There has been a massive growth in the amount and choice of gluten-free products in our shops over the past few years. This is due to more and more people having reactions and symptoms to eating gluten-containing foods. Considering that many of the "gluten-free" foods have never actually had gluten in them, is this all a fad or just clever marketing?!
Firstly, what is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley grains, that's all! The word gluten comes from Latin, meaning "glue", as it gives dough its elasticity, helping it to rise and giving the end product its chewy texture. There's no gluten in oats or rice, but these grains do have similar proteins to which some people can still react to. Some people can react with coeliac-like symptoms with other foods, probably because of cross-contamination in food processing factories of gluten getting into other foods.
Different people can have a different reaction to wheat or gluten in foods - an allergy, an intolerance or sensitivity, an autoimmune reaction, or nothing noticed at all. Those who are "sensitive" or "intolerant" to gluten can have reactions ranging from mild to severe and which can include extreme digestive pains, headaches and migraines, diarrhoea, brain fog, skin conditions, mucus congestion, reflux and more symptoms. A severe intolerance to gluten can be diagnosed as Coelic Disease after several pathology tests are performed with the results showing a positive reaction to gluten AND specific antibodies, or a genetic test, and an endoscopy with biopsy to confirm. Coeliac Disease is an autoimmune condition, where the immune system is attacking the body's tissues.
An intolerance is not an allergy, and the blood test for Coeliac disease is NOT accurate and often comes back negative, which is why several different tests are needed. None of the Coeliac blood tests I know of check for all of the known antibodies for gluten - some check for 1-4 known gluten antibodies, but not for all of them. Hence why you can have a negative Coeliac test result, but still react in exactly the same way when you have gluten as someone who tests positive for Coeliac disease! As such you will get diagnosed instead as having "non-Coeliac gluten sensitivity" instead. Which in other words really means, you ARE intolerant to gluten, but because of the faulty test, you aren't officially a Coeliac, but you should still avoid all gluten-containing grains.
The next gluten related article will look at whether eating gluten-free foods is helpful for you, or not!