Gluten is not necessarily good or bad for you. It is only harmful to people who have celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or wheat allergy
Some people may develop temporary gluten intolerance after a bout of gastroenteritis, which usually resolves within a few weeks.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. When grain flours are mixed with water, it is gluten that acts as a binder, making the dough stretchy.
Although oats and corn do not naturally contain gluten, they may come in contact with these grains during harvesting and may contain gluten as a result.
What is celiac disease?
Some people develop a defect in their immune system signaling, which causes their body to attack their cells when they consume gluten. This autoimmune response to gluten is called celiac disease. It can damage the small intestine by instructing the immune system to destroy the villi, small finger-like projections found along the wall of their small intestine, which help absorb digested food in the bloodstream. It affects 1 out of every 100 people in the United States.
When the intestine loses its villi, it cannot properly absorb nutrients from food. Over time, this can lead to complications such as:
What is gluten sensitivity?
Studies suggest that nearly 6 out of every 100 people in the United States are gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive. While anyone can have gluten intolerance, it is more common in women.
What makes people sensitive to gluten is still unclear. One theory suggests that gluten damages the lining of the intestines in people with gluten sensitivity, which causes the intestine to become leaky when it comes into contact with wheat. Another theory suggests that it is the carbohydrate found in food grains that does not get absorbed into the intestine. Instead, it ferments and makes people sick.
People who have gluten sensitivity may develop symptoms hours or days after consuming gluten, such as:
Over time, gluten sensitivity can cause:
Many people with gluten intolerance also suffer from irritable bowel syndrome.
What is wheat allergy?
Wheat allergies develop when the immune system overreacts to wheat products such as bread and pasta. Symptoms may include:
Is a gluten-free diet good for everyone?
For people with the following conditions, a gluten-free diet may be beneficial:
For healthy people, however, there is no evidence that proves that a gluten-free diet has health benefits. In fact, eliminating foods that contain gluten may deprive the body of certain nutrients.
What is a gluten-free diet?
Check labels of foods and beverages that may contain gluten, such as:
- Granola bars
- French fries
- Potato chips
- Lunch meats
- Candy or candy bars
- Salad dressings and marinades
- Meat substitutes such as seitan
- Soy sauce
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Medically Reviewed on 2/17/2022
Niland B, Cash BD. Health Benefits and Adverse Effects of a Gluten-Free Diet in Non-Celiac Disease Patients. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2018;14(2):82-91. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5866307/
Biesiekierski JR. What is gluten? J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Mar;32 Suppl 1:78-81. doi: 10.1111/jgh.13703