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This article explains what gluten is and how it can affect your health.

Gluten in food is very controversial these days. One in ten Germans already does without it in whole or in part. Many experts claim that it is safe for people who do not have celiac disease. However, there are health experts who believe gluten is harmful to the majority of people. At Ogænics, we also make sure on principle that our natural vitamin and mineral supplements are gluten-free.

This article explains what gluten is and how it can affect health.

What is gluten?

Gluten are proteins found in grains such as wheat, rye, spelt and barley. Of the grains containing gluten, wheat is by far the most commonly consumed. The two main proteins in gluten are glutenin and gliadin. Gliadin is responsible for most of the adverse health effects(3, 4) .

When flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency. This makes dough elastic and allows bread to rise during baking. It also provides a texture that is easy to chew(5, 6).

Why is gluten bad for some people?

Most people tolerate gluten well. However, it can cause problems for people with certain health limitations. These include celiac disease, gluten intolerance, wheat allergy, and several other diseases(7, 8).

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance. In Europe, about 1 percent of the population is affected. In Germany, 0.4 percent of women and 0.2 percent of men are affected(9,10).

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body treats gluten as a hostile invader. The immune system attacks the intestinal mucosa. Damage to the intestinal mucosa causes nutrient deficiencies, anemia, severe digestive problems, and increased risk of disease(11).

The most common symptoms of celiac disease are indigestion, tissue damage in the walls of the small intestine, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headache, fatigue, skin rashes, depression, weight loss, and foul-smelling feces(12).

Celiac disease patients also consume few B vitamins due to the need for a diet low in grains.
According to studies, many celiac patients also have a vitamin D deficiency, which also leads to a disturbance in calcium absorption. There is also evidence that the composition of the intestinal flora is related to the onset and progression of celiac disease. Pre- and probiotics are therefore very important. Omega 3 fatty acids may also be able to curb inflammation in celiac disease.

Gluten intolerance

There are many people who have not tested positive for celiac disease, but who react negatively to gluten. This condition is called non-celiac gluten intolerance. It is not currently known how many people have this condition. Scientific estimates vary widely and range from 0.5 to 13 percent of the population. (13)

Symptoms of gluten intolerance include diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, bloating and depression. There is no clear definition of non-celiac gluten intolerance, but the diagnosis is always made when a patient reacts negatively to gluten but celiac disease and allergies have already been excluded(14, 15).

However, some experts believe that this is a misinterpretation. You think the negative effects are imaginary or triggered by substances other than gluten. One study examined nearly 400 people with self-diagnosed gluten intolerance and verified whether a gluten-free diet resulted in improvement(16).

The results showed that of the 400 people, only 26 people had celiac disease. 2 had wheat allergy and 27 were diagnosed as gluten sensitive. This means that of the 400 people who considered themselves gluten intolerant, only 14.5 percent actually had a problem with gluten. Or put another way, 85.5 percent had no gluten problem.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Wheat Allergy and Other

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disorder that causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and diarrhea. It is a chronic condition, but can be well managed through diet, lifestyle and stress management techniques.

Recent studies have also shown that vitamin D deficiency may be responsible for IBS. Interestingly, studies have also shown that some individuals with IBS may benefit from a gluten-free diet(17, 18).

In about 1 percent of the population, a wheat allergy may also be the cause of digestive problems after consuming gluten(19). In addition, studies have shown that individuals with schizophrenia and autism may benefit from a gluten-free diet(20, 21, 22).


The term FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligo-, disaccharides (lactose) and monosaccharides (fructose) and polyols”. These are sugar substitutes such as xylitol/birch sugar. Many people are unable to properly digest FODMAPs, which can cause various problems. FODMAPs are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine Fermentation (fermentation) produces gases. These are usually responsible for the intestinal problems. (24, 25)

In fact, there is some evidence that people with “gluten intolerance” are actually sensitive not to gluten but to FODMAPs. A study of 37 people with self-reported gluten intolerance put participants on a low-FODMAP diet that reduced symptoms. Participants were then given gluten in isolation, which did not affect their digestive symptoms(26). This shows that FODMAPs are sometimes the cause in people who think they react negatively to gluten.

Am I gluten intolerant?

Gastrointestinal symptoms are the most common sign of gluten intolerance. It can also be anemia or problems gaining weight. To find out what’s causing the discomfort, first ask your doctor to test you for celiac disease. There are two ways to find out if you have celiac disease(23):

Blood tests: There is a possibility to check the blood for the typical antibodies. The most common test is the tTG IgA test. If positive, a tissue biopsy is usually taken in the small intestine to confirm the results.

Biopsy from the small intestine: In this procedure, a healthcare professional takes a small tissue sample from the small intestine and examines it for damage.

If you suspect you have celiac disease, you should consult a doctor before switching to a gluten-free diet. This makes it easier to make a correct diagnosis.

If you don’t have celiac disease but want to find out if you are still gluten sensitive, you should avoid all gluten in your diet for a few weeks. If the symptoms improve, you should observe whether they reappear when you eat gluten again.

If symptoms don’t improve or get worse on a gluten-free diet, the culprit in your body is most likely something other than gluten.

What foods contain gluten?

The most common sources of gluten in the diet are wheat, spelt, rye, barley, bread, pasta, beer, cakes, cookies and pastries. Wheat is also added to many types of processed foods. If you want to avoid gluten, start reading food labels.

As of now, fresh, unprocessed, healthy foods should be preferred above all else, as most whole foods are naturally gluten-free. Avoid processed foods, cereals and grains that contain gluten. Gluten-free grains include corn, quinoa, rice, millet, buckwheat, amaranth and oats. However, even if oats are naturally gluten-free, they may be contaminated by gluten from the production facility. Therefore, it is safest to use only oats that are labeled gluten-free(27).

Fortunately, there are many healthy and tasty foods that are naturally gluten-free. So giving up gluten doesn’t have to be tasteless or boring.

Containing gluten Gluten free
Wheat Corn Meat
Spelt Quinoa Fish / Seafood
Rye Rice Eggs
Barley Millet Dairy products
Bread Buckwheat Fruits
Pasta Amaranth Vegetables
Cereals Oats Nuts
Beer Fats, oils and butter
Cakes, cookies and pastries Herbs and spices

Choose foods that are naturally gluten-free and avoid processed gluten-free products. These, in fact, usually have fewer nutrients and high additions of sugar or refined grains. By the way, most beverages are also gluten-free, except for beer (unless it is labeled gluten-free).

Should everyone avoid gluten?

For the vast majority of people, it is not necessary to avoid gluten. However, a change in diet has no disadvantages. In fact, there is no nutrient in gluten-containing grains that cannot be obtained from other foods.

In any case, make sure to choose healthy foods. A gluten-free label does not automatically mean that a food is healthy. Gluten-free junk food remains junk food after all.

A probiotic can also strengthen your gut from the inside. How to find the right one for your well-being and what to look out for, you will learn in our article: What you should look for in a probiotic

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