Although only one percent of the population are affected by celiac disease, gluten-free diets have become a major food trend in recent years. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a controversial topic amongst many researchers, with up to 13 percent of people claiming to suffer from the condition. A new study is now suggesting that fructans, and not gluten, could be the source of many people's gastrointestinal upset.
With recent research pointing to a relationship between low-gluten diets and a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes, the modern gluten-free trend is increasingly looking like a dangerous dietary fad, potentially doing more harm than good. Yet the anecdotal weight of non-celiac people claiming to feel better when avoiding gluten cannot be denied. A great deal of this can surely be associated with a psychological, or placebo, effect, but what if there was another culprit responsible?
Fructan is a type of carbohydrate found in wheat, and many scientists are beginning to suspect it could be the dietary villain behind many people's acute gastrointestinal upsets rather than gluten. Fructan is also found in onions, garlic, asparagus, cabbage and artichokes.
A new study from an international team of researchers took 59 individuals who were on a self-imposed gluten-free diet, yet had also been cleared of suffering from celiac disease. Each person spent seven days eating muesli bars containing either gluten, fructan or neither. With a week to clear their systems between each challenge, every subject cycled through all three groups while rating their gastrointestinal symptoms.
The results were fascinating, with the fructan muesli bar inducing the most symptoms overall. On average, the study also found no difference in reported symptoms between the gluten and placebo groups.
While earlier studies have found a link between fructans and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, this is the first to closely examine the connection in those claiming a non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
"Gluten was originally assumed to be the culprit because of coeliac disease, and the fact that people felt better when they stopped eating wheat," says one of the authors of the study, Peter Gibson, in New Scientist. "Now it seems like that initial assumption was wrong."
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity may certainly be a real condition, but it is becoming increasingly possible that those who feel bloated and uncomfortable after certain meals are actually reacting to fructans and mistaking this for a gluten intolerance.
The study was published in the journal Gastroenterology.