Gluten-free diet: Don’t keep doctor away

Bengaluru: Though cases of gluten intolerance are on the rise and gluten-free diet has become a fad, doctors warn that those who are free from it should avoid such a diet, as it could be counter-productive.

Gluten intolerance is an adverse reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. The common symptoms are bloating, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, tiredness, headaches and skin rashes.

Changing farming methods and market demands too have been blamed for an increase in gluten-rich wheat varieties. Dr L. Sreenivasa Murthy, senior consultant physician and diabetologist, Gleneagles Global Hospitals, said, “There are a number of possible reasons why gluten intolerance is on the rise. For instance, newer wheat varieties like dwarf wheat have a higher gluten content to improve the sponginess of baked goods. The newer breeds of wheat have a higher content of Glia-9, which is a type of gluten that is the most associated with health problems.”

Doctors also pointed out that without even a diagnosis or establishment sensitivity, many people still opt for gluten-free diet. A research study by Western Connecticut State University found that such individuals were seen as being “high maintenance, picky, demanding, complaining and judgmental”.

“There’s no benefit in taking a gluten-free diet for those who don’t have a medical reason for it and it may actually hurt them. Changing from a normal diet to a gluten-free one is a huge undertaking. It takes determination and knowledge. So before opting for a gluten-free diet, it is advised to consult a doctor and undergo proper testing,” said Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, chief clinical dietician at Apollo Hospitals.

She also said that gluten intolerance is when the body, particularly the gut, can't properly digest gluten. “Gluten sensitivities range from the very minor to a serious life-altering diagnosis of celiac disease. The cause of most modern-day food allergies and digestive issues are also due to the overuse of antibiotics,” added Dr Rohatgi.

Suparna Mukherjee, clinical dietician, Narayana Health City also stressed that gluten-free diet should be followed only by a person with particular symptoms of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity under gastroenterologist’s supervision with a continued guidance of a qualified dietician.

"Changing farming methods are a definite contributor,” said Prof (Dr) L Sreenivasa. “A rise could also be attributed to the higher consumption of wheat-based products over the years. We do come across cases of gluten intolerance time to time and diagnosis is usually made by excluding other diseases,” he added.

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