Is New-Wheat Gluten Culprit in Celiac Disease?

Thursday, 07 Feb 2013 05:03 PM

By Nick Tate

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A new report is casting doubt on the notion that celiac disease is on the rise because modern-day farmers are growing strains of wheat that contain more gluten.

The article, published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, suggests there’s no clear evidence that more gluten in newer strains of wheat is responsible for the condition, which requires sufferers to go on highly restricted specialized diets.

But Donald D. Kasarda, the report’s author, suggested the increase in celiac disease may be tied to Americans’ increasing consumption of wheat and gluten-containing products overall.

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Kasarda noted the incidence of celiac disease has grown fourfold over the past 60 years. Some have speculated the increase is due to new commercially developed strains of wheat that are vastly different from those grown a century ago and are more difficult for larger numbers of people to tolerate.

Celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, occurs when gluten — a protein in wheat, barley, and rye — damages the lining of the small intestine, causing a variety of symptoms.

Kasarda examined the scientific evidence that modern wheat-breeding techniques have increased levels of gluten in recent decades. He found gluten levels in various wheat varieties have changed little since the 1920s.

But overall gluten consumption in the U.S. has increased due to other factors, including the growing use of a food additive called "vital gluten," which has tripled in production since 1977. Vital gluten is made from wheat flour and is used in various food products to improve texture and other characteristics.

Consumption of wheat flour also has increased, so that people in 2000 consumed 2.9 pounds more gluten annually than in 1970, nearly a 25 percent increase, Kasarda said.

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