Ask the Expert: Do I Have Gluten Sensitivity?

Registered dietitian Matt Priven explains how to find out.

Welcome to our new Ask the Expert series, in which our panel of health experts answers your wellness questions. First up: Registered dietitian Matt Priven tackles gluten sensitivity. Got a question of your own? Email jducharme@bostonmagazine.com.


Bread

Photo via istock.com/serts

Question:

Everybody is talking about gluten sensitivity. How can I tell if I’m sensitive to gluten?

Answer: 

First of all, take a deep breath. Despite the popularity of gluten-free and low-carb diets, Priven assures us that “the majority of individuals do not need to avoid gluten. If you do not have a specific symptom that’s causing you to question gluten, there’s no reason to go on the diagnostic journey.”

Fair enough. But what if you do have a specific symptom, such as digestive issues, abdominal pain, fatigue, headaches, or brain fog?

Resist the urge to self-diagnose through trendy elimination diets, Priven says.

“Even if someone were to do a gluten-free-style diet like Whole 30 [which eliminates grains, dairy, sugar, alcohol, and legumes for 30 days], and they said, ‘Oh I feel a lot better,’ that still doesn’t tell us [what’s going on],” Priven explains. “You can’t just self-diagnose gluten sensitivity.”

If you’re regularly experiencing any of the symptoms above—or any recurrent symptom, for that matter—go to your doctor, especially if you think gluten may be the culprit. You may actually have celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder that flares up in the presence of gluten. Celiac comes with potential complications and must be treated for an individual’s entire life, so diagnosing it correctly is very important, Priven explains.

He adds that a doctor will only diagnose you with gluten sensitivity if celiac disease and a wheat allergy are ruled out. (Yes, those are all different things. Here’s a breakdown.)

“That really just means you’ve shown no physical explanation for your symptoms, but you feel better when eating gluten-free,” Priven says, adding that researchers are trying to determine why some people develop gluten sensitivity.

To make a long story short, Priven says, “if you have a symptom, talk to your doctor and let them be part of the diagnostic process.”


Matt Priven

About the Expert: Matt Priven is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the founder of Oceanside Nutrition. As an RDN, Matt is an expert in the areas of food and nutrition. He holds a M.S. in nutrition and health promotion. Passionate about research, he is a published author in multiple scientific journals, including the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Having trained and worked at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Matt helped thousands of individuals before opening a private practice. At Oceanside Nutrition, Matt provides individual nutrition counseling in Boston and Newburyport for a variety of health concerns.

Got a question for our experts? Email jducharme@bostonmagazine.com.