A leading consultant has suggested that the UK might be suffering from gluten overload.

Writing for The Daily Mail, Professor David Sanders, consultant gastroenterologist at Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said the number of UK coeliacs had grown from one in 8,000 to around one in 100 since 1950.

He suggested overconsumption might be the cause, and pointed to a combination of industrial bread making processes; modern, high-gluten wheat; and the presence of gluten in everything from stock cubes to meat substitutes had driven up individual consumption.

He also said that gluten sensitivity is a real thing, distinct from coeliac disease. Despite scepticism over gluten sensitivity in the medical profession, he said he was basing his opinions on what he had seen in his patients over a seven-year period.

He proposed gluten could trigger a different, less-severe immune response in some individuals, particularly those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

To support his argument, he referenced research by the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, carried out on 36 patients with IBS or suspected food intolerances.

When researchers applied dilute solutions of problem food substances directly onto their bowel linings, 61% showed a strong immune system response, with wheat triggering the most reactions.

gluten-free diet

Sanders said: “Coeliacs have to follow a gluten-free diet for life, to prevent long-term health problems such as osteoporosis and an increased risk (albeit small) of gastrointestinal cancers.

“But for many years, I have seen patients in my clinic who do not have coeliac disease, but say they have symptoms such as bloating, pain, diarrhoea, constipation, and feeling sluggish when they eat gluten.

“I often wondered why, but in hindsight, I did not take this as seriously as I should have. It has taken me a long time to overcome my early scepticism and acknowledge that something may be amiss.”

However, Sanders said that he did not believe there was enough evidence that everyone should go gluten-free, and urged those who thought they had symptoms to see a doctor, before cutting it out of their diets.

He said: “A diagnosis can only be made while you are still eating gluten, and if you don’t have a medical diagnosis, you will never really know what it is you are suffering from.”

Sanders’ comments to The Daily Mail were based on material from his new book, Gluten Attack: Why Gluten Is Waging War On Our Health And What To Do About It? published by Vermillion.