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Scientists Just Busted This Super-Common Gluten Myth

Good news for bread lovers with sensitive bowels!
FACT CHECKED BY Joseph Neese

Time and again, gluten gets blamed for a host of illnesses and symptoms that our bodies experience. While there are some real signs that you may be gluten intolerant—such as headaches or joint pains that disappear after you cut this protein out of your diet—gluten is sometimes simply a scapegoat. For example, while it often gets faulted for intestinal troubles, new research shows that contrary to popular belief, there's no significant link between eating gluten and experiencing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In other words, that slice of wheat toast you had with breakfast likely isn't to blame for your constipation or diarrhea.

In the study, which was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers examined more than 100 participants with moderate to severe IBS over a period of nine months, tracking their gluten intake and the FODMAP content (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) of their diet, a measure of sugars that are difficult for the small intestine to absorb. While higher FODMAP content was linked with more severe IBS symptoms, gluten was not. (RELATED: The 100 Unhealthiest Foods On the Planet)

"Our study shows that gluten has no effect on IBS symptoms," Elise Nordin, lead author of the study, told Eat This, Not That! in an interview. "There is accumulating evidence suggesting that gluten per se may not cause adverse effects on a group-level among subjects with IBS . . . However, we acknowledge that reactions [vary by] individual, and we also observed adverse effects among some individuals in our study."

Thus, while the research doesn't suggest that eating gluten exacerbates IBS, everyone's body is different. Foods that are fine for one individual to eat might cause issues for another person. Nordin suggests checking with your doctor to test how different foods affect you specifically. Whatever foods you end up cutting back on or eliminating, she suggests making sure that you keep plenty of fiber-rich foods in your diet.

RELATED: 15 Surprising Foods You Didn't Know Had Gluten in Them

If you're not sure whether or not it's time to seek out medical help for bowel symptoms, the American College of Gastroenterology recommends seeing a doctor if you're dealing with constipation or diarrhea on and off, if you're suffering from abdominal pain, and/or if you've been experiencing bloating. Additionally, the organization's site has a tool for finding a gastroenterologist in your area.

While cutting out gluten may not help you see the changes you're looking for, other changes could have an impact on your IBS. To start with, check out The #1 Best Diet for IBS, New Study Says.

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Clara Olshansky
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men's Health, and Reductress. Read more about Clara
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