Why Is Gluten Bad For Your Gut?

Why is gluten bad for your gut? Nutrition and lifestyle changes to support gut health.

How gluten can affect the gut and tips for digestive health.

Gluten is not inherently ‘bad’ and many people can tolerate it. However, for some people gluten can trigger gut-related issues.

There are 3 main gluten-related disorders that can affect the gut
1. Coeliac disease

People with Coeliac Disease (an autoimmune disorder) must avoid gluten as it causes serious damage to the gut lining.

2. Wheat allergy

This is an allergic reaction to wheat proteins, common in children. It can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, abdominal pain or cramps, and other symptoms such as hives, eczema, hay-fever and anaphylaxis.

3. Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity

If you don’t have Coeliac Disease or a wheat allergy, but experience symptoms such as bloating, stomach discomfort, cramps, excessive flatulence or diarrhoea, which improve by avoiding gluten, you may have a gluten sensitivity (NCGS). However, these symptoms can also be caused by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or difficulties digesting short-chain sugars called FODMAPs, which are found in wheat, dairy, legumes and some fruits and vegetables in varying degrees.

A healthy gut microbiome and gut lining helps us to tolerate and digest a wide range of foods. Frequent antibiotic use, poor diet, excess alcohol and chronic stress can negatively affect the gut and potentially contribute to problems digesting gluten and other foods.

7 Top tips for a healthy gut:
1. Focus on dietary variety

A diet which includes a variety of foods, particularly plant foods of different colours, can lead to a more diverse range of beneficial gut microbes, which is associated with better health. Whilst restriction of gluten and wheat is necessary for those with Coeliac Disease or wheat allergy, people with NCGS may be able to tolerate small amounts of gluten or wheat in time, once their gut health has improved.

2. Let your gut rest

Frequent snacks between meals can interrupt the natural rhythm of the gut, and worsen bloating and constipation.

3. Eat mindfully

Rushing meals can overwhelm the digestive system and lead to poor digestion. Taking time to chew properly and to notice the tastes, aromas and textures of your meal stimulates the release of digestive enzymes for optimum digestion.

4. Prioritise relaxation

The gut and brain are linked via the gut-brain axis. Chronic stress can trigger inflammation in the gut and affect the gut lining over time, potentially leading to food intolerances. Taking time to relax is key.

5. Limit alcohol

Frequent, excessive alcohol can damage the gut lining. If you drink alcohol, take care of your gut by including alcohol-free days each week.

6. Include bitters

Naturally bitter foods such as rocket, radicchio, kale, rosemary, thyme, lemon and grapefruit help to stimulate the release of digestive enzymes which can reduce bloating after a meal.

7. Be mindful of portion size

Sometimes digestive issues occur due to large portion sizes rather than the food itself. If a particular food such as bread or beans upsets your digestion, try including smaller amounts in your diet alongside the above recommendations, and your tolerance may improve over time.

Summary

It’s important to seek medical advice if you think you have Coeliac Disease, a food allergy or NCGS. Look after your gut by focusing on dietary variety, avoiding excessive snacking, prioritising relaxation, eating bitter foods, limiting alcohol, mindful eating and watching portion sizes.

Catassi, C., et al (2013). Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: The New Frontier of Gluten Related Disorders. Nutrients, 5(10), 3839–3853. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu5103839

Cianferoni A. (2016). Wheat allergy: diagnosis and management. Journal of asthma and allergy, 9, 13–25. https://doi.org/10.2147/JAA.S81550

https://www.coeliac.org.uk/information-and-support/coeliac-disease/about-coeliac-disease/

Pietzak, Michelle. (2012). Celiac Disease, Wheat Allergy, and Gluten Sensitivity: When Gluten Free Is Not a Fad. JPEN. Journal of parenteral and enteral nutrition. 36. 68S-75S. 10.1177/0148607111426276.

Roszkowska, A., Pawlicka, M., Mroczek, A., Bałabuszek, K., & Nieradko-Iwanicka, B. (2019). Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: A Review. Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania), 55(6), 222. https://doi.org/10.3390/medicina55060222