The gist: People who don’t have celiac disease who say they’re “gluten sensitive” may have a certain inflammatory protein to blame.
It’s called zonulin and, normally, it’s what helps you fight off a bout of food poisoning; so it’s technically a good thing. But, study authors believe some people release excess amounts of the stuff after consuming gluten—resulting in an onslaught of not-so-fun symptoms (“brain fog,” fatigue, bloating; see the full list here).
More research is needed but a trial testing whether it’s possible to temporarily shut down zonulin production will soon be underway, NPR reports. That, in turn, may lead to a medication to help both celiac disease sufferers and those who are gluten-sensitive to manage their symptoms.
“If you are having unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms or suspect intolerance to gluten you may consider a 2-6-week elimination trial,” says Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic.
Even if you feel no different (you’re in the clear on the gluten front), shunning gluten for a few weeks has some perks: It’s a good diet-quality check since it forces you to look more closely at the foods you eat, ingredient labels, etc., says Zeratsky. Plus, it may encourage you to try healthy gluten-free grains that you might not have otherwise. (Here are just a few you should eat, gluten-sensitive or not.)
Once your trial ends—if you feel no real difference—add some healthy gluten-filled foods back in to your diet.
“A gluten-free diet is a restrictive diet and not easy to follow,” says Zeratsky.
And if you’re an athlete, you’ll need to rethink your carbo-loading routine. (However, gluten-sensitive athletes should know: It is possible to consume enough carbs from fruits, starchy vegetables, and dairy to fuel your body through tough workouts, per Zeratsky.)
Want to test-drive a gluten-free diet? Bear in mind these tips from Zeratsky:
- Read labels: Gluten lurks in some surprising foods like salad dressing and ketchup.
- Check out gluten-free grains: Millet, buckwheat, and amaranth are just a few to try.
- Know that “gluten-free” does not mean “healthy”: There are many gluten-free foods that are highly processed and no healthier than any other highly processed foods.
Disclaimer: Always talk to your doctor or an R.D. if you’re unsure whether any diet change—even a temporary one—is right for you.