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LRM Social Science and Medicine Article.pdf


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L.R. Moore / Social Science & Medicine 105 (2014) 76e83

a breakdown of the term in Table 1. “Non-celiac gluten free” includes self-diagnoses, diagnosis of non-celiac disorders, and a
range of other motivators. Table 3 displays the distribution of
participant household income and household size.
Lawrence is in the top 10 cities for per capita bachelor’s degree
attainment nationally, with 52.8 percent of people over age 25
possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher (US Census, n.d.). Research
participants’ education exceeded even this high figure. Eighty-two
percent of participants over age 25 had at least a bachelor’s degree,
and 36 percent had a master’s degree or higher. These numbers
exclude the three student participants between ages 18 and 24 (see
Table 2). While this may be a sampling artifact, it is in line with
research suggesting self-diagnosis of contested illnesses occurs
more frequently among those with higher education (Vierk,
Koehler, Fein, & Street, 2007).
Three themes of self-ascriptive looping
I identify three interrelated facets of self-ascriptive looping. First,
non-celiac gluten-free participants expanded the gluten-related
disorder illness prototype through unexpected symptom relief.
Second, participants undermined biomedicine by discussing negative experiences with doctors and questioning medical knowledge
about the body. Finally, some participants actively sought to diagnose gluten maladies in others. In the process, self-ascriptive
looping becomes one vector in the creation of an ecological niche
for gluten-free dieting, and its subsequent popularization.
Illness prototypes
When participants eliminated gluten to address one health
concern, they often experienced other changes in their wellbeing.
In many cases, the person was unaware of a symptom until it
disappeared.
Victoria, a married graduate student with two children, suspected gluten contributed to her 11-year-old son’s stomach problems. When her doctor was unhelpful, Victoria’s chiropractor
recommended gluten elimination. “Within the first three days, I
was like ‘Oh my goodness, I have not felt this good since I don’t
know when.’” She realized her lifelong anxiety and stomach
problems were likely linked to gluten.
Over my life, I’ve had stomach problems, but I just thought “Oh,
it’s just something that’s normal.” It went away. So within three
days I was just like, “Wow. Something is up here.” My head also
just kind of cleared up. The other really interesting thing was
that, within seven days, I no longer needed to drink three cups of
tea a day. If I drank one cup, I was almost too awake. Since I’ve
been on the gluten-free diet, I haven’t needed to drink caffeine
anymore.
Similarly, David realized his figure was not just his body type: “I
watched my grandfather and uncle have a pot belly. I thought, ‘Well,
that’s the pot belly I’m going to have.’ But then it went away!’” He

Table 2
Marital status (left) and highest level of education (right) of 31 non-celiac gluten free
participants.
NCGF marital status

#

%

NCGF level of education

#

%

Single, no children
Single, with children
Married, no children
Married, with children
Other or Unknown
Total

6
2
6
14
3
31

19.4%
6.4%
19.4%
45.2%
9.7%
100%

High school or GED
Some College
Bachelor’s Degree
Master’s Degree
PhD
Total

2
6
13
8
2
31

6%
19%
42%
25.8%
6.4%
100%

79

Table 3
Annual household income (left) and household size (right) of 31 non-celiac gluten
free participants.
NCGF annual household
income

#

%

Household
size (# of people)

#

%

Below $25,000
$26,000e50,000
$51,000e75,000
$76,000e100,000
Over 100,000
No response
Total

5
8
4
5
6
3
31

16.1%
25.8%
12.9%
16.1%
19.4%
9.7%
100%

1
2
3
4
5
6
Total

5
10
5
8
2
1
31

16.1%
32.3%
16.1%
25.8%
6.4%
3.2%
100%

said many people would not realize they were sick until they tried
the diet. “The symptoms are so vague, if you didn’t treat them, the
person would just be considered a slow, tired person, not necessarily
a sick person.” As the illness prototype expands, more people
recognize tiredness as pathological and, ultimately, treatable.
Matilda, a stay-at-home mother in her early 40s, excitedly reported the myriad symptoms the diet relieved for her and her 6year-old daughter Amy.
The fatigue is pretty much gone. My thoughts are clearer. I used
to have a little bit of haziness in my thinking at certain times. I
used to have a lot of low blood sugar moments, and she did too.
Those are pretty much gone.
It seems a lot easier now to sit down and teach [Amy] something, or even sit down and read a book. She’s always loved to
read books, but you had to sit there and she was floating around
the room while you were reading a book, and now she’ll sit on
your lap forever.
Victoria, David, and Matilda demonstrate how relief of symptoms
can become part of a prototype. When participants felt an
improvement in their energy, skin, or concentration, how they understood those feelings changed. After going gluten free, they recast
everyday experiences as possible symptoms of a GRD. The list of
gluten-related symptoms is now nearly comprehensivedeverything from irritability to schizophrenia to diarrhea to lethargy.
The celiac prototype is the original gluten-related prototype.
“Classic” symptoms of CD are gastrointestinal; as a result, many
participants reported their doctors were skeptical of their nonclassic symptoms. Medical literature also shows many cases of CD
escape diagnosis because of atypical symptoms (Sapone et al., 2012).
Increased focus on GRDs is expanding both lay and biomedical
prototypes. However, biomedical prototype expansion at the
Consensus Conference does not account for the popular use of the
diet to treat non-classic symptoms. Almost all research participants
were gluten free before the revised symptom list was published,
and more than half were gluten free before the conference
convened. Data from top medical researchers and study participants suggest the biomedical model is simply catching up to the
public. Dr. Alessio Fasano, who co-chaired the Consensus Conference (Robinson, 2012), said
With gluten sensitivity, we’re standing at the same crossroads
that we encountered with celiac disease almost 20 years ago..
We do know that it’s a different condition from celiac disease,
which is what patients have been telling us for some time now.
[emphasis added]
Despite biomedical inclusion of non-classic symptoms for CD
and NCGS, lay and medical models still conflict (Sapone et al., 2012).
Because the lay model seems to be expanding more rapidly than
the biomedical one, it becomes a site for conflict between