Is gluten sensitivity all in your head?

Caitlin Chang

Is gluten really the bad guy? Photo: Getty

Gluten can sometimes be given a bad rap. But a new study may have debunked the stigma surrounding the ingredient.

Italian researchers have found that only one third of people diagnosed with gluten sensitivity actually experience negative side effects when they consume the protein composite.

For the study, gastroenterologists from the University and Spedali Civili of Brescia recruited 35 volunteers with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). The volunteers had been following a strict gluten-free diet for at least six months before the study.

They were provided with sealed satchels labelled A or B, each containing either 10 grams of gluten-free or gluten-containing flour. Volunteers were given either type A or B flour and asked to sprinkle it over their meal (either pasta or soup) for 10 days. They were then able to return to their normal diet for two weeks before returning to the same 10-day task, with the other flour.

Throughout the study period, participants reported any symptoms (pain, indigestion, refuse, diarrhoea and constipation) using a rating scale of 1 (not bad at all) to 7 (really bad).

Researchers discovered that 12 of the 35 volunteers could be classified as having NCGS based on the criteria. The remainder of the group either experienced mild symptoms (3 or lower) or no symptoms at all.

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While the small sample size means the study can’t be taken as gospel, it does raise the question whether gluten really is to blame?

Peter Gibson, Alfred Hospital’s direct of gastroenterology thinks not. Speaking to Prevention, he said “when people go gluten-free, they also buy fresh food, cook at home and generally eat healthier. You feel better just because you’re looking after yourself.”

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Instead, he suspects FODMAPS ( a family of carbohydrates found in wheat, rye and barley) are the likely cause of stomach problems. So if you are experiencing stomach issues, speak to your GP before pointing the finger at gluten.

Simply eliminating wheat and rye also eliminates about 50% of your dietary fibre, so put it back in with lots of fruit, vegetables and legumes.


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