Gluten is a generic term for protein usually found in a variety of wheat, barley, and rye. Designed to give elasticity and help foods keep their shape, it can wreak havoc if you have celiac disease.
With non-celiac gluten sensitivity becoming an emerging area of study, food product manufacturers are flooding the market with gluten-free alternatives. Funnily enough, the bulk of gluten-free products are purchased not by those with gluten sensitivity. It pays to know that this is not without its risks. Which is why experts advise caution before heading blindly into a gluten-free lifestyle.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a buzzword that’s got everyone listening.
This essentially means that even if you don’t have celiac disease, you may still be harming your body by having gluten in your diet. As the name suggests, it is a sensitivity to gluten that could result in a host of problems for you, not unlike celiac disease.
Unfortunately, unlike celiac disease there are no easy-to-spot symptoms and diagnostics available, making prevention the best solution.1
Benefits Of Going Gluten-Free
A normal healthy cohort may also benefit from avoiding gluten. It may help pre-empt the onset of conditions like Crohn’s disease or Type-1 diabetes and other autoimmune problems. Going gluten-free can also mean good gut health.
Lower Chances Of Developing Type-1 Diabetes in Children
Help Inflammatory Bowel Disease
One study observed the effect of a gluten-free diet on those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Researchers found that most of those on a gluten-free diet experienced an improvement in their gastrointestinal symptoms. It could thus be a safe and effective therapy to ease symptoms for those already experiencing IBD.4
Limit Autoimmune Problems
A study found that people with NCGS posses markers which when exposed to wheat or gluten trigger autoimmune problems, even with no signs of celiac disease.5 Gluten can worsen the permeability of the gut, leading to the loss of the intestinal barrier function and making your system ripe for autoimmune disorders.6
Keep Your Gut Flora Healthy
The gut biome or combination of “good bacteria” in your intestines keeps the immune system in good working order, manages intestinal permeability, helps in digestion of food, and aids the synthesis of vitamin K2 and other nutrients. People with NCGS (even when unaware of the condition and seem otherwise healthy) may experience gut biome imbalance on eating gluten. This means all those vital functions that depend on the gut flora are at risk.7
The Other Side Of Gluten-Free Diets: Nutritional Risks
Going gluten-free may seem like a smart choice, but be sure it is one you take knowing the risks. Remember, not everyone is predisposed to the NCGS condition nor celiac disease. If you aren’t among those with the autoimmune markers impacted by gluten, you should be able to safely consume gluten without any problems.
If you still decide to make the whole family, including your kids, go gluten-free, be careful what products you use. Gluten-free foods are under the scanner for not being able to provide adequate quantities of essential nutrients. Additionally, as one report in the Journal of Pediatrics noted, these foods sometimes have higher quantities of sugar and fat and lack nutrients present in the gluten versions due to uneven fortification. Specifically, vitamins B and D, fiber, calcium, magnesium, folate, and iron are typically lacking. Growing children need all these nutrients and a balanced diet to support healthy development and growth. Worse yet, some of these foods contain higher quantities of toxins, including arsenic.8
One study in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition noted that calcium, iron, and fiber levels, especially among girls in the study, was lower among the group that had a gluten-free diet, compared to a normal diet. Obesity and overweight classifications were also more prevalent in the group eating gluten-free compared to healthy adolescents in the control group and peers with celiac disease on a gluten-containing diet.9
Ensuring a healthy balanced diet overall becomes more critical if you have opted for a gluten-free diet. More importantly, if you don’t need to go gluten-free and don’t have NCGS or celiac disease, stick to a regular diet that includes normal food. This is truer than ever now that supermarket shelves are packed with gluten-free variants that may seem like the healthier choice. Just keep in mind that these are foods made to help people with specific sensitivities, and not the population at large.
|↑1||Isasi, Carlos, Eva Tejerina, and Luz M. Morán. “Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity and Rheumatologic Diseases.” Reumatología Clínica (English Edition) (2015).|
|↑2||[Barbeau, William E. “What is the key environmental trigger in type 1 diabetes—Is it viruses, or wheat gluten, or both?.” Autoimmunity reviews 12, no. 2 (2012): 295-299.|
|↑3||Hansen, Camilla Hartmann Friis, Łukasz Krych, Karsten Buschard, Stine B. Metzdorff, Christine Nellemann, Lars H. Hansen, Dennis S. Nielsen, Hanne Frøkiær, Søren Skov, and Axel K. Hansen. “A maternal gluten-free diet reduces inflammation and diabetes incidence in the offspring of NOD mice.” Diabetes 63, no. 8 (2014): 2821-2832.|
|↑4||Herfarth, Hans H., Christopher F. Martin, Robert S. Sandler, Michael D. Kappelman, and Millie D. Long. “Prevalence of a gluten free diet and improvement of clinical symptoms in patients with inflammatory bowel diseases.” Inflammatory bowel diseases 20, no. 7 (2014): 1194.|
|↑5||Carroccio, Antonio, Alberto D’Alcamo, Francesca Cavataio, Maurizio Soresi, Aurelio Seidita, Carmelo Sciumè, Girolamo Geraci, Giuseppe Iacono, and Pasquale Mansueto. “High Proportions of People With Nonceliac Wheat Sensitivity Have Autoimmune Disease or Antinuclear Antibodies.” Gastroenterology 149, no. 3 (2015): 596-603.|
|↑6||Visser, Jeroen, Jan Rozing, Anna Sapone, Karen Lammers, and Alessio Fasano. “Tight junctions, intestinal permeability, and autoimmunity.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1165, no. 1 (2009): 195-205.|
|↑7||Makharia, Archita, Carlo Catassi, and Govind K. Makharia. “The Overlap between Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: A Clinical Dilemma.” Nutrients 7, no. 12 (2015): 10417-10426.|
|↑8||The Gluten-Free Diet in Children: Do the Risks Outweigh the Benefits? Journal of Pediatrics.|
|↑9||Mariani, Paolo, Maria Grazia Viti, Monica Montouri, Alessandra La Vecchia, Elsa Cipolletta, Luisa Calvani, and Margherita Bonamico. “The gluten-free diet: a nutritional risk factor for adolescents with celiac disease?.” Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition 27, no. 5 (1998): 519-523.|