Gluten Intolerance - Myth, fact or yeast?

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Gluten and wheat intolerance is, according to nearly every website, newspaper and magazine, massively increasing in the western world. To provide gluten free and wheat free food for all these people is big business.

Many people have a big suspicion of wheat as part of their health problem, and some of those will already have tried a wheat free diet before they see me for testing. Mostly they will have seen some improvement in their symptoms, but the majority will say they know that it is not the full picture for them.

Many people who come to me for testing, and who think that they are wheat intolerant, suffer from irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms or indigestion. These days should one talk to a friend, read a newspaper article or magazine, go online for information, or talk to a family doctor, the global suggestion will be try a wheat/gluten free diet, because the perception is wheat is a really common food intolerance.

Why are less than 1% of my clients intolerant of wheat, and less than 0.25% of gluten?

When people are in the process of considering a wheat/gluten free diet to alleviate tummy symptoms, they will very often look at what they eat over a period of a week or so, and try to make a judgement of whether wheat might be a factor. 

Let us take a look at a sufferer’s typical day’s food and drink,
the symptoms suffered, and his subsequent conclusions.

Food & DrinksSymptomsConclusion
7.30 amAwakingLoose stools x3Unknown
7.45 amTea
8.00 amWeetabix
11.00 amCoffee

Bloating started

Wheat in Weetabix

13.00 pm

Tea
Cheese sandwich
Satsuma
Salt and vingar
Crisps

Bloating increases

Wheat in Weetabix

14.00 pmCoffee
15.00 pm

Chocolate

Tummy Ache
17.00 pm

Tea

Bloating worse
Loose stool
Wind +++
Too much wheat
19.00 pm

Supper
Salman
Potatoes
Broccoli
Yogurt
Coffee

Very tired
Awfull bloating
Broccoli

This person was not intolerant of wheat, but of milk. There was milk in every hot drink that he had consumed milk with the Weetabix, cheese in the cheese sandwich, milk in the chocolate and yogurt, and butter on all the vegetables.
If it was not for the fact everyone had sowed the seed of wheat being a common intolerance, he might not even have considered wheat could be part of the picture.

Looking at it from another angle, one where any frequent food can be the culprit, his problem foods and drinks could just as easily have been yeast (in bread and crisps) a preservative in bread, or tea or coffee (three of each daily).

  • They stop eating bread to avoid wheat, and as a result avoid yeast and the common preservatives.
  • They stop eating pizza, to avoid wheat, and therefore avoid yeast and cheese too.
  • They stop eating pasta and may as a result consume less cheese.
  • They stop having wheat based cereals and therefore useless milk.

If other foods apart from wheat are the problem, and they eatless of them by avoiding wheat, their symptoms are less and they think that wheat is their problem food. They tell their friends, or post it on an online forum, and the wheat myth continues.

The ether thing to bear in mind with gut symptoms is that grains, vegetables, fizzy drinks, spices, pulses, onions and alcohol can all sometimes be a bit much for a troubled gut to cope with. People cut out these food groups, and are also often advised to do so by their doctors.

When the underlying food cause is found, the person can manage all these foods without adverse symptoms. And for these who still cannot digest these foods, taking digestive enzymes can be helpful.

Recently a friend of mine asked for my advice about his tummy symptoms. He lived too far away to get to me soon for a test. Mike thought that when he ate wheat, he would usually get a bad tummy ache within half an hour, and then would need to rush to the toilet, where his stool would be abnormally loose. But this did not happen every time.

Because I could not test him for a while I asked him if he would mind being a guinea pig for me. Initially I asked Mike to avoid yeast, all cheeses and all yogurts for a week. This allowed him to use wheat in wraps, soda bread, some crisp breads, scones and cake. His tummy aches happened every time he ate any of those things. Mike’s assumption about wheat was therefore understandable.

But knowing that such a small percentage of people whom I test actually are wheat intolerant, I started wondering about additives.
I compared the ingredients that were in his preferred wheat and gluten free bread, the wraps, soda bread, and his previously preferred normal bread. They all contained an emulsifier E471 [mono and diglycerides of fatty acids]. E471 and its close relative E472 [a-f] is used as a preservative in many baked goods. The gluten free bread contained a different preservative E282 [Calcium Proprionate].

I suggested Mike try a wheat based bread that did not contain E471. He did, and suffered no symptoms. E471 is also in many margarines, so it would explain why Mike had similar symptoms when he ate bought cake. One suggested that he used butter or spreadable butter instead of margarine.

Case Study: Pamela

I met Pamela when she was 71, when she had been suffering from bowel symptoms for 11 years. Like many people, Pam had tried changes to her diet to alleviate symptoms. She was suffering intermittent diarrhoea, loose stools and constipation. She was bloated most days, and got moderate to severe tummy pains at least three times a week.

Four years before I met Pam, a colonoscopy and blood tests had revealed nothing abnormal, and she had been given a diagnosis of irritable Bowel Syndrome. Following hospital advice at the time she stopped drinking fizzy drinks and spicy food. She had been on a wheat and gluten free diet for two years. She avoided onions in any form. All vegetables gave her symptoms, so she rarely ate them. She was very suspicious of fruits, so did not eat much of that food group.

At one stage, before colonoscopy refuted the diagnosis, it had been suggested that she might have diverticulitis, so following some internet research; she had made sure that she never ate any pips or seeds [she would sieve tomatoes to remove the seeds].

She had started using lacto free foods, in case lactose intolerance was part of her problem. To make things more complicated, Pam was a strict vegetarian. She did eat fish very occasionally but she really did not like eggs.

As a consequence of all these changes her diet was pretty bland, and not very healthy at all. Despite these massive changes to her diet, she had seen only minimal improvements symptomatically. At the beginning of the testing procedure, I explained to her that, because there were so many foods that she had not eaten for so long, I might have to do a second session of testing a few days later, when she had eaten all of her problem foods. She was very uneasy about this, as she really did not want to risk the bad symptoms that vegetables, for example, tended to provoke

I explained that it was very common for IBS sufferers to suffer symptoms from vegetables and fruit, and that, when the underlying food cause [e.g. milk, yeast, tea, coffee] was avoided, then the vegetables, fruit; fizzy drinks and spices would not affect their gut. I also explained that my 2011 Study found that peoples’ perceptions of their problem foods were only 17% accurate.

Eventually we compromised, and she decided she would strictly avoid the foods that I suggested for a week to ten days. When she was asymptomatic, she would introduce the foods she had suspected were bad for her. If she wished, at that stage, I could test her a second time to confirm.

On initial testing, I found Pam was intolerant of:

  • Yeast
  • All cheeses
  • All yogurts
  • Hemp / linseeds
The gluten free bread that she had been using contained yeast. Many of her specialist vegetarian products [e.g. quorn, smoked tofu] contained yeast, as did the breaded cod that she ate twice a week. In addition, the slimmer’s vegetable soup that she used for lunch on many days of the week contained yeast as a savoury flavour.

She ate cheese daily. She ate yogurt twice daily. She put powdered hemp [in seeds] on cereal, and salads at least twice daily, to ensure she had more protein.

Why those foods?Cause
Yeast, all cheese, all yogurtsFrequency of use
Hemp / linseedsFrequency of use
Why then?Trigger
We never worked out what the trigger was

These were the underlying cause of her symptoms, and the vegetables that she strongly suspected were actually ‘red herrings’.

Pam and I tried to work out how, without cheese and the powdered hemp, she could have enough protein in her diet. She decided she would eat nuts, of as many varieties as she could find, and she would experiment with pulses when her tummy had settled.

Pamela’s tummy symptoms were massively improved after a week on the exclusion diet, apart from the occasions on which she ate broccoli or cauliflower.

What foods might it be when someone suspects wheat?

When a person suspects wheat is an issue for them, it is usually because another food or additive has been eaten with wheat. Let us consider what foods might be mixed with wheat in, e.g. bread, biscuits, cake, wraps, soda bread, and cereals.

Anyone suffering symptoms after eating these foods might think they were intolerant of wheat. If you are reacting to an ingredient in bread it is 30 times more likely to be yeast than wheat.

 

These are the percentages of people with IBS who reacted adversely to such foods in 2017.

FoodsPercentages
Yeast in bread croissants pizza30
Cheese on pasta, in pizza, in a sandwich30
E471 /2, an emulsifier in many breads, margarine, cakes, wraps7
E282, a preservative in many breads, wraps, cakes, soda bread2
Soya, in most bread, bought cakes, vegetarian and vegan food2
Raising agents in cake, wraps, soda bread, crisp breads, biscuits1
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