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Going gluten-free? Pause and read.

‘Let’s try the lasagne. I heard it’s really good here.’

‘Ugh! That’s gluten. No way. You go ahead.’

How many of us have heard or been a part of a conversation like this before? Seven out of ten of you out there have anti-gluten friends who are moving mountains to make you join the “Go Gluten-Free!” movement. While what you eat is your choice, you might want to get some misconceptions cleared in your head before you start allotting a fat budget for gluten-free foods.

What’s the big idea?!

Is gluten sensitivity (GS) or gluten intolerance real? This is a big debate and the evidence both for and against gluten sensitivity being a reality are strong. A section of people are staunch opposers to the whole “gluten myth” and believe the whole thing to be a charade with players exclusively from high society. Yet the fact remains that from 1 in 2500 there are now 1 in 133 gluten sensitives. Before you make assumptions purely based on third party opinions, it is wise to do a simple home wheat intolerance test. Get off beer, cakes, bread for a meal or two and if you find yourself feeling less bloated and more energetic then maybe you do have overactive intestines. Gluten for you may not invoke a severe reaction from your gut but any discomfort is a discomfort all the same and it is a good idea to go slow on such foods. Family history is another way to find out if you are gluten sensitive. If you have family members with celiac disease (CD) then it is a good idea to get yourself tested for predisposition because CD/GS have strong genetic implications. In many cases your specialist has you go in for an intestinal biopsy which is invasive, painful and may not pick up the disease unless you actually have damaged intestines. A genetic evaluation is the most accurate and noninvasive in such cases. Just a saliva sample will suffice to give you a lot of information and help you need for your diagnosis.

Are celiac disease and gluten intolerance one and the same?

To begin with, they are both an exaggerated response of your system and involves gluten. Yet there is a difference in the role that gluten plays. In CD, gluten is like the manipulative villain who pitches two good soldiers, who are meant to be on the same side against each other. When gluten comes into your system your immune system releases an alarm that makes the white blood cells attack your intestinal lining. In GS, however, the gluten is the antagonist. There is an inflammatory response towards gluten and not your intestine. In both cases, a gluten-free diet vanishes the symptoms.

So why is our immune system perceiving gluten as an enemy? Simply because humans have started eating wheat only from 10,000 years ago which is just 0.4% of our total time on this planet. This means humans have been on a gluten-free diet for 99.6% of their time here. This makes gluten new to process for our system. For a major chunk of us, our immune system has accepted this in the diet but for about 1% of the population, gluten is still that manipulative malefactor.

I don’t have CD or GS. Can I still go gluten-free?

Like I said at the beginning of the article what you eat is completely your choice. You want to go gluten-free? So be it. Nevertheless be discrete in choosing your alternatives. How are you going to make up for the fibers that make up 12-15% of the total dry weight of wheat? Not to mention that you are going to suddenly deprive your body of important vitamins and minerals that you have been casually supplying through your regular consumption of wheat. Switching to processed food labeled “GLUTEN-FREE” which replace gluten-rich wheat flour with highly refined carbohydrates like potato starch, rice starch, and tapioca starch will wreck havoc on your blood sugar. Some healthy options would be millets, soy flour, and coconut flour. Buckwheat flour is now considered a good substitute for wheat in cookies and cakes. Almond flour and sorghum flour are also recommended for people affected by CD which you can explore. There is active research going on to produce genetically modified versions of wheat that do not have gluten or specifically, the protein gliadin which is the primary constituent of gluten. New Scientist reported recently that using a technique known as RNA interference, scientists are able to “remove” 90% of gliadin by silencing its expression. The study was published in Plant Biotechnology Journal last month.

Gluten sensitivity is not a myth. It is most certainly not a fashion statement. If wheat consumption makes you uncomfortable then nothing can stop you from investigating for yourself if you carry those genes. To put all doubts to rest, it is wise to take a noninvasive genetic test and take necessary precautions if need be than to be in the dark about it all your life.


James Watson
Xcode is a pioneer in personal genomics, focussed on enabling personalized preventive healthcare. We are dedicated to empowering physicians, wellness professionals and customers with the most validated, accurate and actionable genomic information to positively impact and improve their client's health and quality of life.