Gluten has been a pretty hot topic recently. I feel quite sorry for this poor protein which actually does some pretty amazing things to our food. I often come across people who have cut it out of their diet but actually it wasn’t gluten that was the culprit…. and then also people having a reaction that need to cut it out but hadn’t considered it. So lets take a closer look at the different gluten related conditions.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease where eating gluten causes the body to produce antibodies that attack the bodies own tissues. In European countries the incidence of coeliac disease is thought to be 1 in 100 but only 10-15% of people are diagnosed.
Gluten is a protein occurring in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. It acts like a glue binding flours together and providing elasticity in bread. In some people, consumption of even small amounts of gluten causes an immune reaction leading to inflammation and damage to the lining of the small intestine, causing a diverse spectrum of symptoms. In healthy people, the walls of the intestine are covered with fingerlike projections called villi, which increase the surface and contact area for absorption of nutrients. Gluten can cause the villi to be flattened and the intestinal membrane to be damaged. This means the intestinal wall is no longer able to absorb nutrients properly, causing malabsorption syndrome and various nutritional deficits.
Some people have gut symptoms when eating foods with ingredients containing gluten, ie wheat, barley and rye, even if they don’t have coeliac disease. This is sometimes called non coeliac gluten sensitivity.
The symptoms of non coeliac gluten sensitivity may be similar to those experienced by many people with coeliac disease, but it is not clear how the immune system might be involved and there does not appear to be damage to the lining of the gut. It can be worth looking into whether it really is gluten you are sensitive to or whether it is wheat.
Wheat is a FODMAP that causes a lot of issues in people with digestive disorders such as IBS.
There are no diagnostic tests for gluten sensitivity. Your first response is likely to be to cut out gluten and see if you feel better, which makes complete sense. I know what it like to feel unwell and be rushing to the bathroom! However I would encourage you to keep gluten in your diet and get tested for coeliac disease FIRST. Then you can cut it out. The test does not work if you have stopped eating gluten, so if you suspect you have a problem see your GP and get tested.