Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Parasites for gluten!

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A friend alerted me to this article last week. Before we look at the actual research study, I need to say this is terrible reporting. The headline proclaims: Gluten allergies may be reduced using hookworms. No. Well, maybe. But probably not, and that’s certainly not what the study was looking at. No wonder people are confused about gluten. The study looked at the effect of hookworms on gluten tolerance in individuals with celiac disease. Which, we know, is not an allergy. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which consumption of gluten results in the destruction of microvilli in the small intestine in sufferers. Gluten allergy is a hypersensitivity of the immune system to the gluten (or one of its component proteins) protein. So… if you are allergic to gluten, don’t go infect yourself with hookworms and eat a sandwich. I wouldn’t recommend doing this if you have celiac disease either.

Looking at the actual study… It was very small (12 people, two of whom withdrew from the study before completion). When a study is so small, it’s impossible to say if the results would extend to the majority of those with celiac disease. Setting aside the fact that I’m doubtful that the majority of celiac disease sufferers would willingly ingest hookworms in order to be able to consume gluten again. That being said, it’s quite interesting that the study participants were able to gradually increase their gluten intake to 3 g of spaghetti a day without experiencing any overt, nor covert (i.e. intestinal damage) symptoms of celiac disease. Of course, that’s not a lot of gluten (about one cup of pasta a day) and the study took place over 12 weeks, with the largest quantity of pasta being consumed over the final two weeks. It would be interesting to see if intestinal damage was visible after an extended period of time or if greater quantities of gluten could be consumed.

Something else that I wondered about when reading the article was any potential complications from the use of hookworms. According to the Centre for Disease Control, most people with hookworms experience no symptoms. However, some many experience gastrointestinal distress and the most serious complication is blood loss leading to anemia, and protein loss.

Essentially, celiac disease leads to nutritional deficiencies when gluten is consumed. Introducing hookworms may allow celiac disease sufferers to consume gluten but may also lead to nutrient deficiencies. Alternatively, celiac disease sufferers can follow a nutritious gluten-free diet.

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Non-nutritive sweeteners and blood sugar

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I’m starting to think that the sharing of research results is like the telephone game. Researchers publish their articles in journals, slightly (or more so) misleading press releases are issued, news articles are published, these are then shared via social media. Frequently, by the time the information has filtered through these channels, you’re left with a much different message than the original study provided.

I recently read this article that stated “artificial sweeteners affect metabolism and insulin levels”. Now, if you go back to the original journal article, you’ll see that this is quite misleading. The authors found that sucralose (not all non-nutritive or “artificial” sweeteners) had an impact on blood sugar levels and blood insulin levels following a glucose challenge.

Seventeen participants who were not regular consumers of non-nutritive beverages, did not have diabetes, and were classified as obese were given a glucose tolerance test following the consumption of water on one occasion and sucralose sweetened water on another. Increased levels of blood sugar and insulin were observed following the glucose challenge given after the sucralose consumption. However, the blood glucose levels were not all that different (4.2 + 0.2 and 4.8 + 0.3 mmol/L). The insulin levels were about 20% higher following the ingestion of sucralose. 

Other things that I would like to note about this study: there were only 17 participants. This is quite a small sample size (although slightly better than the ones Dr Oz was basing his recommendation to consume vinegar to prevent diabetes) which means that we can’t be certain that the results seen were all that meaningful. There is power in numbers and to be sure that a treatment is truly having the effect you’re observing you need lots of participants. In addition, these participants were not regular consumers of sucralose. Perhaps a different result would have been obtained had they tested individuals who regularly consume sucralose sweetened products. Finally, the study only included obese individuals (the average BMI was 42.3). Would the results be the same for healthy or overweight individuals? What would the results be had tests been done on participants who had type 2 diabetes?

Yes, it’s interesting that sucralose may have an effect on blood sugar but this study is not definitive and it’s definitely not reasonable to extrapolate the results to include all non-nutritive sweeteners.


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NS gets trendy, goes gluten-free

I’m really disappointed in the CBC’s reporting with this recent story on gluten-free foods in Nova Scotia. When I clicked on the link to read the story I was thinking “Isn’t it nice that N.S. is getting some positive recognition.” Then I started reading the brief article. It starts off fine, mentioning increasing diagnoses of celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Sadly, it then goes on to quote a naturopath on his 75% diagnosis rate of gluten intolerance in his patients. Why, CBC, would you only quote a naturopath? Their diagnosis methods are not even remotely scientifically sound. Could you not get someone from the Celiac Association or a medical doctor to at least lend some credibility balance to your story? The quoting of a naturopath doesn’t negate the fact that Nova Scotia is seeing great advances in the availability of gluten-free foods. It also doesn’t negate the fact that access to such foods can greatly improve the lives of individuals suffering from celiac disease or a gluten allergy. However, for me at least, it automatically gets my back up.