Monday, October 06, 2014

A glutinous post

According to South Park, gluten is very dangerous. Josh Modell criticizes South Park for being late on the gluten game, but wait! Jane Brody's column today is on "a real condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS." Of course Brody has to specify that it's "real," because the default assumption is that non-celiac gluten avoidance relates to the tendency of pasta's deliciousness to prevent those Zara jeans from closing comfortably.

Anyway, it's a tough one. It seems likely that a) this is a thing, or to use the scientific term, "real," while b) dieting is also real, and the wish to lose 15 pounds discreetly is more common than gluten insensitivity of any kind. As a 21st-century American in the demographic for this, I can say I've at the very least met gluten-avoiders who fall into all three categories (that is, celiac; not-celiac-but-medical; and trendy-and-dieting). There's a danger in under-diagnosis, but also one in normalizing the treatment of common food items as poison in the general population. I mean, of course it's (kind of) good for the few who can't eat gluten that avoiding it has become trendy, but by the same token, if every population that either can't or won't eat an ingredient had such luck, there'd be nothing left. And then there's that other set of people - "orthorexia" may be the official term, but there are plenty who are... whatever the equivalent is of what gluten insensitivity is compared to celiac - who suffer disproportionately from these societal notions.

What would be ideal, then, is if the coverage of whichever sensitivity or intolerance would be done in such a way as to raise awareness that this condition is out there, without inviting readers to assume, by default, that whatever it is is no longer to be considered food, because Science. Personally, I have no idea how this could be done, but it would be great if it somehow happened.


caryatis said...

I kind of question the idea that "raising awareness" of a disease is a good thing. If someone feels ill, they should go to the doctor, and hopefully the doctor has adequate "awareness" of the possibilities. If someone doesn't feel ill, maybe they should not be learning about all the diseases they could have from casual reading. That risks stoking suggestible people's hypochondriacal tendencies, not to mention needlessly pathologizing borderline conditions.

But I guess it's all about the money pharma and patient advocacy orgs hope to get out of those hypochondriacs.

Phoebe said...

There's a balance, right? If you're suffering from something very common, but that you've for some reason never heard of, you may waste a lot of time in unnecessary agony and worry. Esp. if you're someone who, for whatever reason (youth, poverty, work schedule, family responsibilities, lack of insurance, lack of transportation...), has trouble getting to a doctor. An extreme example would be when girls get their periods before anyone bothers to tell them what a period is - yes, every doctor *would* know what that mysterious symptom meant, but presumably it's better for this to just be a thing that's known.

Or... think of something like a cat allergy. If you find that you feel ill every time you're around cats, you could go to a doctor to get that checked out, or you could be aware that cat allergies are a thing, and not worry about it (apart from, you know, not getting a cat.)

If there's some gluten issue that really is widespread, this shouldn't necessarily require each individual with the problem to be shocked to learn there's such a thing as gluten intolerance when they're diagnosed. But there's a danger in too much awareness-raising, or awareness-raising of a certain kind, which ends up leading a bunch of people without any kind of condition a) avoiding foods unnecessarily and b) more troublingly, *not* looking into some possibly serious symptoms, because surely gluten is the culprit.