Gluten Alert: Why More Tummies Can’t Take Wheat Like They Used To

It’s no secret that gluten-related problems have been on the rise in recent years. In fact, studies have shown that the number of people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity has quadrupled since the 1950s. But what’s causing this increase and what can you do to protect yourself?

Understanding Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity

To start, let’s quickly go over what these gluten-related issues are. Celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, is an autoimmune condition in which the body cannot properly digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, their immune system attacks the lining of their small intestine and can also damage their nervous system. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, ranging from stomach pain to migraines.

Gluten sensitivity, on the other hand, is not an autoimmune condition like celiac disease. Instead, it’s a term used to describe individuals who experience symptoms after consuming gluten but test negative for celiac disease. While the symptoms can be similar, gluten sensitivity is generally less severe than celiac disease.

Debunking the Myth about Wheat Breeding

One common explanation for the increase in gluten-related issues is that wheat breeding in recent years has led to varieties with higher levels of gluten. However, this theory has been debunked by research from Donald D. Kasarda of the Western Regional Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. His investigation shows that gluten levels in various wheat varieties have changed little on average since the 1920s.

The True Culprits: Increased Consumption of Gluten and the Rise of “Vital Gluten”

So, if the gluten levels in wheat haven’t significantly increased over the years, then what’s causing the rise in gluten-related problems?

The answer lies in our overall gluten consumption, and more specifically, our exposure to something called “vital gluten.” This food additive, made from wheat flour, is used to improve the texture of many food products. The use of vital gluten has tripled since 1977, which has led to a greater overall consumption of gluten.

To give you some perspective, people in 2000 consumed 2.9 pounds more gluten yearly than those in 1970, which is a nearly 25% increase. That means we’re putting significantly more gluten into our bodies than our grandparents or great-grandparents did, which could be contributing to the rise in gluten-related issues.

Why Our Bodies Might Be Struggling with Gluten

Another possible reason for the increase in gluten problems is that our bodies have changed since the 1950s, making us more susceptible to gluten-related issues. Changes in our gut bacteria, shifts in the quality of our diets, and increased stress levels can all influence our ability to tolerate gluten.

For example, processed foods and antibiotics, both much more prevalent in our lives now than decades ago, can significantly impact our gut bacteria. This can, in turn, affect how our immune systems and digestive systems function, possibly leading to a higher likelihood of developing gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.

Protecting Yourself and Managing Gluten-Related Problems

If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, it’s important to get tested by a healthcare professional. Accurate diagnosis is crucial in determining the best course of action for your health.

For those already diagnosed with celiac disease, strictly adhering to a gluten-free diet is essential to manage symptoms and prevent further damage to the body.

In the case of gluten sensitivity, it may be helpful to limit your overall gluten consumption. This can be done by reducing your intake of wheat-based products and other processed foods that may contain the food additive vital gluten.

By better understanding the factors contributing to the rise in gluten-related issues, we can take steps to safeguard our health and improve our overall wellbeing.