DOCTORS are not yet able to explain the condition but Kim McGlinn knows the misery gluten intolerance can inflict.
Ms McGlinn, who runs HealthyFeast, a Leichhardt bakery, has heard customers’ stories of the possible effects of accidentally consuming gluten: violent illness and overwhelming tiredness.
Now Australian researchers have found that people can be gluten intolerant without having coeliac disease.
In a study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology, a team led by Peter Gibson, professor of medicine at Monash University’s Eastern Health Clinical School, set out to correct what he calls the “almost unbelievable” lack of research into gluten intolerance.
The researchers fed 34 people with irritable bowel syndrome – all of whom had been proven to not have coeliac disease but had benefited from a gluten-free diet – bread and muffins. Half contained gluten.
Nearly 70 per cent of the volunteers who ate the gluten reported pain, bloating, toilet problems and extreme tiredness.
”Gluten is indeed a trigger of gut symptoms and tiredness,” the researchers concluded. Professor Gibson said: ”These symptoms have a big impact on quality of life. But conservative medicine has not been so good at dealing with this because we haven’t had any evidence.”
Many patients turned to alternative practitioners but this had its own problems.
Professor Gibson said it had been difficult to recruit participants for the study because alternative practitioners often placed people on gluten-free diets without confirming or disproving the presence of coeliac disease via colonoscopy.
About 218,000 Australians are thought to have coeliac disease but many more experience gastrointestinal symptoms that could be linked to gluten.
Although it was safe to use gluten to test people who suspected they might have an intolerance, it could harm people with coeliac disease. “If you go back on gluten while you have coeliac disease – even if you only eat a few pieces of bread – you will damage your body and undo many months of healing,” Professor Gibson said.
He plans to now investigate the prevalence of non-coeliac gluten intolerance, why it occurs and whether low levels of gluten can be eaten safely.