Why are we all avoiding gluten?

In early July both the Daily Mail and Telegraph ran long articles on the stratospheric growth in the gluten free food market. CM editor, Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, offers two suggestions for what is powering that growth.

1. Gluten intolerance is not just about coeliac disease

Earlier this year gluten expert Dr Tom O'Bryan ran a massive online gluten 'summit' involving almost every big name in coeliac disease research and clinical care. Although they were not all in agreement, the general consensus was that:

• Gluten related illness affects far more bodily systems than just the digestive system. (Conventionally coeliac disease was only thought to affect the small intestine which was damaged by a gluten fraction called gliadin.)

• Gluten related illness may be more likely to be a neurological than a digestive problem e.g to affect the brain rather than the gut. So it is possible that conditions such as headaches and migraine, ataxias, brain fog, fatigue and IBS may all be gluten related.

• There may be a genetic element to gluten illnesses. In very simplistic terms, if you are genetically predisposed to be gluten sensitive (which many people may be) once your sensitivity has been triggered by eating gluten then that sets off a whole train of events in the body which may end up with you succumbing to an auto-immune disease. Classic coeliac disease itself is an autoimmune disease but of course there are many others (such as diabetes), the incidence of all of which is growing alarmingly.

For a brief introduction to the summit see Micki's Rose's article on this site, Gluten Related Disorders: Our Knowledge Expands; for the full proceedings of the summit see Theglutensummit.com.

So – gluten sensitivity would appear to affect many, many more people than the 1% who are currently diagnosed as coeliac. And, in defiance of conventional medical thinking, many of us may just have logged into that fact and are taking action…

2. Going 'gluten-free' has far wider implications that just not eating gluten

Feeling off colour, tired, headachy, depressed? Got digestive problems – bloating, indigestion? Overweight and can't seem to lose it? Joints aching for no good reason? Brain a bit foggy? Been to the doctor but he/she says there is nothing wrong.

'Wonder if I am gluten sensitive. Loads of other people seem to think it helps. Look how great Gwyneth Paltrow looks on a gluten-fee diet! Maybe I will try it…'

It is possible that that person is indeed gluten sensitive but it is also very likely that they are eating a less than perfect diet (far too many processed foods and takeaways), drinking too much, smoking, not taking much exercise and leading a fairly high stress life – any or all of which could contribute to their health problems.

If they put themselves on a gluten-free diet:

1. They are going to have think about what they eat as opposed to just grabbing the first thing that comes to hand.

2. Once they go gluten-free they will, by definition, cut out many of the highly processed (and sweetened) cakes and biscuits, endless plates of pasta or pizza which may have made up the majority of their diet.

3. Even though there is very much wider range of gluten-free/freefrom food available now, they will still have to prepare more food from scratch which will probably mean using more fresh fruits and vegetables.

4. Having decided to go gluten free they will be more focused on their health so instead of 'intending' to join that yoga class or that gym, they may actually do it and, at the same time, may cut down on that binge drinking or those cigarettes.

5. Doing all of those things will definitely impact on their stress levels so they may feel less stressed.

As a result, their over all health will improve. This improvement will have a number of causes but they will put it down to the gluten-free diet – so will continue, if not on a totally gluten-free diet, at least on a gluten reduced diet.

So going on a gluten-free diet can improve your overall health and well being, regardless of whether or not you are gluten sensitive.

Further Reading

Fast Facts: Coeliac Disease by Geoffrey Holmes and Carlo Catassi
Gluten Freedom by Alessio Fasano
Coeliac Disease: What you need to know by Alex Gazzola


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If you found this article interesting, you will find many more general articles and research reports on coeliac disease here, and lots of information on the management of coeliac disease here.
You can also find articles and research reports on gluten intolerance here and articles on a wide range of other digestive conditions here.

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