Charles Sturt University
Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

CSU Graduation: PhD examines gluten-free choices

A Charles Sturt University (CSU) PhD graduate hopes her research will provide doctors with insight on why people without a diagnosed condition choose to avoid gluten in their diets.

Professor Anthony Saliba and Dr Kyah HesterDr Kyah Hester from the Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Functional Grains was awarded her PhD during a ceremony at CSU in Wagga Wagga on Monday 10 December 2018.

Dr Hester’s PhD titled ‘Gluten avoidance – trendy food fad, or insight into complex psycho-physiological interactions?’ helps to identify the drivers of non-prescribed gluten avoidance.

“Up to 20 per cent of the population is estimated to take part in gluten avoidance behaviours, far exceeding the number of people with gluten-related disorders such as coeliac disease,” Dr Hester said.

“My research involved an in-depth study of non-prescribed gluten avoiders to measure participants’ perceptions, determinants of food choice, interpersonal experiences relating to their diets and a wide range of psychological variables, including personality traits.”

“This research is the first to establish clear and distinct symptomology relating to non-gluten foods, indicating that this population is more accurately characterised by their response to all foods, not just gluten alone.

”Gluten avoiders also exhibited distinct personality features that are likely to manipulate their attention to and interpretation of internal sensations. These findings are particularly important for health practitioners to consider both in the diagnosis and treatment phase of these individuals.”

Research supervisor, Professor Anthony Saliba from the CSU School of Psychology said the research points to an underlying mechanism that is an interaction between food consumption and psychology.

“This is further evidence that different people need to consume different foods, there is no ‘one size fits all’ advice you can give people on what to eat.

“Avoiding gluten does not reduce symptoms, suggesting that further research is needed on the causes of these uncomfortable symptoms that some people experience. We will be continuing this work by looking into whether Psychological treatment might assist.

“This work has been vital to show that people who avoid gluten are not currently being supported and given the seriousness of the symptoms and prevalence, continuing work in this area is a priority,” Professor Saliba said.

Dr Hester was awarded a scholarship by the Functional Grains Centre. Funded by the Australian Government through the ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centres scheme, the FGC is administered by CSU and is an initiative of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.