Background: While it is well documented and widely appreciated that ingestion of wheat (and less so rye and barley) is associated with gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating or abdominal pain, the component of wheat to which such an effect is attributed is less well established.
Key messages: Wheat is a complex of proteins (80% gluten, 20% metabolic proteins), carbohydrates (starch, non-starch polysaccharides, fructans), lipids and other components. The majority of attention has focused on gluten as the culprit in triggering symptoms, but re-challenge studies have nearly all used wheat flour-related products (such as bread) as the stimulus. When carbohydrate-deplete gluten was used as the challenge agent, gluten-specific feelings of depression and not gut symptoms were observed in those who fulfilled strict criteria of 'non-coeliac gluten sensitivity', thereby underlining the complexity of cereals and of undertaking research in this area. Candidate components other than gluten include poorly absorbed oligosaccharides (mainly fructans), non-gluten wheat proteins such as amylase-trypsin inhibitors or wheat germ agglutinin, and exorphins released during the digestion of gluten. Specific biological and/or clinical effects associated with gluten-free diets or wheat ingestion need to be carefully dissected before attribution to gluten can be claimed.
Conclusions: Currently, coeliac disease is the only common condition that has been unequivocally linked to gluten. Inaccurate attribution will be associated with suboptimal therapeutic advice and at least partly underlies the current gluten-free epidemic gripping the Western world.
© 2015 S. Karger AG, Basel.