There's been plenty of speculation recently that the increase in the percentage of people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity could be due to increased levels of gluten in wheat and other gluten grain crops. However, a new study disputes that as a cause for the rise in gluten-related illnesses.
The study, published this month in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, says that contrary to popular belief, there's not really any more gluten in modern varieties of wheat, barley and rye than there was in the 1920s.
However, there's no real dispute on the increase in celiac disease -- some estimates indicate the condition is four times more common today than it was nearly a century ago (and no, that's not all due to increased interest in the gluten-free diet -- celiac really is far more prevalent now). So what's really going on?
The short answer is, we don't know. The study's author, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in California, notes that overall gluten consumption has increased quite a bit over the years as gluten -- including "vital gluten," or pure gluten protein (yuck!) -- has crept beyond bread into many processed food products. People now consume three times more vital gluten as they did in 1977. Also, overall consumption of wheat flour increased 25% between 1970 and 2000.
Is it dose-dependent -- i.e., do people start to react to gluten when they eat too much of it? There's no scientific proof for that yet, but my guess is, we'll eventually find the answer is "yes."
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