February 2, 2022

Many know gluten is bad for health. But what exactly is gluten?

Gluten is the main storage protein of wheat grains. It is a complex mixture of hundreds of related but distinct proteins, mainly gliadin and glutenin. Similar storage proteins exist as secalin in rye, hordein in barley and are collectively referred to as “gluten” 1.


  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Triticale 
  • Malt
  • Spelt
  • Kamut

Why it Needs To Be Avoided :

A. Gluten intolerance

Just like dairy intolerance, many are intolerant to the gluten protein and consumption of it triggers negative reactions immediately or can manifest as a chronic disease in the long run like-

  1. Celiac disease (CD): Gluten has been identified to trigger celiac disease (CD)1. CD is an autoimmune disease of the small intestine, meaning the immune system fails to differentiate between self and foreign molecules in the body and ends up destructing the villous structure of the small intestine. Celiac disease has increasingly been considered as a multi-organ disorder, often presenting with diarrhoea, malabsorption syndrome and weight loss, and has been linked to several diseases including other autoimmune disorders 5.
  2. Wheat allergy: Wheat allergy is the sensitisation of the immune system to wheat protein allergens and occurs within a few hours of consumption. The symptoms may include swelling, itching or irritation of the mouth or throat, hives, itchy rash or swelling of the skin, nasal congestion, headache, difficulty breathing, cramps, nausea or vomiting, diarrhoea and anaphylaxis. Wheat ω5-gliadin is the main allergen of gluten and it induces ‘wheat-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis’. Wheat-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis is a severe life-threatening allergic reaction to the consumption of wheat that occurs after exercise and needs immediate treatment 2.
  3. Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS): NCGS is characterised by intestinal and extraintestinal symptoms related to the ingestion of gluten-containing food in individuals who are not affected by either coeliac disease or wheat allergy. Currently, there is an absence of any reliable biomarkers, therefore, NCGS remains a diagnosis of exclusion3.

Gluten proteins are highly resistant to digestion by enzymes of the human gastrointestinal tract. It results in the emergence of pathogenic peptides, which cause CD and allergy in genetically predisposed people 2. Adapting a Gluten-free Diet is the most common and effective way to detoxify gluten peptides 2.

 B. GMO & Cancer 

Wheat, which is the main component of bread, is a victim of genetic engineering. To prevent the grain from destroying pests, scientists "implant" a gene that makes the plant resistant to them. An experiment carried out with rodents showed that the rodents that were fed by grain, containing modified genes, had low levels of haemoglobin & erythrocyte and their immunity also decreased. Optimal immune function is essential for fighting off cancer cells. Gene modifications change blood quantity hence affecting the general condition of the body. As a result, tumours are formed, but there is no "antidote". Hence the number of cancer patients has increased recently 4.

C. Thyroid dysfunction

According to the international medical bibliography, Autoimmune Thyroid Disorder and CD are associated. This might be partly explained by the increased immune sensitivity of CD patients by the deficiency of key elements such as selenium and iodine either due to malabsorption or due to antibodies that affect both thyroid and intestinal tissues. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis patients with or without CD benefit from a diet low in gluten 5.


  • Jowar (Sorghum)
  • Bajra
  • Millets: Foxtail, Proso, Kodo, Barnyard, Amaranth
  • Quinoa (soaked for 6-7 hours; occasionally)
  • White rice
  • Brown rice (Occasionally)
  • Wild rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Tapioca (Occasionally)


Manali Chindarkar
Research Associate

Manali has a Master's in Nutrition and Dietetics with a specialisation in Nutrigenomics. She's into all things tracking. Her determination to solve problems makes her an approachable nutritionist and an integral part of iTHRIVE's research team.

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