Myth and fact in the gluten debate

Loaf, loaves of bread.


There was a very interesting story that appeared in the media today, discussing the rise of  ‘intolerances’ – specifically gluten- and it carefully brought together a lot of the information that is out there and cleared up a few misconceptions. As you would know, I’m not a coeliac but I don’t eat gluten and find that when I do I have a reaction, and thus have cut it down and almost out of my life – realistically about 95%. There are occasions when it is just not physically possible to completely avoid it.  There are also times in one’s life where you consume gluten but are unaware of this – gluten is not just in things such as bread and pasta but gluten is now part of our diets in the form of modern refined foods – essentially all processed foods have some ‘thickener’ (often with a number in the 1400’s) that is glutenous- for example your average oyster sauce you have with vegies contains gluten! Who would have thought?

The below is the chunks of story that I wanted to highlight. The full link to the story is available here: (Link:, but I think for your purposes the below is a great summary:

” “Gluten-free is a big buzzword with big bucks behind it. In 2010, the global market for gluten-free products was worth $2.5 billion dollars. Over the next five years, it is expected to grow to over $5 billion.

Considerable debate about noncoeliac gluten sensitivity has recently surfaced on the internet, with a sharp increase in forums, patients or patient groups, manufacturers, and physicians advocating a gluten-free diet,” the study’s authors said. “Claims seem to increase daily, with no adequate scientific support to back them up.”

Indeed, an essay published in the BioMed Central Journal says that gluten is “toxic” to humans and predicts that gluten-related problems are set to rise.

Since the introduction of grains containing gluten to the human diet some 10,000 years ago, selective breeding has seen the gluten content of wheat rise considerably to make it more palatable. The offshoot of this is that it is more harmful to humans. “Wheat varieties grown for thousands of years and mostly used for human nutrition up to the middle ages … contain less quantities of the highly toxic 33-mer gluten peptide.”

The authors say that our gastrointestinal and immunological responses have not adapted and so we remain “largely vulnerable to the toxic effects of this protein complex … All individuals, even those with a low degree risk, are therefore susceptible to some form of gluten reaction during their life span.”

But, because it is only in the last decade that coeliac disease and gluten sensitivities (for which doctors cannot test) have moved into the spotlight the research is still in its infancy. Which makes the distinction between how much is fact or fad a challenging call to make.

In response, blogger and author, Sarah Wilson wrote an article titled “What’s with all the gluten intolerances? let me explain…” (

“The short form: gluten is a poison,” she says. “We tolerate it, and tolerate it, like cigarettes in the lungs. And then. One day. It’s too much. Things tip over and BANG we have lung cancer. Or gluten intolerance. Or coeliac’s disease.”

Wilson also points out that we eat more wheat than ever before and cites the Pottinger cats theory as a possible explanation for the growth of gluten-related problems.

Over a period of ten years, Pottinger conducted a series of diet experiments on cats. “He found the illnesses (including infertility and the same degenerative diseases we’re now seeing in humans) took several generations to kick in. And that it took four generations again of being fed good food for normal health to be restored,” Wilson said.

“The point being…intolerances haven’t just suddenly happened now. They’ve built up and accumulated over the generations. Our grandparents started eating processed, high-wheat and gluten diets. Now we’re copping it.”

There is something to this, says Newnham. “Environment, awareness…genes and how [previous generations] have eaten all have a role,” he says. “The difficulty is to tease it all out.”

Teasing out is exactly what the medical profession is now attempting to do. “While [gluten sensitivities] are anecdotally common, the medical community has been slow on the uptake,” Newnham says. “On the whole we do tolerate [gluten], but it’s increasingly recognised that there is a subset of the population that doesn’t. What we don’t know is the prevalence…[it] still needs more research”

If you do believe gluten is causing you problems, Newnham does not see a problem with going gluten-free provided it is done under the supervision of a dietitian or doctor. “But, I’d just like to emphasise that before embarking on a gluten-free diet ensure you don’t have coeliac disease. Complications can ensue [if you do] and you can find out with a simple blood test or endoscopy.” ” <Ends>

So, the most fascinating thing in this discussion is that it answers some of the questions I posed back here: “Decent gluten-free bread – does it exist ?” ( where I had heard that our bodies were never meant to eat the amount of gluten that we are now consuming, and answered the question why this issue still continued to plague me 12 months on- it’s because it can take 4 generations to fix this up! Fascinating stuff. Although, there is some light a the end of the tunnel, I have since found that given I have now cut 95% of  gluten out of my life, I can occasionally consume gluten without any ill -effects. A little piece of real sourdough french bread here doesn’t offend my digestive system the way it used to!


One thought on “Myth and fact in the gluten debate

  1. We also have to remember that “cat” generations are much smaller timeframes than humans, so I am not sure that 4 generations for humans would be the case. I agree that after reducing gluten (I am now gluten free for over 3 years), that a small amount can be tolerated. I have experienced this. I can absolutely accept that we eat too much of it in processed foods and that we have no idea how much we are consuming. The old adage applies “If your grandmother wouldn’t recognise it, don’t eat it”. Deborah

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