When Your Body Reacts to Gluten

Our article today is provided by Anette Harbech Olesen, Danish writer, nutritionist and food and health blogger. Anette has previously provided us with some wonderful articles on gluten intolerance, coeliac disease and the mineral magnesium (links to these articles provided below).

In this article Anette provides further details on the affect gluten foods can have for those that suffer an ‘adverse reaction’. Reactions to gluten can take many physical forms, severity and duration. Such reactions are most commonly categorised as coeliac disease (an autoimmune response), gluten allergy, or gluten sensitivity. Adverse reactions to ingested gluten can affect the body and the mind.

Anette’s latest book is now on sale in the UK – ‘Gluten Free Secrets’ offers background information and practical advice on how to manage a gluten-free lifestyle, and also provides a wide range of gluten-free recipes for bread, wraps and cakes as well as lunch and dinner dishes. Translated into English and available for purchase online via the link provided further below.


The increase in people undertaking a gluten free diet has become an international trend over recent years, taking roots all over Europe and beyond.

This trend is not merely the newest of a series of dietary ‘fads’, but is driven by the tangible results the diet yields. People decreasing the amount of gluten they eat, do in many cases, report feeling better and experience improved digestion. Furthermore it may cause various symptoms to disappear and hyperactive behaviour can diminish.

This article is not an attempt to get all people to completely ban gluten from their lives, but instead an endeavour to show how managing how much gluten you eat can lead to a multitude of positive results.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found particularly in wheat, but also in rye and barley. Oat contains no gluten as such, but since oats are often grown and processed along with wheat, most conventional oat products contain traces of gluten. Gluten from ordinary wheat flour is hard to digest, and the elastic mass that results from mixing water and wheat flour may, if undigested, cause severe irritation and damage to our intestinal lining. Most people will feel lighter and experience an improvement in their digestion when they cut down their intake of gluten-rich food.

Reactions to Ingested Gluten

Ingesting gluten may affect your body as well as your mind. Reactions caused by gluten may be highly diverse, and the condition called coeliac disease which involves an autoimmune response to gluten, is described as the most overlooked disorder in the world today.

Reactions to gluten can take many forms, but is often manifested as digestive problems, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), acne, mood swings, or hyperactive behaviour. You may also suffer from gluten allergy or coeliac disease without showing any of the mentioned symptoms. The important lesson here, however, is that reactions to gluten are diverse and are categorised as coeliac disease, gluten allergy, or gluten sensitivity depending on these reactions.

Coeliac Disease

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by gluten. It decreases the capacity for absorbing essential nutrients, and may result in damage to the cilia lining in the small intestines. The visible reactions to this can be severe rashes, dermatitis herpetiformis, blisters, or gluten ataxia, which may lead to neurological problems and loss of coordination. Coeliac disease is diagnosed via blood tests or in some cases a biopsy. It can be cured through a long term total abstinence from gluten.

Gluten Intolerance

Gluten intolerance is a condition where parts of the immune system react inappropriately to gluten. Symptoms often involve a bloated stomach, thin, hard or malodorous stools (particularly common among children reacting to gluten) as well as irritable bowels or indigestion. It can be diagnosed through blood tests, and be cured or alleviated through a complete or partial removal of gluten from the afflicted person’s diet.

Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten sensitivity or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (‘NCGS’) is a possibly immune-mediated gluten sensitivity where parts of the immune system react inappropriately to gluten. You may simply just be extra sensitive to gluten, a condition which may entail physical reactions to excessive gluten intake. If your intake is reduced, the symptoms usually disappear.

Gluten in the diet can also cause or be an indirect factor in:

Reactions to neuropeptides or opioid peptides can occur when undigested chains of gluten or casein (a protein found in milk) pass through the lining of an often overburdened and leaky intestine. Such damages may also provoke psychological and emotional responses. This can be alleviated by a complete removal of gluten and cow’s milk from your diet. It often takes more than six months for the effects to be permanent.

If you suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or indigestion, a reduction or complete elimination of particularly wheat in your diet will usually relieve your digestive process and your bowels and consequently make you feel better. In such cases the diet known as FODMAP (more information below) can be of great help. Furthermore a daily intake of high quality probiotics may alleviate some of the unpleasantness caused by the ailment.

A Gluten Free Lifestyle?

Knowing what we know today about gluten, we should probably ask ourselves whether our increased gluten intake is desirable when viewed from a health perspective. The number of people who experience health benefits from a gluten-free lifestyle is growing rapidly and far exceeds the number of people who actually suffer from gluten intolerance or coeliac disease.

This is the incentive behind the book Gluten-Free Secrets. It offers background information and practical advice on how to manage a gluten-free lifestyle, but also provides a wide range of wonderful gluten-free recipes for great bread, wraps and cakes as well as lunch and dinner dishes.

What is FODMAP?

FODMAPs are fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. By omitting all FODMAPs – including gluten – from your diet for a while, most people with irritable bowel syndrome may achieve normal digestion and bowel functions within only a few weeks. You can read more about FODMAPs here: Monash University FODMAP


Anette Harbech Olesen has studied diet and nutrition in Denmark as well as the USA. She blogs about food and health issues at www.madforlivet.com and has published a number of books in Danish on subjects such as healthy fats, cancer and food. Gluten-Free Secrets is Anettes ninth book and her first in English. The book is co-authored by Lone Bendtsen who has been baking gluten-free bread professionally for years and is currently managing an organic bakery in Denmark.

Now available on the Cytoplan website: Gluten-Free Secrets Book


If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time. If you want to be alerted by email when a new post is published simply add your email address in the ‘Get The Latest Post By Email’ in the right-hand column.

Amanda Williams, Cytoplan Ltd
amanda@cytoplan.co.uk, 01684 310099

RELEVANT LINKS

Cytoplan Blog: Coeliac Disease – ‘The Most Under-Diagnosed Disorder In The World
Cytoplan Blog: Why Gluten isn’t good for you
Cytoplan Blog: The Importance of Magnesium – includes a free pdf booklet by Anette Harbech Olesen


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