Gluten-free is so popular because our health care system is a mess

Increasingly I see a lot of articles deriding the “gluten free” fad. I wonder if people writing them have actually talked to people who are gluten-free despite not being diagnosed with celiac disease. I’ve talked to many of them. And almost always, behind their gluten-free diet is a story of the failure of our medical system.

Usually these stories are of being unable to afford seeing a doctor for chronic health conditions or suffering from chronic health problems their doctors didn’t treat properly. Taking to the internet, a free and easily accessible resource, and finding possible solutions like a gluten-free diet that are also usually more affordable than the healthcare system and they can implement these things themselves.

Treating my stomach problems through the medical system was also hellish. When I was in high school I was prescribed a totally unnecessary drug for my IBS. It was being used off label, had a ton of side effects and did not help my condition at all. My stomach problems continued to disrupt my life for years until I slowly discovered dietary changes that made a difference, which are now pretty well-documented in the scientific literature under the FODMAPs regimens. But if I went to a doctor in the U.S. and told them about that, I’d estimate even those who specialize in G.I. disorders would give me a blank look. In this case the standard American treatment guidelines are not much help and in fact continue to recommend psychiatric drugs like antidepressants, which often have G.I. side effects and likely don't do much to treat the underlying condition if it's not anxiety or depression. 

Some of the papers I’ve read about IBS treatments justify the use of antidepressants rather than diets like FODMAPs because there is more research on them (drugs are often more well-funded than diets) and because they are easier to use. There is a belief in these papers that patients won’t follow special diets. But the popularity of gluten-free shows that a large number of people are willing to follow special diets.

And because the medical system has abandoned this route, a lot of them get information about using diets to treat medical conditions on the internet, often after having a bad experience with medicine.

Overall my feeling is that of course, random forums about diets are not a great place to treat disorders. And it’s really sad that there are so many people with mental and physical health problems who end up there, in places that often are filled with quackery. And I try to encourage people to seek help elsewhere, but I have to admit it’s going to be really hard– financially, physically, and mentally.

Financially, the few times I’ve availed myself of questionable alternative medicine practitioners, mostly out of desperation when I suffered from neck pain (regular doctor prescribed a totally unnecessary arthritis drug), what is interesting is how much more transparent they are about costs. Every time I go to a regular doctor, I dread getting the bill. I never know how much it will cost, whether it will be covered or be counted as part of my deductible. For example, I had a biopsy last year. When I read my insurance paperwork I assumed it counted under “preventative care.” Nope, it counted as “surgery.” And I was out hundreds of dollars. Walk into any alternative medicine clinic and most of them have their prices listed out.

It says a lot that people are more comfortable cutting out gluten, an ingredient that is ubiquitous in the American diet, than they are navigating the health-care system. 

* someone asked then why is this not popular with the truly poor, which it probably is not- but here in the United States even middle class people have issues with the health care system. And despite having some disposable income, it's not enough to make a $5000 hospital bill easy to handle, but enough money to allow them to explore alternative medicine and enough education to discuss science on online forums. I'm talking about this group here, especially people stuck in high deductible plans and/or HMOs. And younger people who came of age in a time when the old "Cadillac" style health plans were being phased out, as I did.