amelia-freer-squareThe term Gluten Free is suddenly everywhere. From Hollywood stars to world class tennis players. And now, most likely, the person sitting next to you at work too. Everyone is trying it. But is gluten free just another fad? Absolutely not, says our expert nutritionist, Amelia Freer (pictured).


Starting from scratch, gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye and barley, so basically the standard British breakfast. But its reach is far more than that. It is present in more than your daily bread – hidden in pre-packaged foods, sauces, prescription meds, supplements, toothpaste, make-up and even foods that are naturally gluten free or claiming to be gluten free can get cross contamination in the manufacturing process. “Oh this doesn’t affect me, this is only for people with celiac disease I hear you say”. Not quite the case. Coeliac Disease (CD) is an autoimmune condition that is triggered by the consumption of gluten and leads to damage and inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. People with CD are required to strictly avoid all sources of gluten. However, it is actually far more prevalent than was once thought.

Researches now accept that CD actually has the capacity to affect any organ in the body, not just the gut, and it is now believed to be the most common and neglected life-long genetic disorder in both Europe and the United States. Originally considered to be exclusively a disease of the gastrointestinal system, researches now understand that it’s more common for patients to present with out any digestive symptoms, in fact a myriad of different health issues from fatigue, infertility, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and schizophrenia to name just a few, and can present at any age. A list of over 50 diseases that can be caused by eating gluten was presented in a review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2002. An estimated 1% of most populations is reported to have Coeliac Disease although experts in this field believe the actual prevalence to be far higher. A projected 9 out of every 10 people with CD have yet to be diagnosed. So maybe, just maybe, it might be worth considering if eating gluten is a good thing for you, looking at a bigger picture.

And this is just the start….

We know, most of you have only just got your heads around cutting out wheat and now we are throwing gluten into the equation too! But this is because a relatively new, but significant term known as Non Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) is now causing a rumble. Certainly wheat has been acknowledged as causing issues for many people over the last few years, hence why in:spa has always removed it from the menu (see forthcoming in:spa dates & destinations). And for some, it can stop at wheat. For others however, all of the glutinous grains can cause a problem and hence the recent label of this sensitivity from experts in the field. And researchers are now delving into this unchartered territory.

Here is what we know so far

Estimated to affect at least 10% of the population, NCGS can cause damage to tissues, organs and systems throughout the human body, similar to CD. This may lead to common issues such as headaches, IBS, acne, asthma, miscarriages, low mood, anxiety, insomnia, weight gain and nutrient deficiencies.

A prolonged exposure to gluten in sensitive individuals may eventually trigger the development of CD in those with the genes known to be associated with the disease. An estimated 40% of the population.