Last month, Senator Ted Cruz, one of the Republican candidates for President of the United States made waves by clumsily associating gluten-free with political correctness.
“That’s why the last thing any commander should need to worry about is the grades he is getting from some plush-bottomed Pentagon bureaucrat for political correctness or social experiments — or providing gluten-free MREs,” Cruz said.
Actually, I would tell Senator Cruz that gluten-free MRE’s are possibly the first thing every commander should worry about.
In 2007, I attended the American Dietetic Association’s annual conference in Philadelphia to promote our book, Recognizing Celiac Disease.
Our booth was approached by a dietitian who also happened to be a uniformed Lt. Colonel in the US Army. He asked me about gluten sensitive enteropathy (celiac disease) and was specifically interested in gluten-free rations for troops.
Intrigued, I asked him why.
He told me,”We are seeing a prevalence of 1 in 4.” I thought he was mistaken, since prevalence estimates are 1 in 100 in the general population.
I asked him whether he really meant 25% of the soldiers were testing positive for celiac disease. He said,”Yes, we are seeing an incidence of 1 in 4 with gluten sensitive enteropathy. We don’t know why, whether it is the pool of people who go into the military or some other reason.”
He was late for a meeting, so I agreed to speak with him later and called the next week. He said the rations had to be three parts carbs to one part protein. I told him I would help source appropriate gluten-free rations. We agreed to talk the next week.
When I called the next week, he abruptly stated gluten sensitive enteropathy was no longer on the table and that street drugs were the new focus. I asked him how everything totally changed. He said he had no control and ended the conversation.
I can think of four reasons why the Lt. Colonel’s superiors decided to depth charge gluten-free rations:
- Service Connected Disability. The armed forces must pay for a condition that develops while a soldier is serving as long as he or she meets basic eligibility requirements. That means free treatment for the rest of the veteran’s life.
- Changing ration sources can be expensive.
- Changing rations is logistically difficult.
- A diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is a PDQ, Permanent Disqualification from service. The armed forces has determined it is too difficult to provide for servicemen serving around the world.
A diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity means the person cannot eat wheat, barley, rye or oats. Providing for special dietary needs can be onerous depending on the situation. One can understand why the armed forces do not want people serving who cannot be sent anywhere in the world at any moment and eat the foods on hand.
That said, if the prevalence of celiac disease truly is 25%, then the United States Army, and possibly the entire Armed Forces, has a big problem. Instead of ignoring it, a more prudent course would be to investigate and determine whether undiagnosed and untreated celiac disease among 25% of the service is resulting in a sick and malnourished condition that is causing troops to experience physical, mental and emotional maladies that lead them to self-treat with drugs. They should research why so many of their people have celiac disease and how they can meet their needs so they can be as effective as possible. They should test potential recruits before they enlist.
Finally, if 1/4 of the pool of people who want to enter the armed forces happen to have the genes that give them an aggressive immune system susceptible to developing celiac disease, then perhaps offering gluten-free MREs should be put back on the table.
As for Senator Cruz, he looks less than healthy. His skin has poor color. His face exhibits significant edema, swelling and fluid retention. His arm muscles are flaccid and he is overweight. All these symptoms indicate inflammation and nutritional deficiency, both of which can stem from untreated celiac disease.
Ridiculing the medical treatment for a disease that affects society at an epidemic level is foolish. Equating a true medical condition to a social experiment or political correctness exhibits a disturbing lack of scientific literacy and judgment.