Why gluten isn’t good for you

 “Did you know that every third American would prefer to avoid gluten altogether in their diet? The same tendency is sweeping through Europe. The number of people who have noticed that less gluten in their food improves their digestion, performance and wellbeing is rising. Unexplained symptoms disappear, digestion problems abate and aching joints are soothed. And recent research shows that far more ailments and disorders than previously thought may be linked to ingestion of gluten.”

Anette Harbech Olesen “Gluten-Free Secrets”  – Danish nutritionist, writer and food and health blogger

Today, we eat more gluten than ever before in history. The gluten content of the food we eat has risen, and the gluten found in modern wheat strains is more difficult to digest than that of older wheats like einkorn or spelt. In recent years, we have seen an increased focus on gluten, and more and more people find that they start to feel better once they omit gluten or wheat from their diet.

Gluten is a protein found particularly in wheat, but also in rye and barley. Oat contains no gluten as such, but since oats are often grown and processed along with wheat, most conventional oat products contain traces of gluten.

Gluten Reactions

Gluten from ordinary wheat flour is hard to digest – think of what happens when we mix flour and water together when baking – think of how the dough sticks for our fingers. When we eat wheat – and it mixes with fluids inside the body – that sticky dough is recreated inside us. The small intestine is lined with tiny finger like protrusions – a bit like the tentacles of a sea anemone – just imagine such a surface – designed to absorb nutrients – working efficiently when “gummed up” with sticky dough! This dough, if undigested, cause severe irritation and damage to our intestinal lining. Most people will feel lighter and experience an improvement in their digestion when they cut down their intake of gluten-rich food. To illustrate the potential effect of gluten on our intestinal health (and our health in general), let me list the three most common types of negative gluten reactions here:

1. Coeliac disease: An autoimmune disorder caused by gluten. This disorder may result in damage to our intestinal lining, dermatitis herpetiformis, a violent, blistering rash, or gluten ataxia, which may lead to neurological problems and loss of coordination.

2. Gluten intolerance: An immune response linked to gluten.

3. Gluten sensitivity or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS): a possibly immune-mediated gluten sensitivity.

Previously, reactions to gluten were regarded as a rare occurrence. A study published in 2009 in the journal Gastroenterology changed this assumption, and showed quite conclusively that the actual incidence of coeliac disease has grown about 400% since the early 1950s.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by gluten, but even people who don’t suffer from coeliac disease may experience negative effects from gluten and wheat. In 2011, the researcher Jessica Biesiekierski of Monash University in Australia, published the first of a series of studies demonstrating that, for most people, ingesting gluten provokes a discernable negative immune response.

This is why it may be a good idea to keep an eye on your gluten and wheat intake. Especially if you experience irritable bowels or indigestion. Reactions to gluten most frequently begin in the bowels. Insufficient digestion of gluten may lead to conditions like bloating, diarrhoea and stomach cramps, but a whole range of other symptoms may also be linked to gluten.

Skin problems, mood swings and autoimmune disorders as well as leaky gut syndrome may all be caused by gluten. Insufficiently digested gluten may also raise inflammation levels in our bodies simply because it irritates our immune system and activates our white blood cells. Increased inflammation levels play a part in the development of practically all lifestyle diseases.


Typical reactions to gluten:

  • Bloated stomach
  • Thin, hard or malodorous stools (particularly common among children reacting to gluten)
  • Irritable bowels or indigestion
  • Acid reflux and heartburn
  • Joint, bone and muscle pains and arthritis
  • Metabolic problems
  • Fatigue or anaemia (decrease in red blood cell levels)
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies often resulting in fatigue or lack of energy
  • Eczema, psoriasis or acne
  • fluid-filled rashes and dermatitis herpetiformis (Duhring’s disease)
  • Delayed puberty or stunting
  • Infertility and repeated miscarriages
  • Depression and mood swings

Gluten is found naturally in:

  • Wheat flour, whole or cracked wheat, wheat flakes, wheat germ and wheat bran
  • Rye flour, whole rye
  • Durum flour
  • Spelt, Farro/Emmer as well as einkorn wheat
  • Bulgar wheat, couscous and semolina
  • Barley flour, cracked barley and pearl/whole barley

There are no side effects to living without gluten – quite the opposite. A life without gluten may well be a life without digestion problems, bloating, irritable bowels, fatigue, rashes, hyperactivity or any of the other troublesome symptoms that we may experience when gluten affects us negatively.  So maybe it is time to look at your diet and see what changes you could make 🙂

About the Author

Emily MumfordView all posts by Emily Mumford