The Weekly Woo: The Cake Is a Lie

Time for the weekly woo… and I’m a day late because I was probably contributing to the downfall of society.

This week, it’s gluten woo!

Oh boy. Whenever you stumble on the word ‘paleo’? You’re knee deep in some woo.

Now I’m sure you have some friends who follow a paleo diet (and like some of your vegan friends, they won’t shut the fuck up about it). They have more energy, have lost some weight, feel better, it’s cured excema, bedwetting, restless testicles syndrome, etc…

Let’s cut through some bullshit that this blog entry has made regarding gluten though, shall we?

Before we  get into the bullshit of this article, let’s define the gluten… thing. I have celiacs and avoid gluten like it’s cyanide because to me? It basically is poison. Starting with the definition of gluten, it’s a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. There’s also a protein in oats called avenin (ever used Aveno products? That’s where the name comes from) that, from what I’ve read, some people with celiacs don’t handle well, but it’s rare. Most of the time the reaction to oats is due to cross contamination from the manufacturing process.

When someone has celiacs, it’s an immune response that causes damage to the intestinal lining. The patient can’t adsorb nutrients and, in most cases, suffers from low body weight due to maladsorption. Symptoms of celiacs include anemia, skin rash, arthritis, numbness/tingling in the hands and feet, osteoporosis, headaches, digestive problems, and weight loss. Wheat allergy is a slightly different beast, it’s a systemic immune over reaction to wheat, and can range from slight (swelling, hives) to severe (anaphylaxis).

I read labels like it’s my job and have, sadly, given up everything from my beloved Sam Adams to pretzel M&Ms. But is gluten this horrible demon for everyone? No. Now to get into the article…


To start with, all the articles that they’ve cited are specifically dealing with celiacs and autism. If you don’t have these disorders, gluten is perfectly safe. It’s like telling someone to avoid peanuts because someone else has a peanut allergy. One of the articles cited is talking about gluten sensitivity which is still not confirmed to be an actual thing.

“Gluten inflames the brain.”


“Seasoned Paleofolk know that gluten consumption leads to inflammation of the gut, causing “leaky gut” (or intestinal permeability). What is often overlooked is that gut inflammation leads to systemic inflammation throughout the body, including inflammation in the brain  [1].”

‘Leaky gut syndrome’ is still not agreed to be an actual thing. It’s mostly something that we hear about in alternative medicine. I, for one, am shocked.

“How? When your body launches an immune response to a given substance (such as gluten) it produces “cytokines,”…Likewise, an injured, inflamed brain does not function at full capacity. Children with chronic brain inflammation may experiences memory/cognitive disadvantages, difficulties with mood and anxiety, and problem behaviors [2].”

Yeah, cytokines are produced as part of an immune response, but only if your body has an immune response to gluten. Yes, you want to reduce inflammation… but if you don’t have celiacs or a wheat allergy your body will not produce cytokines or have an “injured, inflamed brain” because of your sourdough bread bowl. So most of you are fine. Again, the peanut allergy analogy.

“Gluten-rich diets reduce the growth of new brain cells (neurogenesis). If you are trying to change an undesired behavior (let’s say, biting) and replace it with a new, “prosocial” behavior (using language), you need your child to build new brain cells and strength the ones they have. Research has demonstrated that high calorie, gluten-and-sugar-laden diets inhibit neuron (brain cell) growth and strengthening  [3].”

The article being linked to? It’s an article about celiac disease. Context is so important.

“A disproportionate amount of children with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity have behavioral and mental health difficulties – including ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety, problem behaviors, and memory/cognition delays [1][5].”

It could be because they’re antsy because they’re not adsorbing any nutrition for 3-5 years before they’re diagnosed. Anecdotal, but I was vitamin D, vitamin B, iron, and protein deficient by the time I was diagnosed. You’re off on a lot of things by the time you get a diagnosis and it will (technical term) screw with your brain chemistry. They might be putting the chicken before the chicken enchilada here.

“Furthermore, this indicates that gluten contributes on a cellular level to problematic child behaviors that don’t necessarily reach clinical levels.”

I don’t think they understand what “cellular level” means.

“Eliminating gluten from your child’s diet for 30 days is an inexpensive, easy way to determine if gluten is contributing to developmental difficulties and to promote lifelong behavioral and physical health.”

If your kid has symptoms of wheat allergies or celiacs? By all means, see a real medical doctor, get an allergy test or the test for celiacs, and try it out. Otherwise, you’re just buying into bullshit.

Let symptoms guide you, not woo. Let them have some pretzel m&ms once in a while and enjoy a Sam Adams for me.

-Science Babe.

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About SciBabe 79 Articles
Yvette d'Entremont, aka SciBabe, is a chemist and writer living in Los Angeles with her husband and their four pets. She bakes a mean gluten free chocolate chip cookie and likes glitter more than is considered healthy for a woman past the age of seven.


  1. Hi. Argumentative Aspergic ex-Electronic Engineer with ancient Facebook phone app & little web-site here! 🙂

    Is “Excessive Gut Permeability” a better name than “Leaky Gut Syndrome”?

    I’ve written a few posts about Excessive Gut Permeability at Excessive gut permeability, and a few about Gluten at Gluten. There’s some overlap.

    If/when you get a few billion spare nanoseconds, could you take a look, and leave some comments?

    Cheers, Nige

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