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Research Sheds Light on Gluten Issues

January 25, 2012

We were intrigued in mid-2009 when research documented that celiac disease, an immune system reaction to gluten, has increased four-fold in the past half-century. We covered the research in an earlier blog, but the question still left on the table was, “Why has celiac disease increased so hugely?”

We set out to find the answers, by combing through scientific research, and came across some interesting information that may fill in the holes – and may give hope to the estimated 1-3% of people who cannot digest gluten properly.

A little background first, before we share our research trove with you. Research shows that celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are distinct problems, and in fact there may be two main types of Celiac Disease. Gluten is a protein that’s found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a wheat / rye hybrid). It’s only found in these four grains – so people who have celiac disease or are otherwise gluten-intolerant still have plenty of great choices of whole grains to enjoy. Gluten-free does not mean whole grain-free!

Our romp through the research turned up evidence that today’s wheat foods are, most likely, higher in gluten, which may account for the increased problems experienced by a small fraction of the population. The good news, though, is that we also found research that suggests ways to lower the gluten levels in wheat-based foods. We’ll organize this blog according to our good news findings. (Note: some of these ideas may also apply to barley and rye, but the research we found centers on wheat.)

Consider Ancient Grains

Different types of wheat have different numbers of chromosomes, and some studies show that the older wheats, with fewer chromosomes, tend to have lower levels of gliadins, the type of gluten proteins that seem to cause most sensitivities.

Einkorn, the oldest known type of wheat in our current food supply, has just 14 chromosomes, and is called a diploid wheat. Durum wheat (the kind most often used for pasta) and emmer are tetraploid wheats, with 28 chromosomes. Common wheat (used for most everything) and spelt have 42 chromosomes and are known as hexaploid wheats. Research shows that different tetraploid and hexaploid wheat varieties differ widely in gliadin levels, and it’s possible to select “individual genotypes with less Celiac Disease-immunogenic potential.”

Even if you’re not gluten-sensitive, you may want to consider some of the ancient grains. Research shows that Kamut has higher levels of antioxidants than some modern wheats, and that healthy plant sterols are higher in tetraploid wheats than in hexaploid wheats.

Organic May Trump Conventional Growing

We all understand that the foods we eat can make a big difference in the composition and health of our bodies. The old saying “You are what you eat” applies to plants, too.

We uncovered one intriguing study that found that varying levels of sulfur and nitrogen fertilizer can change the proteins in wheat. Different proteins, different sensitivities. Is there, perhaps, a connection between the widespread introduction of chemical fertilizers after World War II, and the four-fold increase in Celiac Disease during the same period?

The jury is still out. We’d like to see research that takes the next step, and compares the proteins in conventionally-farmed grains with organic grains.

Try the Old Ways of Making Bread

Once you’ve grown and harvested the wheat, how you make your bread may affect its gluten levels, too. Throughout most of mankind’s history, bread was made using a sourdough process based on lacto-fermentation. The process was slow, and results were uneven, so when modern yeast became available, sourdough breads became less common.

Now research shows us that lacto-fermentation of wheat has the potential to drastically reduce gluten levels. We found three studies along these lines. Our favorite study showed that sourdough bread produced with a particular strain of lacto-bacilli had gluten levels of 12 parts per million – where anything under 20 ppm is considered gluten-free. Bread made with the same wheat but without lacto-fermentation had gluten levels of 75,000 ppm.

Another cool thing about this study was that the Italian researchers lacto-fermented the flour, then dried it and used it in a conventional quick-baking process, one that could be compatible with modern bakeries. We love it when someone discovers ways to incorporate the best of the old ways into today’s realities – that’s what health through heritage is all about!

Share Your Thoughts and Your Research

I’m not a researcher – just a fascinated auto-didact – so some details of the studies cited here may have escaped me. I present the information above as speculation, and invite those doing actual research in this area to contact us with their latest findings. We’re excited by the range of research being conducted, and its potential for removing any barriers that stand in the way of all people being able to enjoy all whole grains! (Cynthia)

Comments

Thank you for caring. I think

Thank you for caring. I think more than 3 percent are gluten intolerant.... so articles like this give me hope... fermentation is the way to go.... keep up the research please

Another aspect to wheat sensitivity

http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/real-reason-for-toxic-wheat-its-n... This is an interesting article that talks about the use of Roundup on wheat at the point that it's harvested. The crops are sprayed with roundup because it "stresses" the plant and causes it to respond by increasing its seed production. It can increase the yield by up to 10%. Possibly one of the things people are reacting to is Roundup not the gluten at all.

wheat and round-up

I agree with Carolyn- after all the research I have done- sure makes sense to me.

Glyphosphates?

Thanks for weighing in Carolyn. We looked into this on our Myths page and learned that could be a possible factor, but the practice is not as widespread as rumor has it. Take a look. One way to check: see if organic wheat makes any sensitivity go away.

Not gluten but can't have wheat

I have a weird constellation of reactions to wheat eating. I do not have digestion problems with it other than heartburn and esophageal spasms. But I get heart palpitations, unpredictable and extreme vertigo. Rapid fluctuations in blood pressure. Some weakness. And difficulty controlling my eye movements. All of this usually within an hour of eating wheat. But the vertigo can happen anytime within a couple days. Easily reproduce-able symptoms, over a four year trial and error period. I have found completely avoiding modern wheat keeps me from having any symptoms. I have not been diagnosed. But I can have beer. Just not "wheat beer." I can have barley. I can have Einkorn wheat. So I don't really know what I have. But I know what the cure is: No wheat.

no wheat?

We're glad you've found a way to avoid those symptoms, Jen. If you can drink beer, and eat barley and einkorn wheat, it's clearly not a gluten problem, we agree.

Studies Cited

Please cite your sources for the "studies" refered to in this article. I'm just interested in learning more about breeding for increased production versus nutrition value. Thank you.

Click on links for studies

All of the studies listed in this blog should be linked to the studies cited. If we missed one, please tell us and we'll hunt it down for you! (Cynthia) 

Oats contain gluten

"Gluten is a protein that’s found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a wheat / rye hybrid). It’s only found in these four grains[...] you forgot oats in your list. Cheers Peter

Oats don't contain gluten

Hi Peter. We stick by our position that oats don't contain gluten. They are, however, frequently contaminated by gluten, so we would advise anyone with celiac disease to look for oats that have been tested to be gluten free. A small proportion of people with celiac disease may be sensitive to some proteins in oats. (Cynthia)

Sourdough does NOT reduce Gluten

I refer to this section in your article: "Now research shows us that lacto-fermentation of wheat has the potential to drastically reduce gluten levels. We found three studies along these lines. Our favorite study showed that sourdough bread produced with a particular strain of lacto-bacilli had gluten levels of 12 parts per million – where anything under 20 ppm is considered gluten-free. Bread made with the same wheat but without lacto-fermentation had gluten levels of 75,000 ppm."

A bit about my background. I am an Artisan baker and studied Food Chemistry. From my baker's background, there are only two ways of making bread: You create a gluten structure which locks the gasses produced during fermentation and makes the bread soft and fluffy or you replace this gluten structure with something (i.e. emulgators) which take over this task. Without any of these methods your bread will be a brick. Now let's assume your statement would be correct. If sourdough culture would reduce gluten that much in a bread, every sourdough bread would be dense and would have no soft crumb. There are many articles including imagery out in the WWW which proves otherwise. I myself bake a Pane Maggiore with sourdough which is light, airy and has a big open crumb.

I am familiar with the study you quoted. In that study, lactic bacteria were EXTRACTED FROM SOURDOUGH. They then used HYDROLIZED wheat which has undergone FUNGAL PROTEASE. To compare this with a normal situation in any bakery or home baking is in my eyes somewhat naive. As I said, even if we assume that this can be applied to the normal baking process you would still have to replace the removed gluten with something to achieve a light soft crumb as I described above. I see many quotations of this study out there and all of them use it as prove that your home baked or artisan bakery sourdough is gluten reduced. This is totally misleading and - sorry - typical for all the internet experts out there. Sourdough is still healthier than most other breads. But it ain't gluten reduced or even gluten free. Cheers Peter

More info on the process

There's a lot we still don't know about the process. The company that is commercializing Dr. Gobbetti's research has a website here that tells a bit more about it. I agree it's likely that the breakdown of the gluten would necessarily affect baking qualities. It will be interesting to see the ingredient list when the products are on the market. (Cynthia)

Wheat allergy

is it possible to be allergic to one type of wheat ? I've eaten bread , cakes, pancakes without any issues . However if I even touch pasta which is durum wheat semolina I get red rashes, watery eyes, a blocked nose, my stomach feels like I want to throw up I get a massive headache . And my throat feels dry and sore and my body basically aches within 2 hours of consuming pasta.

 Hi Tiff, Some people report

 Hi Tiff,

Some people report tolerating certain types of wheat (such as einkorn) better than others, so it would not be outside of the realm of possibility. However, those with diagnosed wheat allergies are often instructed to avoid all wheat products. I highly recommend that you work with your medical team (such as your physician and dietitian) so that you can identify any potential allergies, and find foods that work best for you and your body. It is also worth noting that bulgur and freekeh are often (though not always) made from durum wheat.

lacto-bacilli strains for sourdough

Does anyone know where I could obtain the blend of 4 lacto-bacilli strains mentioned in the research papers? Or a sourdough start of such a strain? Or does anyone know of another research paper comparing easily obtainable strains vs their "special blend" (Lactobacillus alimentarius 15 M, L. brevis 14G, L. sanfranciscensis 7A, and L. hilgardii 51B) they used? I would really appreciate any help. If I could make safe spelt sourdough or soda bread ... what a joy! Thanks.

Lacto-Bacilli Strains

Kate Scarlata, RD just posted info on her blog as to where to get this starter that contains the Lacto-Bacilli strains. It's under the blog post about sourdough bread and recent research done on the FODMAP content of sourdough bread. Also, Cultures of Health has many different types of sourdough starters. And, great tutorials with video's. http://www.culturesforhealth.com/starter-cultures/sourdough-starter.html

Sourdough Strains

A note of caution. All starter will contain lacto-bacilli strains. Whether they are the SAME strains used in the Italian research may be difficult or impossible to determine.

Since there is apparantly no

Since there is apparantly no way to get the exact blend of 'starter' used in the research, I decided to make my own spelt starter using whole grain organic stone ground spelt and fresh lime juice. The local yeasts/bacilli have colonized and are doing a fine job. I figure ANY fermentation of the spelt flour is beneficial for gluten reduction, even if not as optimum as the research results. Thank you very much for the advice.

Local yeasts?

First of all, there are no "local yeasts/bacilli" in your sourdough starter which have a measurable impact. The yeasts and bacteria come from the flour you add to your starter in order to feed it. Secondly as I described in my post here in the comments, if your sourdough WOULD reduce gluten you better think about how you replace the gluten if you don't want a bread like a brick. Gluten makes bread soft. You NEED gluten in your bread or you need to replace it with something else which has the same function. It is not like gluten has no function in bread. Compare it with sugar in a cake. If you would remove or greatly reduce sugar in a cake you would have to replace it with something else. Cheers Peter

sourdough strains

We're not aware of any commercial source for this blend of strains, but will post this to see if anyone else has input. Dr. Gobbetti's group is working under very carefully controlled conditions and I would imagine that it might be difficult to get the same results in a home kitchen.

Spelt

Spelt is tetraploid, therefore it has 28 chromosomes.

Spelt is actually hexaploid

See this book on Wheat Breeding and many other sources -- Spelt is indeed hexaploid, not tetraploid.  We couldn't find any expert source that referred to spelt as tetraploid, but if you have one, feel free to share it.

Flour Fortification and Health Issues

The idea that modern breads cause gluten sensitivity seems unfounded. The French consume significantly more modern wheat than Americans, yet non-celiac gluten sensitivity is virtually unheard of in France. You will rarely ever see gluten-free options in France—it's really only sought out by actual celiacs there. However, France does not allow adulterations to their flours. A more convincing theory on what causes non-celiac gluten sensitivity (often classified as a bogus diseases) is the fortifications added to flours in certain countries. As it turns out, the countries that fortify and adulterate their flours are the same ones that have a high anecdotal prevalence of gluten sensitivity. Much of this was covered in a recent article: http://freetheanimal.com/2015/08/wheat-superfood-liability.html You can see the trends between fortification and various health issues.

whole wheat isn't fortified

We're big believers in sticking with the nutrients that occur naturally in food. Why take out all those good nutrients -- and then stick just a few back in through enrichment/fortification? BTW, in the US it's not legal to enrich whole wheat flour. So just eat those good whole grains, as nature intended. 

Fortification

People should try to get wheat flour that DOES NOT have the malted barley added to it. My dd reacts to this added ingredient. The reason it is in most commercial flours and store bought breads is because it makes the bread more light and airy. Well, along with this, it's what beer is made from - malt and barley. Anything malted is going to be highly fermentable. So, try buying Hodgson's Mills unbleached flours that don't have it added, and see if this helps. My dd has been nauseated for years because of this malted barley, and we finally figured this out in the last year. She is 10 now. Now, if a person has celiac, this won't help, but if your wheat intolerance is more from a FODMAP malabsorption reason and the high fermentable carbs, this may make a huge difference. There are others who have put this connection together also.

FORTIFICATION

We're not aware of any WHOLE GRAIN flour that has malted barley added or that is bleached, so one good solution would be to simply avoid the white flour and buy whole grains. The ingredient list should say just one thing: whole wheat flour. 

Any links between gluten intolerance and round-up?

Some people in this list seem to tolerate organic better vs standard wheat. Farmers in my area of MN are allowed (and routinely do) spray straight Round-up (glyphosate) on their non-organic wheat fields to get them to "brown up" faster for harvest. The result is a better harvest. Round-up chemical residue is not checked by the U.S. Govt. because it has been deemed as safe. I imagine for some people ingesting round-up residue could make someone feel that they are "gluten intolerant".

Glyphosphates?

You make a good point, Tim. Many cases of what people assume are "gluten intolerance" could be due to sensitivities to pesticides and herbicides, including glyphosphates and a number of other factors totally unrelated to gluten. We always advise getting medical advice -- and it can also be interesting to try organic grains, and different varieties of grains (such as spelt, Kamut® khorasan, farro or einkorn for common wheat). 

I am one of those who cannot

I am one of those who cannot eat conventionally grown wheat. But, I can eat organic durum wheat products without having the gastrointestinal distress. I would like to see studies comparing organic wheat flour to conventionally grown wheat.

conventional vs organic

Glad you found a way to address your problems, Judy. Durum wheat is different from common wheat anyway (it's genetically simpler) -- so you've changed two factors. You could do an experiment and see how your body reacts to a) conventional durum wheat or b) organic common wheat if you're curious as to whether it's the pesticides/herbicides or the genetic makeup -- or both! 

prepared grains

Our best customers are diabetics and the gluten sensitive. We prepare wheat for digestion by sprouting the grain. We work with the whole sprouted grain. We do not add flour. We work with natural leavens. It's really the only way bread should be made. We love wheat. We think wheat is an amazing grain - unlike any other food source on the planet. In fact, had homo sapiens not discovered that grass seed could be collected, planted and harvested, we would have gone the route of every other proto humanoid species that has come and gone. But all ancient cultures knew that if you were going to eat grain, it had to be prepared for digestion by either sprouting or germinating the grain or thru fermentation. The two processes compliment one another but actually serve separate functions. Doug baker@ColumbiaCountyBread.com

Good bread makes a difference

Thanks for your thoughts -- and for the craft with which you make your bread, Doug. Poor wheat, being blamed so often for what's done to it. Wheat is amazing and I'm glad we have people like you bringing out the best in wheat. 

Wheat poisons in U.S.

My ENT told me I was Gluten Intolerant... Turns out I'm only intolerant to commercial grow brands of wheat in the U.S. I can eat organic wheat with NO issues! What have we done to our wheat that is making so many sick??????

wheat in the US

If you can eat organic wheat but not conventionally-grown wheat, it sounds like you're sensitive to some of the pesticides or herbicides used on the wheat rather than to the wheat itself. (Often the same varieties of wheat are grown organically and conventionally). In any event, we're glad you found a solution that enables you to continue to enjoy healthy whole wheat.  

Well, another difference

Well, another difference between organic and non-organic wheats is that non-organic wheat is always fortified in the US. The ferrous sulfate and other iron fortificants have been shown in recent studies to be gut irritants and gut flora disruptors. This would explain why fortified countries are most likely to experience gluten sensitivity issues.

fortification

Refined flour is fortified/enriched -- but whole wheat flour is not allowed to be fortified or enriched in the US. Yet another reason to stick with whole grains! 

It was shocking to see the

It was shocking to see the reports on the rapid increase of celiac diseases. Many researches and studies were conducted to find the reason behind the cause of this rapid spread of celiac diseases. Thanks for sharing the research results on celiac diseases. 

increase in celiac disease

Keep in mind that the increase in celiac disease is paralleled by increases in other auto-immune diseases. This is about the bigger issue of our immune systems gone awry -- not celiac alone.

variability could be cause of surge in gluten sensitivity

The report you referred to in your opening sentence prompted me to do some research as well. In 1948 Norman Borlaug was commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation to increase yields in cereal grains. He was so successful that he has been called the "father of the green revolution." It is said that he created multiple thousands of wheat varieties by 1960. In the 1970's new hybridization techniques encouraged even more activity. The techniques altered the plant's dna with the use of chemicals, x rays and gamma rays. A wide variety of sources claim over 40000 varieties of wheat were developed in the last half of the twentieth century. A FOIA request identifed over 500 applications for plant variety protection were made between 1970 and 2000 and at least another 2000 + varieties were used in the review of the applications. The above information clearly establishes that a large number of wheat varieties were created by man in the last 60 years and they had not been in existence before that time. The identification process used to establish varietal difference is to isolate the gliadin protein (considered the most toxic protein by celiac researcher and one singled out as a significant contributor to exercise induced analphylaxis reactions as the result of ingestion of wheat). Each one of those varieties receiving Plant Variety Protection showed significant diffeences in their electrophoresis mapping of that gliadin protein. Celiac researchers have also found that non celiac individuals could be reacting to amylase inhibitors and trypsin inhibitors.Symptoms are oftentimes called IBS. Strangely enough, amylase inhibitors, a protein, is also said to be a main contributor to symptoms known as baker's asthma. The enzyme inhibitors are created by the plant in an effot to protect its progeny (common wheat kernels) from insect activity.Whereas ancient Hulled grains like einkorn, emmer and spelt have little need to produce enzyme inhibitors because of the impermeable hull that surrounds the kernels. Lastly, FODMAPS (fermentable oligosaccharides,disacchaides, monosaccharides and polyols) are short chain sugars which are plentiful in wheat but are found on minute quantities in ancient grains like spelt. These, too, are said to contribute to symptoms associated with IBS. Man seems to find it necessary to try to improve on nature; just as Norman Borlaug did; but even the father of the green revolution failed to realize that in his efforts to preserve better yield by making semi dwarf varieties of the plant he also inhibited the ability of the plant to take up minerals in a way comparable to the wheat that had been targeted to be improved.

It's not just one thing!

Thanks for your indepth comments, Don. As you point out, there are many different factors involved here.

On enzyme inhibitors, for instance, Dr. Detlef Schuppan has done some great research on the amylaze trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) in wheat which seem to be responsible for some people's problems eating wheat. ATIs are natural pest-resistant factors, so breeders have tried to increase them, in an honorable effort to cut down pesticide use. Unfortunately, at the same time that ATIs make it harder for pests to eat the wheat, they may make it harder for us too.

We're learning more and more about these issues every day.  (Cynthia)

gluten and spelt

I have been making a sourdough bread from spelt that I grind myself. I recently added in some rye because with blood sugar problems I wanted low glycemic, low gluten flours. Now I'm thinking I should go back to using just spelt or Einkorn. Could you tell me if spelt is as good for reducing gluten sensitivity as Einkorn?

Glycemic Impact of Breads

 Hi Lee. I was unable to find any information about the glycemic index of einkorn. You may be interested to look at these two studies, however:

This study shows no difference in glycemic impact between spelt and regular wheat bread.

This study shows rye to have a lower glycemic impact than whole wheat (or white) bread.

In terms of glycemic impact, just about any bread is going to be a good choice if your flour has a larger particle size (you're grinding it yourself), you're using a sourdough culture (again, has been shown to lower glycemic impact of bread) and you're using a whole grain. Rye seems to have some extra evidence -- maybe because studies may have been done in Scandinavia where it's common to make bread primarily from intact, soaked rye berries (not ground up into flour). So maybe you want to stick with the rye, or consider adding some soaked or sprouted grains. Hope this helps.

Einkorn vs Spelt for blood sugar control

My personal research shows that glycemic index is not the best way to select foods for glycemic control. A better way involves carb-protein balance, and einkorn has a much better balance than spelt. However, whether einkorn is better than spelt for use in a meal depends on the balance of the other foods being eaten with it. This is because it is the carb-protein balance for the entire meal that determines what effect the meal has on glycemic control. I'm writing a book on this topic. The book includes balanced recipes.

glycemic control

 Interesting. We look forward to seeing your book when it's done. An important topic!

Modern grain and ancient grain

I believe I have a gluten intolerance but didn't realize it till recently. I also have seizures. All I could tell before was that when I ate white flour or non organic flour my seizures could not be controlled by medication, but I could eat organic flour just fine. Your research seems to prove that my experience may have been due to the different gluten levels in the wheats I was eating. I happened to find your sight looking up that very question. I just want you to know I'm an actual case study that organic grains appear to have less gluten in them than processed ones. Since going gluten free I over the last 3 weeks I have been able to lessen my medication levels because my seizure activity is so much better.

Is it gluten or not?

We're glad to hear that you're enjoying better health the last few weeks. If you could "eat organic flour just fine" then it could well be that you're sensitive to some other component in flour other than gluten. Just a thought; we wish you the best in getting to the bottom of your health issues. 

help! Is there more than one "type" of gluten??

Hello, I have been suffering from many Gastrointestinal problems ever since I was a child. I see A GI 2 or 3 times a year and we're still trying to figure out exactly what's causing my reactions to certain foods (intense bloating, feelings of stuffed throat, fullness and chance of vomiting) I had a gluten tolerance test done at LabCorp. They called me back to tell me that I was only positive for one "type" of gluten, and that it still could be anything. I wasn't sure what exactly that meant. But I do know that I only occasionally have problems with bread, crackers, wraps, and things of that nature. However what ALWAYS causes me the worst symptoms are any type of pasta or noodle, and most of the time pizza. I was wondering if there is such a thing as a person being hypersensitive to only one type of wheat containing gluten? I'm not sure if you have this information, but if you do please shed some light! For I am desperately in the dark over here. Thank you

Check for the use of

Check for the use of potassium bromate used in the flour, almost every pizzeria use it.

I would suggest looking into

I would suggest looking into the FODMAP diet. I had the same symptoms you are describing, and I have discovered that I have other sensitivities beyond gluten. Consider reading "IBS Free At Last" It may change your life as it has changed mine.

FODMAP

 We agree, Nancy. There is intriguing evidence -- in fact, from the same team that first identified "gluten sensitivity" as an issue separate from celiac disease -- that the real issue may be FODMAPs and not gluten for many people. See this article, for example: www.celiaccommunity.org/celiacmd-fodmaps/


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