Think gluten is to blame for your upset stomach? Think again
Researchers estimate that 18 million Americans are affected by non-celiac gluten sensitivity. But a new study suggests a carbohydrate called fructan may actually be to blame for those with digestive health issues.
“Most people who have gluten sensitivity assume gluten is the problem without really recognizing that there could be other factors at play,” says Dr. Arturo Olivera, section chief of Gastroenterology at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “As this and many other studies suggest, it is very possible that they are eliminating the wrong thing from their diet.”
For people with sensitive stomachs, researchers at Stanford Hospital say these carbohydrates, also called FODMAPs, are poorly absorbed by the small intestine and are fermented by bacteria that produce gas, making for unpleasant times in the bathroom. With 20 percent of Americans affected by irritable bowel syndrome and a growing number proclaiming gluten sensitivity, it is essential that more people know what FODMAPs are to better understand what is upsetting their digestive system, Dr. Olivera says.
The FODMAPs diet was first discovered to help IBS and other digestive health problems in 1999 by researchers at Munash University. The diet limits foods that are high in fructose, lactose, fructans, galactans and polyols. Foods and drinks that are restricted on the FODMAPs diet include soda, ice cream and many fruits because of their high fructose content. Although this diet is more restrictive because it expands to fruit, milk and a variety of foods, it ultimately helps upset stomachs for people where gluten is not the problem.
One study done by postdoctoral fellow at KU Leuven Jessica Biesiekierski gathered 37 subjects with non-celiac gluten sensitivity and irritable bowel syndrome. The participants were randomly assigned to a two-week diet of reduced FODMAPs and were then placed on high-gluten, low gluten or control diet for one week. The researchers discovered that all participants had improvements in their stomach pain with the FODMAPs diet, whereas the gluten-free diet only saw improvement in eight percent of participants.
“Many of my patients assume their stomach discomfort is due to gluten sensitivity,” says Dr. Olivera. “While there is still much research to be done about what the underlying causes are, I think it’s important to be aware of both diets and work with your doctor to determine which one is right for you.”
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