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Jane Anderson

Are New Wheat Varieties Responsible for The Hike In Celiac Disease?

By February 18, 2013

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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."

Keep up with the latest in the celiac disease/gluten sensitivity world -- sign up for my newsletter, connect with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter - @AboutCeliac.

Photo Getty Images/Nick Gunderson

February 18, 2013 at 5:00 pm
(1) Dana Gilkison says:

It is not only in many, many food products, it is in beauty and other health products as well. I have found it very hard to really know if it is in a product because I am not a chemist. I only come to find that a product does include gluten when my face breaks out and my eyes swell shut.

February 22, 2013 at 9:00 pm
(2) Brenda Grau says:

I had to switch brands of orange juice after my celiac diagnosis. The major brand we had used for years had vitamin E added to it. After ruling out my other breakfast items, I quit OJ and switched to apple juice (not from concentrate). While researching online, I found that vitamin E as supplements and that added to foods can come from soy or wheat germ. We switched brands to one without vitamin E and I no longer had symptoms after breakfast. Gluten in OJ? Crazy!

April 9, 2014 at 1:50 pm
(3) Don Stinchcomb says:

Some startling facts:
- since 1948 over 40000 high yielding wheat varieties were created
- hybridiztion techniques did not take off until 1962 with advent of Chemical Hybridization Agents; that is when proliferation took off
- yield was the goal not improvement for food quality
- Varieties are protected like patents with electrophoresis gels on one protein
—That protein is gliadin
——-All named and protected varieties have distinct gliadin signatures
——-Gliadin is the prolamine that all celiac experts agree is the toxic protein.

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