Wheat Intolerance –Self-Reported in 15%!

A recent study (MDE Potter et al. Am J Gastroenterol 2018; 113: 1036-44 -thanks to Ben Gold for this reference) examined the frequency of wheat intolerance and chronic gastrointestinal symptoms in a randomly selected population of 3542 in Autstralia via a mail survey.

Key findings:

  • Self-reported wheat sensitivity was 14.9%
  • Prevalence of celiac disease (CD) was 1.2%
  • A doctor-diagnosis of CD was associated with functional dyspepsia with an odds ratio (OR) of 3.35.
  • Self-reported wheat sensitivity was independently associated with irritable bowel syndrome with an OR of 3.55 and almost half (45%) have an underlying functional GI disorder.

In a related editorial (pgs 945-8), Imran Aziz makes several useful points:

  • Gluten-free industry has boomed in U.S. with retail sales going from $0.9 billion in 2006 to ~S24 billion in 2020.
  • While previous studies have shown that gluten can induce symptoms in the absence of CD (Biesiekierski JR et al. Am J Gastroenterol 2011; 106: 508-14), more recent rigorous studies have indicated that “gluten-per-se accounts for 1-in-6 cases with the remaining majority either due to fructans (a type of FODMAP or a nocebo effect.”
  • There are no accurate biomarkers of wheat intolerance
  • Dr. Aziz also cautions against adopting a gluten-free diet without proper counseling.  “The greatest concern is whether these diets are safe in the long-run, given the emerging data suggesting cardiovascular, nutritional, metabolic, and microbial changes.”

My take: This study shows that about 1 in 10 individuals have self-reported wheat intolerance; gluten, though, is the actual culprit in less than 20%.

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