MORE than a million Australians may be compromising their health by needlessly adopting gluten-free diets due to “pseudoscience” and celebrity fads, a food science conference in Melbourne conference has been told.
Despite only 1 per cent of Australians being diagnosed with coeliac disease, more than one in 10 adults now follows a gluten-free or wheat avoidance diet, director of gastroenterology at The Alfred and Monash University Prof Peter Gibson said.
Presenting his research at the Australian Institute Food Science and Technology Conference in Melbourne, Prof Gibson said those needlessly avoiding gluten were risking their nutrition, a range of mental health problems, eating too much sugar and facing an unnecessary economic burden.
While many people have been able to overcome bloating and other gut issues by cutting down on wheat, Prof Gibson said the benefit had more to do with reducing carbohydrates than gluten, and progressing to a full gluten-free diet was a mistake for many people.
“Gluten has been blamed for many things and there are a lot of people who are arguing that gluten is the cause of many illnesses – from irritable bowel syndrome through to autism and depression,” Dr Gibson said.
“It started off with people avoiding wheat because they felt better without it and then assuming it was the gluten and going totally gluten-free. Then others looking on the internet and books about how gluten is causing all these problems.”
In a recent blind trial, Prof Gibson and his team could find no evidence of gluten causing the symptoms in patients suffering gut conditions.
A preliminary study of those claiming to suffer depression because of gluten found participants actually suffered more intense symptoms when on the gluten-free diet, prompting Prof Gibson to embark on an in-depth trial.
He said a host of authors and celebrities used “pseudoscience” to link scientific research out of context and incorrectly claim that gluten is responsible for a range of conditions was driving the problem.
But while whole sections of supermarkets are now devoted to products cashing in on gluten-free demand, Prof Gibson believes it is a case of industry responding to demand rather than driving controversy.