New Study Suggests Gluten Sensitivity Isn’t BS

New study finds a link between gut protein and gluten sensitivity.

Back in May, headlines screaming statements like “Science Says Gluten Sensitivity Doesn’t Exist!” took over the Internet after the researchers who originally found scientific evidence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity in 2011 published a new follow-up paper with findings that basically said ‘Psych!’ The paper highlighted a follow-up study the researchers performed where they found that self-identified gluten-sensitive individuals reported the same levels of discomfort whether they were on high-gluten, low-gluten or no-gluten diets. As the researchers concluded, “In contrast to our first study … we could find absolutely no specific response to gluten.” Womp, womp.

But wait! Now, new research shows that if you self-identify as gluten-sensitive, it might not be all in your head after all. According to NPR, in a new study done by scientists at the University of Bologna in Italy, researchers found that, when participants’ blood was tested, those with celiac and those who identified as gluten-sensitive had significantly higher levels of the protein zonulin compared to participants who had irritable bowel syndrome (for which symptoms are often similar to folks who report gluten sensitivity) and healthy participants. For those of us who aren’t scientists, zonulin is an inflammatory protein that, when triggered by harmful bacteria, regulates leakiness in the gut.

So what do these findings mean? Well, for one, the link suggests that people who report gluten sensitivity probably aren’t completely delusional. And the high levels of zonulin, which gastroenterologist Alessio Fasano told NPR can be triggered by gluten in some individuals, explain why someone who is sensitive to gluten wouldn’t feel great after eating, say, a croissant: Zonulin’s job is to get whatever triggered it out of your system. Cue gastrointestinal discomfort.

The takeaway? While more research needs to be done before zonulin levels can actually be declared a marker for gluten sensitivity, these findings seem to suggest that self-identified gluten sensitivity isn’t necessarily BS, contrary to past research.

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