Your Gluten Intolerance May Actually Be From This

Gluten has gotten a bad rap in recent years that might not actually be fully deserved. It's true that around 1% of the U.S. population suffers from celiac disease, which is an overactive autoimmune response to gluten that can lead to intestinal damage and even malnutrition (via Cleveland Clinic). Many others — up to around 6% of the U.S. population — may have a gluten intolerance, in which uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, pain, anxiety, and skin rashes can result from consuming too much gluten.

Around 30% of shoppers buy gluten-free products, apparently with the assumption that it is a "healthier" choice. But it turns out that the symptoms common to gluten intolerance actually overlap significantly with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and another, less-well-known intolerance — to fructan — leading some experts to think that gluten intolerance could often be a misdiagnosis.

Fructans are a type of carbohydrate that are not easily digestible for most people. Like gluten, they are found in wheat, but they are also found in several non-gluten-containing foods, like bananas, onions, and asparagus (via Healthfully).

Symptoms of IBS, gluten- and fructan-sensitivities can overlap

Fructans tend to ferment in the large intestine, leading to uncomfortable gas and bloating (via The Food Treatment Clinic). It is estimated that around 24% of people who suffer from IBS are actually sensitive or intolerant to fructan.

Gastroenterologist Will Bulsiewicz, M.D., MSCI, told mindbodygreen that "Gluten sensitivity has been misnamed, we call it gluten sensitivity because it occurs when people eat wheat, barley, and rye. All of those foods contain gluten, but they also contain fructans." Failing to distinguish whether an intolerance may be due to gluten or fructan can lead to unnecessarily cutting out foods from the diet, limiting nutrient intake as well as lifestyle freedom.

Unfortunately, there's no test currently that can accurately diagnose gluten or fructan sensitivity. If you think you might have a gluten (or fructan) sensitivity, it's important to meet with a healthcare provider who is familiar with gluten-related problems to first rule out celiac disease, and then to follow a supervised elimination diet to identify the culprit. Dr. Amy Burkhart, RD, a physician from California, told Healthline, "While one would assume the GI specialists are familiar with this, many are not."