoimmune, which means it causes the body to essentially attack itself—in this case, the intestine—whereas wheat allergy is an immune overreaction where the body sees wheat as a foreign invader, like bacteria or viruses, and it responds in a way to try to try to immediately rid itself of this substance—itchy skin and eyes, runny nose, and in some cases, breathing issues, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea). Non-IgE wheat allergy may be confused with celiac disease—though they are not the same. (And yes, it is all very confusing!)
"Only takes 1 week on a gluten-free diet to start feeling good."
- No. Because there is no sure-shot that—see above—all asthmatics are allergic to gluten, because we are not all, automatically, by default allergic to gluten.
- WITH THAT SAID, everyone I have heard who has a legitimate gluten intolerance, like Celiac, will take varying amounts of time to feel better after ceasing gluten consumption. Medically backed, elimination diets, recommend giving at least two weeks to monitor for change, per the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Case in point: a hard and fast one week rule is NOT the case for everybody, nor what physicians supervising elimination diets for allergies or intolerances recommend, either.2
Yes. Your asthma may vary—your gluten tolerance may vary. I am in no way saying that gluten allergy, celiac, gluten intolerance, do not exist. They absolutely do. But these things should absolutely be assessed and diagnosed by a qualified medical practitioner, which may be a physician like an allergist or a gastroenterologist, and/or a registered dietitian.
My biggest fear is that people are “bandwagoning” on a gluten-free craze phase that is not necessary for their health. This, in turn, puts those with a medical need to entirely avoid gluten and cross contamination at risk, because people do not understand the differences at play. There is a huge difference between a potentially life-threatening allergy and autoimmune damage related need to avoid gluten, and what—for an increasing number of people—is simply a personal choice. 98% of people do not experience health issues caused by gluten, and this includes those of us with asthma.3
When you hear a claim like the one I got posted on my YouTube channel, take the time to do the research and inform yourself—doing your own research and talking to your doctor or dietitian about what you read are the best things you can do for your health!
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