New study sheds light on non-celiac gluten avoidance

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18 Apr 2018 --- People who avoid gluten in their diets, often avoid other food types – such as dairy and eggs – and are more likely to experience frequent adverse physiological symptoms after food consumption. The research sought to uncover why the popularity of gluten-free diets has risen so much amongst those who do not have medical gluten sensitivities.

“The research shows that gluten avoiders are experiencing adverse symptoms following the consumption of both gluten and non-gluten foods. They were also found to experience higher levels of everyday symptoms," Kyah Hester, Ph.D. candidate at the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Centre for Functional Grains at Charles Sturt University, who conducted the research, tells NutritionInsight.

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Kyah Hester, Ph.D 
candidate at the Australian Research Council

“This led me to start looking deeper into the psychological differences between the groups. The results showed that there were indeed substantial differences between gluten avoiders and gluten consumers in a number of areas including perception and personality.”

Hester also notes that the prevalence of this behavior was far more common in younger age groups, and there was also an over-representation of females.

“The popularity of gluten-free diets has gained traction over the last decade, to a point where up to 20 percent of the population is estimated to be engaged in gluten avoidance behaviors.” Furthermore, Innova Market Insights data shows that the number of Americans on a gluten-free diet has nearly tripled in the past five years.

“This far exceeds the estimated prevalence of gluten-related disorders, such as coeliac disease, suggesting that people are choosing to go gluten-free for a range of reasons which may not be medical in nature,” says Hester.

The research involved an online study which weighted its demographic data against information held by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to gain an accurate representation of gluten avoidance within the population.

Implications of the research
Primarily, the group in the study express frequent adverse physiological symptoms after food consumption. The research highlights how this group of people often feel let-down by medical professionals in this realm, and therefore resort to self-medication by cutting out “suspicious” food groups.

“My research highlights that many non-coeliac people aren’t satisfied by the treatment response they get from doctors, leading them to look for solutions online or via experimental diets. I hope my research provides insight for doctors, so that they may improve their interactions with this population, helping to reduce the risk of adopting a self-managed diet without proper investigation of their symptoms.”

Furthermore, Hester contemplates the role of the industry in the context of her research, and states that “while gluten-free products remain a vital niche market for suffers of coeliac disease, products containing gluten will continue to be used well into the future by healthy consumers.”

However, Hester says that in time, proper methods for the diagnosis of related conditions from the public to medical professionals may lessen the need for self-medicating through diet adjustment, and perhaps then the “demand for gluten-free foods amongst those without a diagnosis will re-adjust.”

By Laxmi Haigh

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