Non coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is estimated to affect six percent of the population. That’s six people in every hundred while coeliac disease is estimated to affect just one person in a hundred. Like coeliac, NCGS is vastly under diagnosed. Most people don’t know that they have a problem.
So how can you tell if you have a problem?
NCGS refers to those people who feel better when they stop eating gluten but tests show that they do not have the intestinal damage typified by coeliac and they are not allergic to wheat either.
If you have NCGS then you have probably been in low health for some time. The presence of the syndrome wasn’t identified until the late eighties and it is only in the last five years that it has started to be taken seriously. Dr Umberto Volta from the University of Bologna in Italy who developed the test for antibodies to the gliadin protein has been pioneering research and has discovered a number of facts about NCGS.
People with NCGS complain about brain fog. Gluten seems to affect our brain rather than our intestines. Remove the gluten and say hello to your brain. Finally you can concentrate and think clearly. To me it seems as though I have spent years shouting at my brain which was at the other end of a long cluttered corridor, wrapped up in cotton wool, wearing headphones and listening to loud music. In fact, it is only getting back in connection with my brain that I realise how bad it has been for decades.
If you have IBS then you are more likely to have NCGS. While six percent of the general population is estimated to have NCGS, thirty percent of IBS suffers do.
Dr Volta is finding that people tend to be presenting with NCGS in their mid forties which he has tentatively suggested might be to do with the body giving up the fight against gluten at that stage in life. I would like to respectfully suggest though that what is actually happening is a combination of two things.
First, Dr Volta is only just pioneering a move to take this seriously. People in their mid forties with NCGS will have been complaining for years with no one to take them seriously.
Second, people regard the symptoms as being separate entities. Brain fog becomes a way of life. Skin conditions can be treated. Diarrhea is down to your healthy high fibre diet. Polycystic ovary syndrome, well you can take drugs and undergo embarrassing tests and fingers crossed you can have children. It is only when something becomes unbearable that you start to seek answers and that may not be until you are in your forties.
One problem with NCGS is that many people with the syndrome react to more than just gluten. Wheat contains many thousands of proteins. Other foods contain very similar or identical proteins and your immune system starts to react to these as well. For this reason you are advised to go on an elimination diet for four weeks before reintroducing foods and challenging your immune system.
Dr Volta was interviewed by Dr Tom O’Bryan as part of The Gluten Summit which ran from the 11th to 18th November. For more details see this post.