Why are so many people sensitive to Gluten? March 02 2015

It seems like it just keeps on getting more popular. Most restaurants now offer gluten-free meals, and a lot of grocery stores have gluten-free products. But, is there a legitimate reason for this trend? 

While gluten-free products and services are indeed a fast growing trend, there might actually be some truth behind this movement. So, why now, after thousands of years of wheat consumption, are there so many people developing an allergy? I have asked myself the same question. I have seen many patients with severe illnesses such as autoimmune disease, IBS, and many others improve a great deal with the elimination of foods that contain gluten. I have wanted a reasonable and understandable reason why this is the case. Through my studies I have come up with 6 possible reasons why people are becoming more sensitive to gluten now than before.

6 Possible Reasons for Gluten Sensitivity:

1. In 1994 the hybridization of wheat began. Hybridization is different than genetically modifying a food. It entails choosing particular strains of a plant with desirable characteristics, and breeding them to increase the characteristics desired. Now wheat contains 40% more gluten than it did before 1994. Gluten is difficult to digest and increasing the gluten content makes it very difficult for many people to tolerate. Also, changing a protein slightly can lead to drastic immune reactions in the body. This may not be a reason based on a research article by the department of agriculature stating that wheat now isn’t different than it was in the 1920s.

2. Could be related to altering the structure of the gliadin proteins. An example of this, is the Glia-alpha9 sequence that is associated with triggering the changes of celiac disease in HLA DQ8/2-positive people, has been increased in modern wheat, which wasn’t found in wheat before 1960.

3. Could also be related to the change in the structure of wheat germ agglutinin, the indigestible protein of wheat that has direct damaging effects to the intestinal lining.

4. Interestingly, genetically modified foods began in 1994. Even though genetically modified wheat isn’t sold commercially, many other foods are genetically modified like soy, corn, and canola. Genetically modifying a food entails a genome being altered through gene splicing in the laboratory. So, in simple terms it isn’t the same food as it was before. Since the food has been changed it is seen as foreign to the body leading to damage to the intestinal linining and other areas in the body by the immune system. The damage to the intestinal lining decreases the ability to keep larger undigested food particles from entering the blood stream and this leads to the immune system seeing it as foreign. So, whenever you eat those modify foods you have an allergic response. This could be an immediate or delayed allergic response. Damage to the intestinal lining leads to increased risk of acquiring a food allergy like gluten.

5. Many drugs may also be the culprit for increased incidence of gluten sensitivity and allergy. The 3 main drugs that could be causing the problem are pain killers like aspirin or ibuprofen, heart burn medication like omeprazole and cimetidine, and antibiotics. The pain killers cause damage to the intestinal lining leading to absorption of large food particles that aren’t supposed to be absorbed like I explained above. Heart burn medications block hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, which leads to poor digestion of food and poor destruction of bacteria found on food. Poor absorption of food leads to gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. Poor destruction of bacteria leads to bad bacteria replacing the good bacteria in the gut leading to a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, which also leads to immune reactions and damage to the intestinal lining. Antibiotics kill off the good bacteria needed to absorb many nutrients and digestion of food. When good bacteria in the gut are gone it leads to bad bacteria taking up residence.

6. Food allergies and sensitivities may also be related to people eating wheat as their main source of grain in recent years and also to the increase of gluten in processed foods.