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Going Gluten-Free: Only for Coeliac Disease?

Going Gluten-Free: Only for Coeliac Disease?

By Michael Potter

Dietary trials have revealed that most people who associate gluten with intestinal discomfort do not have a reliable and reproducible response to gluten ingestion, and may even be harming their health by going on a gluten-free diet.

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Wheat is central to the modern diet. Wheat crops cover hundreds of millions of acres of arable land, and wheat provides one-fifth of the world’s intake of calories. A revolution in agricultural practices, including the development of high-yield varieties of wheat at the start of the 20th century, saw an increase in grain production that has helped fuel a population boom; the world’s population has increased fivefold in the past 100 years.

Wheat contains gluten, which is the predominant storage protein in the grain. Gluten’s viscoelastic properties allow it to act as a binding agent, and this is what makes wheat so valuable in cooking.

Gluten, however, is responsible for coeliac disease. The disease, characterised by gastrointestinal symptoms and mal­absorption, was recognised as early as the first century AD, but the link to gluten was only uncovered in the middle of the last century by a Dutch paediatrician named Willem Dicke. He had previously put forward the idea that certain grains, in particular wheat, were responsible for coeliac disease, but was able to verify this theory with observations of children during the Dutch famine of the Second World War. The symptoms of these children improved with the bread shortages during wartime, only to have their condition deteriorate when the famine ended and bread was reintroduced to their diet. Since then we have...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.