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Why Gluten-Related Disorders are on the Rise

The Wellnicity Clinical Team

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Gluten-free diets have become increasingly trendy in the past 10 years. Individuals avoid gluten for a variety of reasons. For starters gluten-containing foods are typically rich in carbohydrates and are quickly converted into sugar by the body. Gluten-containing foods include foods like pasta, breads, baked goods and processed foods. But the mystery molecule gluten is actually a combination of proteins that are naturally occurring in grains such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and kamut. The protein gluten breaks down into two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. In the United States wheat is the most commonly consumed gluten-containing grain.

glutenin + gliadin = gluten (the protein found in wheat products)

Although many people avoid gluten-containing foods to watch their waistline, the number of individuals experiencing more serious immune responses such as celiac disease and immediate response allergies to gluten are on the rise. There are several types of reactions that individuals can experience from gluten ranging in severity from a mild delayed food sensitivity to an allergy to Celiac Disease, a serious immune system reaction to gluten protein. 

Types of responses to gluten may include:  

  • Allergy (IgE response) to Gluten: IgE mediated immune response to gluten occurs when the body’s immune system reacts to harmless food proteins. IgE allergies are immediate allergic responses. Onset of an allergy occurs immediately and up to 3 hours from the time of consumption of the offending food. Symptoms of a gluten allergy vary by individual and may include swelling, itching, rashes, digestive problems, headache, pain, swelling, throat closing (anaphylactic reaction) and/or congestion. 
  • Food Sensitivity (IgG response) to Gluten: IgG mediated delayed response sensitivities are capable of causing inflammation that can trigger a large number of adverse reactions. Onset occurs 3 hours and up to 3 days from the time of consumption of gluten-containing foods. The delay in response can make it difficult to identify wheat as the culprit. Symptoms of a food sensitivity may include stomach ache, diarrhea, constipation, inflammation, weight gain, foggy thinking, rash, headaches, sinus congestion, and/or pain in the body. The responses to IgG food sensitivities can sometimes be the same as an IgE response but will come on much more discreetly. 
  • Celiac Disease is an autoimmune response to gluten protein in genetically predisposed people leading to damage in the small intestine. Celiac Disease is estimated to occur in 1 in 100 individuals worldwide. Diagnosis must be made by intestinal biopsy. If gluten has already been eliminated from the diet biopsy may not be a reliable method in testing for celiac disease. Genetic testing for the complex genetics that may contribute to celiac disease can be performed if gluten has already been eliminated from the diet to evaluate if an individual carries genes that put them at risk for developing celiac. Genetic testing is particularly useful in infants and children with familial history or suspected celiac disease. Symptoms of Celiac Disease can vary widely by individuals and include vomiting, constipation, bloating, weight loss, fatigue, dental enamel defects, failure to thrive, ADHD, deficiencies, infertility, malnutrition, migraines and more. 

A study compared the presence of undiagnosed celiac disease in subject samples collected 65+ years ago to gender matched samples taken in Olmsted County, Minnesota 9 years ago. The results of the study found that the rate of celiac disease  in more current subjects from Olmsted Country were found to be 4 times greater than in the group of subjects from the 1940s/1950s.

Factors that may contribute to the development of gluten allergies, gluten sensitivities and/or celiac disease are up for debate. It may be due to any or all of the following: 

    1. MODERN WHEAT IS HYBRIDIZED. Modern hybridized wheat has increased gluten protein. Hybridization of wheat began in the 1960s to help increase wheat production and prevent disease resistance in the wheat crop. It is theorized that there is an increase of the protein gluten in hybridized wheat. Some individuals say that when they go to Europe they have no trouble with bread but in the US experience symptoms when they eat it. Is it because their wheat contains less gluten so there is not as much of the protein to mount a response to? 
    2. TRACE AMOUNTS OF WHEAT IN EVERYTHING. Wheat is one of the “BIG 8” in the United States; the BIG 8 refers to the top 8 allergens in the US. You will notice that manufacturers are required to label products that may contain wheat because of the allergen risk for allergic individuals. Trace amounts of wheat/gluten can be found in many processed foods and packaged food items leading to overconsumption and overexposure for individuals. The frequent overexposure of a food may make individuals more susceptible to developing future reactions to wheat. 
    3. HYPER HYGIENE. The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ refers to the overuse of antibacterial soaps, anti-bacterial hand sanitizers/sprays and antibiotics both for infection treatment and in our food supply leading to decreased incidence of infections in the US and other western nations. As a result of decreased bacteria (both good and bad bacteria) the incidence of autoimmune and allergies increased. Hello, wheat allergies!
    4. GMO??? The USDA has discovered accidental GMO wheat in Washington State in 2019 and it’s not the first time (GMO wheat has been found three other times). Monsanto shelved the commercial production of GMO wheat in 2004 because of the growing concern that Europeans would not buy the exported crop. Although GMO wheat is not approved for the food supply it is questionable if the GMO version of the crop ever slips through the cracks.  
    5. GLUTEN & LEAKY GUT. Even individuals without a known reaction to gluten should be weary of overconsumption. Wheat can be high in mycotoxins, which are toxins produced by certain moulds (fungi) and can be found in grains. Wheat and other grains also naturally contain antinutrients known as phytates which block the absorption of important minerals. Those without known reactions to wheat should still opt for sprouted wheat varieties such as Ezekiel products. It is also easy to soak and sprout your own grains. Substitute gluten-containing grains with grain-like seeds such as millet or quinoa. Oats are naturally gluten-free but if you have a known reaction to wheat or gluten select oat varieties that are labeled ‘gluten-free’ such as gluten-free oats from Bob’s Red Mill.   

So now we want to hear from you! Why do you think allergies and sensitivities to wheat/gluten and Celiac Disease are on the rise? Do you notice you can eat wheat when abroad but cannot eat it in the US? What do you think is up with wheat and gluten?