Are you gluten intolerant — or just wheat sensitive?

Are you gluten intolerant — or just wheat sensitive?

Are you gluten intolerant — or just wheat sensitive?

Gluten-free diets are a hot topic with the general public and mass media. Sales of gluten-free products and the number of people following a gluten-free diet are growing rapidly. There has been debate concerning whether or not gluten causes symptoms in the absence of coeliac disease for many years with increasing research showing a variety of gastro and non-gastrointestinal symptoms following the ingestion of gluten-containing products.

Symptoms associated with gluten intolerance may include abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea, nausea, headache, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, depression, hypothyroidism and muscle pain.

In addition to gluten, there are a wide variety of other compounds also found in gluten-containing foods which can contribute to negative symptoms including FODMAPs (a type of carbohydrate present in wheat and many other foods), agglutinins (proteins that bind to sugar), prodynorphins (proteins involved with cellular communication), and additional proteins that are formed during the process of wheat digestion, such as deamidated gliadin and gliadorphins (aka gluteomorphins). Increased intestinal permeability or the development of Leaky Gut Syndrome may also contribute to symptoms experienced in NCGS.

A simple home test is advised by researcher Chris Kresser and can be used to help find out whether you have a general sensitivity to wheat, gluten or both. Please note that this is not a diagnostic test but simply a way to assess sensitivities for those who are interested. 

  1. Remove all gluten-containing foods and products from your diet for 60 days.
  2. At the end of the 60 day period, cook up a bowl of barley, eat it, and see what happens.
  3. A few days later, eat a piece of wheat bread.

Barley is a gluten-containing grain that is low in FODMAPs. If you react, it suggests you may be intolerant of gluten or other gluten-like compounds. If you don’t have a reaction to barley, but you react to the wheat bread, it is more likely that you are intolerant to something specific in wheat. For those feeling the benefits of excluding gluten, it is important to rule out the possibility of coeliac disease to prevent further health complications which may result from the occasional consumption of gluten.

Avoiding gluten or wheat can lead to temptation to reach for the highly processed gluten-free products which are currently flooding the market. Nutritionists would advise avoiding these products and sticking to a non-processed, whole foods diet which focuses on consuming a variety of quality proteins, good fats and fresh vegetables to balance all nutritional needs.

The fact that some people exhibit symptoms after the ingestion of gluten-containing grains in the absence of coeliac disease cannot be ignored. These reactions may be caused specifically by wheat proteins, gluten or other associated components but essentially still result in a negative symptom picture.

The take-home message is that if you feel best when you avoid gluten or wheat-based products and you have tested negative to coeliac disease, continue to avoid these products while focusing on fresh, whole foods. Steer clear of trips down the gluten-free aisle of the supermarket and ensure that you rotate other grains in your diet if you are choosing to include them. 

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