Gluten: Friend or Foe? – by Molly Hanson

The gluten-free diet: Possibly the biggest diet trend of the 21st century, there are copious amounts of gluten free products available to purchase these days making it accessible to all. For those that cannot tolerate gluten, this accessibility means that their social life and eating habits are less impeded than ever before and preparation for a meal out is rarely necessary.

But is going gluten free beneficial for everyone?

When the gluten-free diet is necessary:

Gluten, which is a storage protein found in wheat, barley and rye, can have a dangerous effect on certain individuals.

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For those with coeliac disease as little bit of gluten can have irreversible effects. The consumption of gluten triggers an immune response which damages the lining of the small intestine causing the microvilli (finger-like projections) to be damaged and become flat, which inhibits absorption of nutrients, and can result in malabsorption.

This response causes the symptoms associated with Coeliac Disease such as excessive wind, change in stool frequency and consistency, stomach pain and bloating. In serious un-treated cases coeliacs can develop villious atrophy where the microvilli totally disappear. These symptoms increase the risk for other health conditions such as anaemia and osteoporosis due to insufficient Iron and/or Calcium absorption. In this case a strict gluten-free diet is necessary and will improve the health of the individual dramatically.

There is also a condition that causes similar symptoms; non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. However, the consumption of gluten does not result in an auto-immune response and there is no intestinal damage. Having said that the symptoms can be as painful and debilitating as those with coeliac disease suffer and a gluten free diet can also be necessary to improve health.

When the gluten-free diet is used incorrectly:

Following the gluten free diet with no gluten related health condition? Perhaps a friend suggested going gluten free because ‘it’s better for you’, or perhaps you read an article online or in the newspaper based on anecdotal reports, suggesting that the gluten free diet can help you to; lose weight, boost energy, treat autism or generally feel healthier.

pointing-finger-1922074_1280Following the diet erroneously can result in more harm than good. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggested that the omission of gluten may result in reduced consumption of a variety of beneficial wholegrains, which may affect cardiovascular health. In conclusion the promotion of a gluten-free diet among people without coeliac disease (or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity) should not be encouraged.

If you think you are suffering with either of the two conditions above, do not cut gluten out of your diet without Medical advice and make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.

For more advice, visit Coeliac UK at https://www.coeliac.org.uk/home/.