Are you among the 13% of our population that has opted for a gluten-free diet? Many people not diagnosed with celiac disease—an actual allergy to gluten—have chosen to remove gluten from their diet in an attempt to remedy stomach issues commonly associated with wheat products. Gluten is the primary ingredient in wheat, barley, and rye. If those diagnosed with celiac disease consume gluten, their immune system begins attacking the small intestine causing a malfunction in the body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients. Non-celiac diagnosed patients associate bloating and various stomach problems after consuming gluten and self-diagnose a gluten intolerance. However, a recent study has found that, for those non-celiac patients, gluten may not actually be the problem. Fructan may be the problematic ingredient.
Researchers from the University of Oslo in Norway and Monash University in Australia have recently published their research determining the role that fructan plays in causing the stomach issues usually pinned on gluten. The study followed 59 people with a self-diagnosed gluten intolerance over the course of several weeks. Each participant was given a set of muesli bars, some containing gluten only, others fructan only, and the rest with neither ingredient. Over the course of the study, each participant was told to record how they felt after eating each of the bars. The researchers found that the participants experienced bloating and other digestive issues after eating the muesli bar containing only fructan. But after consuming the other two bars, participants had no symptoms related to digestive problems.
What Is Fructan?
The technical term of this common carbohydrate is oligosaccharide—a chain of fructose molecules with one glucose molecule at the end. The reason many people have problems consuming this ingredient is because the human body does not contain the enzymes needed to properly break down and absorb fructan. So it settles in the colon and ferments, producing gas. This can be an uncomfortable feeling for everyone, but if you already suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) then fructan may be a direct link to major digestive issues. Unfortunately, fructan is a very common ingredient found in various fruits and vegetables like dates, plums, grapefruit, watermelon, garlic, leeks, onions, and artichokes. Fructan is also found in cashews, pistachios, black beans, and kidney beans. And the reason we so often confuse our digestive issues with gluten is because fructan is also found in wheat, barley, and rye.
Symptoms Of An Intolerance
The symptoms of IBS that are also related to a fructan intolerance include bloating, gas and flatulence, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation. Trying to discern whether you have IBS, a gluten intolerance, or a fructan intolerance may be difficult. Keeping a log of the foods that give you stomach problems and specifically naming those symptoms will help. If you have not been diagnosed with celiac disease yet choose to eat gluten-free, keep doing so. The next time you order a gluten-free pizza or pasta that has a sauce with garlic or onions, pay attention to whether or not you still feel bloated.
Sameer Islam, MD is a board-certified Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist practicing at Southwest Gastroenterology in Lubbock, Texas. For an appointment feel free to contact his office at (806)-761-0747. You can get more information from his webpage (www.sameerislam.com) where you can also subscribe to his monthly newsletter. He also has a weekly Facebook Live show on Wednesdays, 8:30 PM CST.