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Adhesive protein: is gluten really unhealthy?
Gluten-free foods are the trend. Not only people who suffer from an intolerance, but also many healthy people fall back on it. But is the adhesive protein really unhealthy? An expert explains for whom such foods make sense and who can ignore the gluten-free wave.
Avoid foods that contain gluten for life
According to health experts, about one percent of the German population suffers from gluten intolerance (celiac disease). Therapy is not yet available. Only strict abstinence from gluten can help. A wide range of products that do not contain any adhesive protein can now be found in supermarkets. Healthy people often use it too. But gluten-free foods are not healthy for everyone.
More sugar and fat and less fiber
Gluten, the glue protein that occurs in the grain of some cereals such as wheat, rye, barley and spelled, is criticized.
It is sometimes claimed that gluten is a fattening agent and is partly responsible for modern diseases such as diabetes.
Many people do not eat foods containing gluten because they think it is healthy.
"But such blanket statements are not correct," said gastroenterologist Professor Stephan Vavricka in a presentation that took place as part of the series of events Knowledge-creating (f) t knowledge of the Center for Integrative Human Physiology at the University of Zurich (UZH).
Because a gluten-free diet runs the risk of consuming more sugar and fat and less fiber, as explained in a UZH statement.
Gluten-free food can harm your health
In addition, gluten-free foods result in faster glucose uptake because they are typically less fibrous.
Some health experts even warn of the health effects of a gluten-free diet.
For example, researchers from the United States found that such a diet significantly increased the risk of diabetes.
And other scientists have found that eating gluten-free can cause lasting damage to the heart.
People are very hygienic today
Gluten-free products are not only not healthier, they are often also more expensive.
"We have to be very clear that there is a huge industry behind the gluten-free wave that wants to sell us its expensive gluten-free specialty products," said Vavrika, a specialist in internal medicine and gastroenterology and a consultant at the University Hospital Zurich.
However, it should not be overlooked that gluten actually causes more or less severe complaints in more and more people.
According to the UZH, there are various explanations for this. Grain cultivation has changed over the past 50 years due to protein-rich breeds. But changing lifestyles can also play a role. For example, we eat very hygienically today.
“We wash dishes and hands very thoroughly before we eat anything. As a result, we consume soap residues every day that dissolve the protective layer of mucus on the intestinal wall, ”explained Vavricka.
The intestinal wall is the interface between the environment and the human body. In addition to absorbing nutrients, it also serves as an immune defense.
However, if the protective layer is dissolved, bacteria can migrate to the intestinal wall and trigger reactions from the immune system.
Dangerous celiac disease
The most serious form of reaction to gluten is celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that affects about one percent of the population.
The consumption of gluten provokes the formation of antibodies, which destroy specific body structures in the intestine, the so-called villi.
Villi are elevations of the cells in the intestinal wall that are responsible for food intake. Without these villi, nutrients can no longer be properly absorbed, which leads to indigestion and deficiency symptoms.
Affected people must strictly follow their diet. When eating gluten-containing foods, you experience typical symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and fatty stools.
To diagnose celiac disease, a blood test is enough to detect the antibodies that destroy the villi. However, the diagnosis is only possible as long as you consume gluten.
Because as soon as you start eating gluten-free, the number of antibodies decreases, and after a few months they are no longer detectable.
"If you are suspected of having gluten, please go to the doctor before starting a diet," says Vavricka.
The good news is that the intestinal cells recover over time. Those affected can live symptom-free as long as they eat a strictly gluten-free diet.
Wheat allergy must be distinguished from celiac disease. The immune system reacts directly to various components of the wheat and, in addition to indigestion, also causes allergic symptoms such as asthma or itching.
Is there a gluten sensitivity?
Another form of reaction to glue protein is the so-called gluten sensitivity. As explained in the release, this is neither an autoimmune disease nor an allergy.
The composition of the intestinal flora and non-specific immune responses may play a role. However, experts are puzzled about whether the disease really exists and how it develops.
According to Vavricka, the symptoms are real. In addition to digestive problems, sufferers often report several non-specific complaints such as headache, fatigue or depressed mood.
It is estimated that up to six percent of the population could be affected.
If more serious illnesses such as celiac disease or tumors have been excluded, it may make sense to try a gluten-free diet. However, this often does not help.
Because behind an alleged gluten sensitivity there may be an intolerance to certain fermentable sugars, the so-called FODMAPs. These include, for example, fructose or oligosaccharides, which are also found in certain foods containing gluten.
These are not properly digested in certain people, but are fermented by intestinal bacteria in the large intestine, which leads to gas formation and discomfort.
"We also suspect that fermentation creates toxic poisons that can trigger systemic symptoms such as headaches or poor concentration," explained Vavricka.
A low FODMAP diet can often improve the symptoms. But in such cases, professional nutritional advice is extremely important, since FODMAPs are contained in a large number of foods, especially in fruits and vegetables. It is therefore important that you only leave out as much as necessary.
Anyone who is not affected by a confirmed intolerance could confidently forget omission diets, according to Vavricka. Rather, they should make sure to eat as varied as possible. (ad)