Is gluten free the way to go?

By July 8, 2018May 23rd, 2023gluten

Gluten is a protein that can be found in grains like wheat, barley and rye.  This means it’s something that’s in a lot of staple foods like bread and pasta, not to mention pizza and cakes. So the obvious question to ask is why would you WANT to sacrifice all that good stuff?

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Well, some people have to avoid gluten for very good health reasons. Around 1% of us have a condition called coeliac disease, although it’s estimated only 24% of these are diagnosed . If someone with this condition eats glutenous food their immune system sees the gluten as a threat.  Then attacks the gluten which can lead to damage to the delicate wall of the intestines. If this continues, it can seriously affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

There is a  group of people who are often described as being ‘gluten sensitive’. These people can suffer symptoms that seem similar to some coeliac disease patients.  Symptoms such as pain or discomfort in the abdomen, tiredness, and irritable bowel. But currently science can’t identify any biological marker to account for these symptoms.

So, does non-coeliac gluten sensitivity really exist? Do people really suffer when they eat gluten, and can this be verified by measurable changes in their immune system or inflammation?

Image result for picture of girl eating gluten

The experiment

We decided to set up an experiment to see if we could find out. 60 volunteers agreed to take part in the 6 week double blinded trial. For 4 weeks, the volunteers would be truly gluten free, but for 2 weeks we would slip gluten into their diet. Importantly, the volunteers wouldn’t know WHEN the glutenous food entered their diet, and nor would the scientists until after the analysis.

 Before, during, and after the trial we took blood samples to measure various biomarkers in the blood.  We also asked them to complete a symptom questionnaire every fortnight to monitor any changes in how they felt throughout the trial. They were asked to describe how strongly they felt a range of symptoms.  They listed nausea, tiredness, abdominal pain, headaches, constipation etc.

With the gut symptoms, overall people suffered significantly more in the weeks where we introduced gluten into their diet compared with when they were glutenfree.

There’s good evidence from people that they feel gut symptoms when they eat gluten, and they feel much better when they give it up.

If you believe you suffer symptoms when eating glutenous foods , then a carefully monitored ‘exclusion diet’ is the recognised method of diagnosis. Your medical practitioner will first rule out coeliac disease.  Then oversee an exclusion diet, asking you to log your symptoms while eating gluten. Then exclude it from your diet and again log symptoms, just as we did in our experiment


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