Fructan, Rather Than Gluten, Induces Symptoms in Patients With Self-Reported Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Gastroenterology. 2018 Feb;154(3):529-539.e2. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.10.040. Epub 2017 Nov 2.


Background & aims: Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is characterized by symptom improvement after gluten withdrawal in absence of celiac disease. The mechanisms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity are unclear, and there are no biomarkers for this disorder. Foods with gluten often contain fructans, a type of fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols. We aimed to investigate the effect of gluten and fructans separately in individuals with self-reported gluten sensitivity.

Methods: We performed a double-blind crossover challenge of 59 individuals on a self-instituted gluten-free diet, for whom celiac disease had been excluded. The study was performed at Oslo University Hospital in Norway from October 2014 through May 2016. Participants were randomly assigned to groups placed on diets containing gluten (5.7 g), fructans (2.1 g), or placebo, concealed in muesli bars, for 7 days. Following a minimum 7-day washout period (until the symptoms induced by the previous challenge were resolved), participants crossed over into a different group, until they completed all 3 challenges (gluten, fructan, and placebo). Symptoms were measured by Gastrointestinal Symptom Rating Scale Irritable Bowel Syndrome (GSRS-IBS) version. A linear mixed model for analysis was used.

Results: Overall GSRS-IBS scores differed significantly during gluten, fructan, and placebo challenges; mean values were 33.1 ± 13.3, 38.6 ± 12.3, and 34.3 ± 13.9, respectively (P = .04). Mean scores for GSRS-IBS bloating were 9.3 ± 3.5, 11.6 ± 3.5, and 10.1 ± 3.7, respectively, during the gluten, fructan, and placebo challenges (P = .004). The overall GSRS-IBS score for participants consuming fructans was significantly higher than for participants consuming gluten (P = .049), as was the GSRS bloating score (P = .003). Thirteen participants had the highest overall GSRS-IBS score after consuming gluten, 24 had the highest score after consuming fructan, and 22 had the highest score after consuming placebo. There was no difference in GSRS-IBS scores between gluten and placebo groups.

Conclusions: In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study of individuals with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity, we found fructans to induce symptoms, measured by the GSRS-IBS. no: NCT02464150.

Keywords: Challenge; FODMAP; Intestine; NCGS; Wheat.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Celiac Disease / diagnosis
  • Celiac Disease / diet therapy
  • Celiac Disease / etiology*
  • Celiac Disease / immunology
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Diet, Gluten-Free
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Fructans / adverse effects*
  • Fructans / immunology
  • Glutens / adverse effects*
  • Glutens / immunology
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / diet therapy
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / etiology*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Self Report*
  • Time Factors
  • Wheat Hypersensitivity / diagnosis
  • Wheat Hypersensitivity / diet therapy
  • Wheat Hypersensitivity / etiology*
  • Wheat Hypersensitivity / immunology


  • Fructans
  • Glutens

Associated data