We all need protein in our diet for proper functioning of our body. Various protein-rich foods are recently launched in market for attracting customers but when someone talks about gluten, it is assumed to be an enemy of human being. There is a demand of gluten free products in Indian market and various products have already been launched in marketclaiming 'Gluten-Free'.
What is Gluten? Is it really harmful and should be avoided in diet? Is there any study conducted to analyze the harmful effects of gluten in human body?
Well, gluten is a protein, divided into two fractions depending upon its solubility in alcohol (60-80% strength in water), gluten in (alcohol insoluble) and gliadin (alcohol soluble). It's found in wheat and other wheat related cereal species such as barley, oats, rye, etc. It's an important component in manufacturing of bread, crackers where highly elastic dough is required. From industry point of view, gluten possesses unique baking qualities due to its water absorption capacity, viscosity, cohesiveness and elasticity in dough which make it easy for food manufacturer to design many products.
When human beings ingest gluten, it gets digested in gastrointestinal tract of healthy human beings. Although there are several studies (in vitro) related to partial metabolism of gluten in human gastrointestinal system, there is no exact proof of fate of gluten in human digestive system due to lack of in vivo studies. In vitro studies has suggested that gluten peptides are resistant to digestion by human digestive protease and brush border membrane protease due to presence of high proline content which cause high molecular weight oligosaccharide in lumen of small intestine. It has been assumed that stomach micro biota has major role in gluten metabolism but studies related to stomach micro flora are not well-known.
The reason behind origin of gluten free products is a genetic disease, known as celiac disease. Celiac is an auto-immune disease which directly harms the inner lining of small intestine when person consumes gluten. The component which is responsible for the harmful effect of gluten in celiac person is gliadin. When a celiac person consumes gluten containing diet, immune system starts to work against gliadin which cause harm to the micro- projections of small intestine, called villi, which are responsible for the nutrient absorption. So gluten avoidance is only remaining option in that situation to save the small intestine lining and absorption of other nutrients.
Beyond celiac disease, there are some people who have allergy to the gluten but has no effect on small intestine. There were many studies carried out to understand the exact reason behind this. One of the studies indicates that the real culprit in non-celiac people is fructan. Fructans are complex carbohydrates, polymers of fructose, which are fermented in our large intestine, sometimes cause bloating and diarrhea. People who consume wheat and similar grains may feel bloating and nausea kind of symptoms which are not due to gluten intolerance rather due to fructans present in wheat. Moreover, wheat has some amylase inhibitors which sometimes contribute to the symptoms similar to gluten sensitivity.
If we analyze current scenario, market is flooded with gluten-free products and health practitioners are convincing people to adopt gluten free diet Irrespective of their relation with celiac or gluten sensitivity. Nutritional value of gluten free products is less whereas price is high which may be another reason of promoting gluten free diet.
-Such kind of promotion is not bene?cial for long term health rather they cause various harmful effects on human health such as:
-Non-celiac person when decrease the consumption of Gluten-containing products, unknowingly consumption of whole grains also get decrease which can deprive person from various micro present in wheat and similar grains such as B-complex Vitamins, Zinc, Magnesium, etc. which are essential for proper functioning of enzymes involved in body metabolism.
- As per American Heart Association (2017), a study was conducted over 199,794 subjects for 30 years to analyze the long term impact of going gluten free which indicated that people who consume less gluten in their diet are prone to type II diabetes as compared to those who intake sufficient quantity of gluten.
-Another study conducted at Harvard School of Public Health indicates the increase in risk of coronary heart disease among non-celiac person who adopt gluten free diet.
-Long term gluten free diet also increases the risk of colorectal cancer in humans. Another study at Europe indicates that current gluten free product formulations are not healthy and increase the risk of obesity. These formulations are generally high in lipids & saturated fat and low in proteins & fibers which cause various side effects in humans.
- As per one of the short term study published by US national library of medicine, gluten free diet along with consumption of significant amount of fish and rice lead to accumulation of heavy metals such as arsenic ,mercury, lead, cadmium and cobalt in human body. However, study of long term impact of such conditions is not conducted yet.
-Despite of all these studies, there is an increase in market of gluten free products (approx 135% growth) from 2013-2015 which is assumed to be due to number of celiac person in India which is around 6-8million (around 1 in 100 is celiac in India). But other main cause of this growth is the consumption of gluten free products by non-celiac people, considering it more nutritious and healthier option.
-Unfortunately, no study is published till now to demonstrate the beneficial effect of gluten-free diet over gluten-containing diet for non-celiac person. However, consumption of such type of diet can cause obesity and other metabolic syndrome due to reduced consumption of whole grains.