Celiac Disease: Is Modern Wheat To Blame?

Wheat invasion!

Thumbs down to the yucky wheat field.

There has been a lot of talk recently about how modern varieties of wheat may be to blame for the rise in celiac disease but not everyone believes this is really the case.

Most of you will have heard of the book, Wheat Belly. It says that modern wheat is different from the wheat our ancestors ate and removing it from our diets will help all of us to feel better.

“Wheat is the most destructive thing you could put on your plate, no questions.” says Wheat Belly author, William Davis. “You take wheat out of the diet and you literally see lives transformed.”

The book has been very popular and lots of people follow this belief but I’ve always been a little cynical. I was excited to find this article from NPR, which challenges this belief and suggests we need to look further at the reasons for the rise in celiac disease.

Most doctors are not of the same opinion as Davis and don’t believe that wheat causes problems for most people. Davis’ theory is that the wheat of years ago did not make people sick and it’s modern strains are to blame. However, whilst breeders did introduce new varieties of wheat around 40 years ago, scientists who work with the crops don’t believe that it’s making more people sick that it used to.

Donald Kasarda, a research chemist for the USDA, has studied gluten proteins for more than 40 years. He is extremely skeptical that the rise in celiac disease is related to this modern wheat. Kasarda found no significant differences between the gluten levels in wheat during the early part of the 20th century, compared with those from the latter half. So, if there isn’t more gluten in modern wheat than the wheat of the past, can we really blame modern wheat for an increase in celiac disease?

Kasarda presented his research at this week’s International Celiac disease Symposium in Chicago. “When it comes to an increase of gluten in modern wheat? I didn’t find any evidence that this is true.”

Daniel Leffler, who directs research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center shares this view. He believes that the increase in celiac disease is due to many different factors, including the Hygiene Hypothesis – the idea that the environment in which we live has become so clean that our immune systems no longer have to fend off many bugs and infections, the result being that our immune systems overreact to things which should be harmless; such as wheat and other allergens.

Other theories are possible changes in gut bacteria, antibiotic use and the early introduction of wheat to babies. There is of course also the growing awareness of and testing for celiac disease.

Whilst we don’t have all the answers yet, this is certainly a fascinating topic. and I eagerly await further research into the reasons for the rise in celiac disease!

What are your thoughts on this? Is modern wheat to blame, or at least a contributing factor, for the rise in celiac disease? Or is it something else?

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