Gluten intolerance: it’s on the rise. With a range of nasty symptoms; from bloating, abdominal discomfort or pain, and diarrhoea, to migraines, fatigue and depression (to name but a few), it’s no surprise that people are talking about it. If there’s a way of avoiding these things, surely we want to know about it? Do you need to be on a gluten free diet?
There are a lot of theories out there on the causes of the sudden rise in gluten intolerance (as well as a healthy level of cynicism towards the newest health ‘panacea’!)…
A fully blown gluten intolerance can indicate coeliac (or celiac) disease. One theory cites an improvement in diagnostic methods for coeliac disease over the past few years, while another points to the fact that modern wheat varieties contain a particular peptide strand in the gluten molecule, which researchers have learnt is the primary cause of coeliac disease and gluten intolerance. Ancient wheat varieties underwent a long, slow fermentation process, which broke severed the bonds of this particular peptide and made the bread easier to digest. It’s important to note there is no test for gluten intolerance which is only diagnosed after ruling out coeliac disease and wheat allergy and where there is an improvement in symptoms after following a gluten-free diet.
Another theory highlights the fact that coeliac disease is an auto-immune disease, consisting of a pre-determined genetic inability to break down gluten in the gut. Genetic predispositions can be present without being ‘turned on’, and the chances of that switch being flicked can be dramatically increased by environmental factors. For example, dysbiosis – damaged gut flora – can be caused by antibiotics, sugar, alcohol, and GMOs. The damaged gut is then unable to process gluten as it treats it as a microbial invader, being unable to distinguish between the two. A nutritionally poor diet can also make the body more likely to attack gluten proteins, as the immune cells which regulate this attack are increased by specific vitamins. Further complications exist with intolerances to wheat and other products containing gluten.
Whatever the cause, the facts remain: a decade ago, worldwide gluten-intolerance levels were at 1 in 2500. Today, surveys suggest that 1 in 133 people are affected.
While a wheat allergy is easy enough to spot (sufferers will have a typical allergic reaction after consuming wheat, such as bloating, discomfort, skin rashes or runny noses), a gluten intolerance is harder to diagnose. Testing can be carried out on the NHS after visiting your GP. A simple blood test is the first step in diagnosis. Unfortunately, many people try to simply self-diagnose after some experimentation. For this, gluten needs to be in the diet in more than one meal every day for at least six weeks before testing otherwise an inaccurate result can be achieved. So, if you’re having ongoing symptoms, you shouldn’t cut gluten out to test for yourself; it’s really important that you visit the GP first to discuss your symptoms and have a blood test.
If you think you might be wheat intolerant (or any food for that matter), cutting them out of your diet completely for 2-3 weeks can give a helpful indication. If you feel better, or worse off when you re-introduce it, chances are you have an intolerance.
Anyone who has tried a 100% gluten-free diet knows it is not easy. Gluten is everywhere. Fortunately, the rise in awareness in the past few years has also led to a rise in certified gluten-free foods: this is a guarantee from the manufacturer that the ingredients have not come into contact with anything gluten-contaminated, and that there is a third-party authority verifying this.
On that note, our delicious and healthy Savvy spreads have also just been certified gluten-free: what’s not to love?
Buy your Gluten-free Savvy now.
Further information at the Coeliac UK. Helpline: 0845 305 2060