Study: Fructan to Blame for Side Effects Associated with Gluten Consumption

A team of researchers with several members from the University of Oslo in Norway and one with Monash University in Australia has found that the bloating many people experience after eating foods containing wheat may be due to sensitivity to fructan, not gluten.

The new finding could bring important changes to bakery industry and market, especially with the gluten-free sector in a steady expansion.

In their paper published in the journal Gastroenterology, the group describes results of experiments they conducted, with volunteers eating foods with and without fructan and gluten.

Fructan, a type of carbohydrate found in wheat and some vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli, may cause similar symptoms to gluten sensitivities. As a result, some individuals may confuse their fructan problems with gluten sensitivity, and as a result, not properly address and treat their issue.

This is what led the researchers to wonder if fructan might be behind some other less-problematic digestive problems. To find out, they enlisted the assistance of 59 people who had self-diagnosed themselves with gluten intolerance. Each was given muesli bars to eat over the course of several weeks and asked to write down any symptoms they experienced. Some of the bars had gluten, some had fructan, and some had neither.

Symptoms were measured using a test called the gastrointestinal symptom rating scale, irritable bowel syndrome (GSRS-IBS), originally designed to note IBS symptoms in patients. Higher scores translate into more severe symptoms. The double-blind crossover challenge allowed the researchers to properly see how each food property affected the volunteers without the risk of human bias.

Results revealed that the overall consumption of fructan was associated with higher scores on the IBS test than both gluten and placebo consumption. For example, out of the study participants, 24 had the highest GSRS-IBS scores after consuming fructan, compared to only 13 with gluten and 22 with the placebo. Personal accounts from volunteers showed that they only reported bloating and stomach pains while eating diets that had fructan, not those with gluten or placebos.

These results suggest that fructan, not gluten, may be at the root of unexplained stomach woes, although more research will be needed.

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