CAMBRIDGE, MA – A study published last week by a group of researchers at Harvard Medical School suggests that regular yoga practice can lead to an increased likelihood of gluten sensitivity. Study groups practicing more than twice per week and owning a membership to a yoga studio were found to be suffering from this condition far more frequently than the general population.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine, and which is often countered with a strict gluten-free diet in those who suffer from it, although the disease affects a fairly group. Far more widespread is Non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a condition officially recognized in 2010, and which affects up to 10 times the population that celiac disease does.
Awareness of these conditions has spread so widely that those suffering from gluten sensitivities are no longer forced to order burgers without the bun, with restaurant chains including Wendy’s, Il Fornello, and even Panera Bread now including gluten-free items on their menus. As the Harvard study suggests, a high percentage of those ordering these specialty items may be regularly attending yoga classes.
“It just feels, I don’t know, icky,” said Tiffany Green, a 32-year-old yoga practitioner and elementary school teacher. “I can totally feel how [gluten] stiffens up my joints and makes it hard to hold a downward dog for more than a breath or two.” Although Green has never received a formal diagnosis of her condition, she independently arrived at the conclusion that gluten was the cause of her poor digestion, headaches, insomnia, and financial instability. “I’m just so much happier now.”
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains, and gives bread its chewy texture. While humans have been consuming gluten for thousands of years without apparent problems, some suggest that genetically modified strains of wheat have changed its chemical composition, causing this widespread condition. While the Harvard study is far from conclusive, it counters this assertion: it’s yoga that’s the cause, not genetic modification.
Nevertheless, a large industry of gluten-free products has developed in the last decade, ranging from deserts to beer to bread. While many people find the taste and texture of these gluten-free items to be powdery and unusual, many non-yoga practitioners are even beginning to experiment with gluten-free diets to discover if they, too, have a sensitivity.
“It’s a buncha baloney, if you ask me,” said Martin McNiece, after being asked. McNiece is the sole proprietor of McNiece & Son Bakery and has seen the demand for his bread decline over the last several years. “I blame it on that damn Mushka or Hocksha or whatever the hell it’s called yoga studio across the way where these people are sweatin’ and stretchin’ and chantin’ all sorts of strange things. I hear ‘em through my window at all hours of the afternoon.” Indeed, McNiece has called in several noise complaints against the studio although the local police department has at this point stopped responding to his calls. When informed of the Harvard study, McNiece was unsurprised. “You don’t need no scientists to tell you that. I coulda. I just did.”
While yoga appears to be one of the leading causes of gluten sensitivity, research also suggests that shopping at Whole Foods, listening to Fleet Foxes, and donating to Greenpeace can also put individuals at higher risk.