Gluten isn't a villain

Gluten isn't a villain

A 25-year-old gym enthusiast found himself suffering from a bloated stomach, nausea etc. and assumed that he is unable to digest wheat. When digestive problems started taking a toll on his health, he consulted a doctor and said that he may be suffering from gluten intolerance. His brief medical history revealed that his symptoms for gluten intolerance were in fact, a result of high intake of protein.

According to doctors, such incidents have become more common among young Indians in light of the recent trend of going on gluten-free diets. They added that 90% of people suffering from digestive issues assume that going on a gluten-free diet will resolve the problem.

The misconception

"More than 90% of the patients I see in my OPD with complaints of bloating stomach, nausea, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, think they are suffering from these problems because of gluten intake. I end up counselling them and clearing their misconception," said Dr Roy Patankar, a gastrointestinal and laparoscopic surgeon at Mumbai's Joy Hospital.

In times like these where so much information is available on Google, doctors reveal that patients often assume that they are suffering from coeliac disease, an autoimmune disorder wherein gluten damages the intestines and reduces its ability to absorb food. However, doctors explain that most of these worries are unwarranted.

"Gluten-related disorders include coeliac disease, wheat allergy, and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. coeliac disease can be diagnosed through a simple blood test or biopsy but for the other two, there are no tests involved. The other claims of gluten being unhealthy are unscientific," said Dr Patankar.

Important findings

A recent estimate presented by the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) says, nearly six to eight million people in India suffer from coeliac disease. Health experts say it is more common among the north Indian population.

"Compared to the south Indian population, north Indians are exposed to wheat products at an early age. One has to be genetically predisposed to get coeliac disease. What we see clinically is the tip of an iceberg. It is often found that the disease is misdiagnosed. The symptoms of the disease vary according to age. Once diagnosed, the simple solution is to avoid gluten in the diet," said Dr Rakesh Kumar Adi, consultant gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Gleneagles Global Hospitals, Hyderabad.

Sheela Krishnaswamy, a Bengaluru-based diet, nutrition, and wellness consultant, said one should avoid going gluten-free for weight loss. "The number of gluten-intolerant people is definitely growing. But, many are going gluten-free with the belief that it helps in weight loss. A gluten-free diet should not be seen as a weight loss strategy," she said

With many restaurants, bakeries, and patisseries offering gluten-free food items in their menus, Krishnaswamy cautioned that going gluten-free without consulting a doctor or nutritionist can lead to undernourishment causing or aggravating
conditions like diabetes and high cholesterol.

Carlyne Remedios, senior nutritionist at Digestive Health Institute in Mumbai said one should have a balanced diet. "Irrespective of whether you are gluten intolerant or are worried about weight loss, consulting an expert is a must. Gluten-free diets are not healthy for those who do not have any gluten-related disorder. Also, one should remember, overconsumption of anything can cause intolerance towards that food," said Remedios.

 

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