GLUTEN. It’s practically a pariah in the nutritional world these days, with more and more people shunning gluten from their everyday lives. Many believe it to be a cure-all treatment for healthier digestion, glowing skin, mental acuity and a myriad of other concerns. But is gluten really the culprit in all of our health woes? If you are one of the 340,000 Australians that have been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease (CD), absolutely. In fact, it’s imperative that you follow a gluten free diet to manage your condition and avoid the long-term complications associated with the intestinal damage gluten causes. But what about the rest of us?

I see clients in clinic daily who have been following a gluten free diet after self-diagnosing an intolerance—sometimes for years before they sought professional help. Here’s the thing: if you have a health concern, jumping on the gluten free bandwagon without proper investigation and guidance may actually do more harm than good. Case in point: I recently saw a client who began following a gluten free diet to address IBS symptoms. While she did find some improvement initially, her symptoms returned and brought along a few unwanted friends. Her GP ordered a general coeliac screening and not surprisingly, it came back negative. Does that exclude coeliac disease? Unfortunately not. Most screening methods for CD, including the gold standard for diagnosis—a small intestinal biopsy, require the ingestion of gluten for a 4-6 week period prior to the test. Imagine having to load your gut up with gluten if you actually have CD…mayhem in the making.

While the medical community now recognises the existence of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) as a real thing, specialists believe the number of people who actually have NCGS is pretty small. Even still, with so many people experimenting with gluten-free diets, researchers are finding it difficult to pinpoint how and why gluten avoidance may be helping or harming people. One thing researchers are becoming more convinced of, however, is that non-coeliac people who say they feel better on a gluten free diet are probably sensitive to something other than the gluten protein—a carbohydrate called fructan. Fructans which are found in wheat, onions, garlic, artichokes and some fruits and cereals and can wreak havoc on the gut, causing gas, bloating, diarrhea and pain. Are you beginning to see the complexity of the puzzle?

Because Coeliac Disease can have far reaching effects on health, it’s really important to rule it out as an underlying problem. If you’re experiencing chronic issues, seek the help of a qualified clinical nutritionist who can help you with proper investigations and a dietary approach that considers your individual health needs and wellbeing before you go gluten free.