Dr. Aishwarya Bhansali Shah, Doctor of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) working at Dr. Batra’s Homoeopathy in Dubai, highlights causes of lactose and gluten intolerance in this region, and asks people to choose foods that are naturally gluten-free, rather than opting for processed gluten-free products.
Interestingly today, serious food allergies are rare but intolerance of many common staple foods ranging from dairy products to gluten is increasing. At an estimated percentage of seven to 15 percent of the population, a growing number of residents in the UAE are suffering from functional gastrointestinal disorders either from lactose or gluten intake or sometimes even from the consumption of both.
So it is high time that we talk about gluten intolerance
Basically, Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, spelt, rye and barley. Gliadin and glutenin are the two main gluten proteins that have glue like property making the dough elastic and allowing it to rise when it is baked. Something like this that was staple is now becoming a problem for many individuals.
What we initially perceive clinically is that most people actually tolerate gluten just fine. What we don’t know is that it can cause problems for people with certain health conditions like Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy and some other diseases.
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease that is the most severe form of gluten intolerance. For those who have the condition, gluten is not accepted at all by the immune system which lead to digestive discomfort, tissue damage in the small intestines, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, headache, tiredness, skin rashes, depression, weight loss, foul smelling faeces and may even cause nutritional deficiencies, anaemia, severe digestive issues and an increased risk of many diseases.
The number of cases involving gluten sensitivity is globally increasing but in the Gulf region, what’s to be blamed is mainly the lifestyle. Expats in the Gulf are those who at one point, ate fresh foods in their country but have now started to eat frozen food due to their busy lifestyle. Due to the lack of natural resources in the Gulf, most of the food products are imported. This has lead to low immunity for many individuals. And in a region where obesity is also quite prevalent, fast fat burning treatments have become the go-to solution fancied by many in the Arabic world, a ‘bandaid’ solution that also leads to a weaker digestive system.
The fact that bread, milk, butter, cheese – some household staples that the people now seem to have become intolerant of, is alarming. There were also controversies that sprang up about supermarket aisles being filled with products that have “free from” labels, indicating that the population truly has become intolerant of many things. In Britain, the market for gluten-free products alone had grown to £561m by 2017.
Rise in food allergies?
Whether it’s due to a genuine rise in food allergies, or simply because of the perception that whatever says “free from” anything is healthier, the trend for lactose-free and gluten-free products seems here to stay.
Surveys now show that 30% of Americans would like to eat less gluten, and sales of gluten-free products had hit $15 billion by 2016 -- that’s a 50% jump over 2013’s numbers! A study says that there are many people who do not test positive for celiac disease, but still react negatively to gluten. Peter Gibson, a professor of gastroenterology at Monash University and director of the GI Unit at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, repeated the trial study after his previous study in 2011 did not satisfy him fully. Subjects were provided with every single meal for the duration of the trial. Any and all potential dietary triggers for gastrointestinal symptoms were removed, including lactose (from milk products), certain preservatives like benzoates, propionate, sulfites, and nitrites, and fermentable, poorly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates, also known as FODMAPs. 37 subjects took part, all confirmed not to have celiac disease but whose gastrointestinal symptoms improved on a gluten-free diet, thus fulfilling the diagnostic criteria for non-celiac gluten sensitivity. They were fed with a variable dietary combinations which were:
Analysing the data, Gibson found that each treatment diet, whether it included gluten or not, prompted subjects to report a worsening of gastrointestinal symptoms to similar degrees, pain, bloating, nausea, and gas all increased over the baseline low-FODMAP diet. Gluten wasn’t the culprit he concluded; the cause was likely psychological.
Participants expected the diets to make them sick, and so they did. The finding led Gibson to the opposite conclusion of his 2011 research: he also concluded that “Reduction of FODMAPs in their diets uniformly reduced gastrointestinal symptoms and fatigue in the run-in period, after which they were minimally symptomatic. And coincidentally, some of the largest dietary sources of FODMAPs -- specifically bread products -- are removed when adopting a glutenfree diet, which could explain why the millions of people worldwide who swear by gluten-free diets feel better after going gluten-free.”
In 2017, Khaleej Times reported about the rise of residents with lactose intolerance in the UAE.
People with lactose intolerance cannot metabolize lactose properly, because their digestive system produces too little of an enzyme known as lactase. This means that if they consume food containing lactose, they may experience bloating, flatulence, and diarrhoea. This is a common digestive complaint so it pays to learn more about it.
First, some ethnicities are more likely to develop it than others.
Lactose intolerance is most prevalent among people of East Asian ancestry, affecting more than 90% of adults in some communities, according to the NIH (National Institute of Health). The condition is also common in people who are of Jewish, Arab, West African, Greek and Italian descent.
Lactose intolerance affects everyone differently, with people claiming to have the condition producing different sets of complaints.
Tiny amounts of lactose may cause intense symptoms such as abdominal cramps and diarrhoea in some, while others might only experience gassy stomach.
While it is not entirely clear why symptoms vary so much from person to person – it might have something to do with individual’s gut bacteria. Introducing probiotics is generally helpful to keep up the normal gut bacteria.
Certain types of cheese and yogurt may not trigger the disorder.
In many cases, being lactose intolerant doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to the goodness that is dairy. While some people cannot digest much of it, others have no trouble digesting yoghurt, which contains fermented milk, or cheeses such as Parmesan or cheddar. Those cheeses are aged and contain only minimal amounts of lactose, making it easier for people with lactose intolerance to digest them.
The easy way to tell which cheeses would have low lactose levels would be to check the nutrition label. Since lactose is the sugar found in milk, the lesser the amount of sugar on the label, the higher your chances are of being able to digest the product.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance usually occur within 30 minutes to two hours after consuming milk-based products. The more milk products you ingest, the worse you will feel.
There have been cases of babies also being born lactose intolerant. This happens when the baby has a mutation of the LCT gene, which normally gives instructions for making that key enzyme. This results in the baby’s small intestine producing little to no lactase, making dairy “complicated” for the digestive system.
You can manage your lactose intolerance by taking these steps:
Homoeopathy has been proven beneficial in solving cases of lactose and gluten intolerance. Our “pathy” takes care of the immune system and the root causes of a variety of food sensitivities in addition to dairy. As we consider any food intolerance as a disruptive manifestation of the patient’s immune system, we can heal it with a deep acting constitutional approach. It thus stimulates the defence mechanism against lactose intolerance symptoms. The efficacy of the treatment also lies in preventing severe gastric complications and in restoring the microflora which can facilitate in breaking down the undigested lactose. Homeopathic medicines are from natural substances and have no side effects. It is therefore gentle, safe and applicable to all age groups.