Is Gluten REALLY The Problem? See What New Research Says
Gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, Celiac disease, and gluten-free diets – these are common phrases heard in today’s society. Is it just a health fad, or is there some validity to an increase in gluten-free diets? In other words, is gluten really the problem?
Let’s take a deeper look…
WHAT DO SYMPTOMS LOOK LIKE?
Symptoms caused by ingesting gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt, come in all shapes and sizes, and can be a result of Celiac Disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivities.
The most common symptoms associated with Celiac Disease include bloating, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, and constipation. To make things more complicated, there are over 200 potential symptoms of Celiac Disease, and they can occur both inside and outside of the gut.
Celiac Disease affects about 1 in 133 people, roughly 1 percent of the population, and is an autoimmune disease in which gluten causes the immune system to attack the small intestines. It is a progressive condition that causes damage and inflammation in the gut, which affects the gut flora and predisposes the sufferer to leaky gut and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
According to Dr. Tom O’Bryan, an expert in gluten-related disorders and ITN faculty member, for every person diagnosed with Celiac Disease, 8 people have it but do not show the “normal” signs and symptoms of the disease, making accurate diagnosis difficult.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity, on the other hand, is a food intolerance, not an autoimmune condition nor an allergy. People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) experience symptoms similar to those with Celiac Disease when they have gluten in their diets but do not test positive for Celiac.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivities are more common than Celiac Disease, affecting about 12 percent of the population. The symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity are similar to Celiac Disease, including digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, and changes in bowel movements such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Other symptoms may include fatigue, mood problems, brain fog, headaches, skin problems, joint pain, and muscle aches.
With all of this information, the question still remains… is gluten REALLY the problem for these symptoms and health conditions?
IS GLUTEN REALLY THE PROBLEM?
A recent study by Monash University in Australia found that gluten may not be the culprit after all in non-celiac gluten sensitivities. Rather, sensitivity issues may be related to the fructan molecules found in wheat. Fructans are a type of sugar found in many common foods including wheat, barley, rye, onions, garlic, chickpeas, cabbage, broccoli, pistachios, chicory root, asparagus, and artichokes.
The study looked at 59 participants who did not have Celiac Disease but were following gluten-free diets for gut sensitivities. The participants were given three types of cereal bars that all looked and tasted the same and contained gluten, fructans, or neither. The participants did not know which bars they were consuming, and they ate one bar daily for 7 days with a weeklong break in between each different bar.
Interestingly, the gluten bar had no effect. However, the fructan-containing bar resulted in 15 percent more bloating and a 13 percent increase in overall gastrointestinal symptoms compared to the control bar.
This may explain why some people with IBS improve on a gluten-free diet but do not experience complete resolution due to fructans found in other foods.
Other recent studies have shown that about 70 percent of people with IBS feel better when they remove fructans and other sugars from their diet when following a FODMAP diet.
FODMAPs are short-chain fermentable carbohydrates, which are small carbohydrate molecules made up of 1 to 10 sugars that can easily ferment in the gut.
A FODMAP intolerance is a sensitivity to ingredients containing:
- Fermentable – Foods that are broken down and fermented in the intestines.
- Oligosaccharides – Chain molecules containing single sugars.
- Disaccharides – Molecules containing two sugar molecules.
- Monosaccharides – Molecules containing only one sugar molecule.
- Polyols – Sugar alcohols.
Examples of FODMAPs include lactose and fructose as well as other compounds such as:
- Fructans, found in many foods, including onions, garlic, broccoli, artichokes, and wheat.
- Galactans, founds in broccoli, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, and lentils to name a few.
- Sorbitol, found naturally in some fruits including pears, apples, peaches, apricots, and dates.
- Mannitol, found naturally in some fruits and vegetables including cauliflower, watermelon, snow peas, and sweet potatoes.
As FODMAPS are fermented in the large intestine by gas-producing bacteria, the gut stretches, aggravating an already sensitive GI tract in those with IBS.
As more research unfolds, it could open the door to a wide range of new foods that were previously off limits on a gluten-free diet for those suffering from digestive concerns and other health conditions that were originally believed to be caused by gluten.
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