Wimbledon and the Gluten Effect…
5th July 2012
If you haven’t heard of gluten then you must have been living under a rock the past few years! And it seems everyone is thinking about it – including top tennis stars Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Sabine Lisicki.
In 2010 the world number 1 tennis player, Novac Djokovic took the decision to remove gluten from his diet following advice from his new nutritionist Igor Četojević and what followed was a quite spectacular winning streak. Co-incidence? Maybe not.
Now from what I can make out Djokovic hasn’t actually been diagnosed with coeliac disease; the usual reason for the exclusions of gluten from the diet. Rather it appears that he has ‘non-coeliac gluten sensitivity’ or ‘gluten intolerance’ – something quite different. Coeliac disease (or Celiac if you’re American) is a condition where the body’s immune system starts to attack the lining of the digestive tract in response to the consumption of gluten (found in wheat, barley and rye). If Djokovic was indeed coeliac then his improved form following exclusion of this protein would be no surprise. This disease can cause malabsorption of nutrients leading to anaemia, weight loss and fatigue.
Gluten intolerance on the other hand does not involve the same autoimmune damage but can present with many similar symptoms. Until recently there was dispute as to whether this condition actually existed but new research published last year in Australia (Biesiekierski et al 2011) and Italy (Volta et al 2011), and a subsequent literature review (Newnham 2011) seem to support the argument for the non-coeliac form of gluten intolerance. It’s also worth remembering that until relatively recently coeliac disease was also not very well recognised or diagnosed within the medical community but is now though to affect at approximately 1% of people of European origin (Sapone et al 2012)! This type of reaction to gluten is thought to be an immune response but unlike coeliac disease it is not autoimmune and it is also not an allergy (such as a wheat allergy).
Gluten was only really introduced into our diets 10,000 years ago, which in evolutionary terms is very recent. We are now at a stage in the western world where we are consuming between 10 and 20g of gluten each day and some even up 50g. Modern wheat varieties have also been developed to contain more gluten. But what’s really key is that gluten and its components gliadins and glutenins are toxic to the body through their ability to alter the normal behaviour of digestive cells. So we are consuming a lot of toxic gluten and it seems for many our bodies haven’t completely evolved to process it.
So if you think you may have symptoms that are triggered by eating wheat/barley or rye then I’d advise you to seek professional advice from a BANT registered nutritional therapist who can help you to identify possible food intolerances and teach you how to make good substitutions avoiding any nutritional deficiencies. And let’s not forget excluding gluten was likely to have been only one of a number of changes Djokovic made to this diet and training regime, so it’s difficult to pin point the absence of gluten as the key to his unquestionable success.
Following Djokovic’s success Andy Murray has also done away with the gluten saying it has improved his energy levels and made him feel fresh and invigorated – whether this change in diet leads to the success we (sorry, he!) desires is another matter! Roll on Friday….the semi-final…..
IlovegreensReferences: Biesiekierski JR, Newnham ED, Irving PM, Barrett JS, Haines M, Doecke JD, Shepherd SJ, Muir JG, Gibson PR. (2011) Gluten causes gastrointestinal symptoms in subjects without celiac disease: adouble-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial. American Journal of Gastroenterology 106(3):508-14 Newnham ED. (2011) Does gluten cause gastrointestinal symptoms in subjects without coeliac disease? Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology 26 Suppl 3:132-4 Sapone A, Bai JC, Ciacci C, Dolinsek J, Green PH, Hadjivassiliou M, Kaukinen K, Rostami K, Sanders DS, Schumann M, Ullrich R, Villalta D, Volta U, Catassi C, Fasano A. (2012) Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification. BMC Medicine Feb 7;10:13. Volta U, Tovoli F, Cicola R, Parisi C, Fabbri A, Piscaglia M, Fiorini E, Caio G. (2011) Serological Tests in Gluten Sensitivity (Nonceliac Gluten Intolerance) Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology [Epub ahead of print]