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The rise of celiac and other problems with gluten - Input Junkie
December 14th, 2011
12:44 pm


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The rise of celiac and other problems with gluten
A recent large study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with diagnosed, undiagnosed, and "latent" celiac disease or gluten sensitivity had a higher risk of death, mostly from heart disease and cancer. (i)

This study looked at almost 30,00 patients from 1969 to 2008 and examined deaths in three groups: Those with full-blown celiac disease, those with inflammation of their intestine but not full-blown celiac disease, and those with latent celiac disease or gluten sensitivity (elevated gluten antibodies but negative intestinal biopsy).

The findings were dramatic. There was a 39 percent increased risk of death in those with celiac disease, 72 percent increased risk in those with gut inflammation related to gluten, and 35 percent increased risk in those with gluten sensitivity but no celiac disease.

This is ground-breaking research that proves you don't have to have full-blown celiac disease with a positive intestinal biopsy (which is what conventional thinking tells us) to have serious health problems and complications--even death--from eating gluten.

This is very important if true-- even though the sample size is large, I suppose there can be a subtle flaw in the reasoning.
Another study comparing the blood of 10,000 people from 50 years ago to 10,000 people today found that the incidences of full-blown celiac disease increased by 400 percent (elevated TTG antibodies) during that time period.

I'm torn between WTF!, how cool is it that we can compare our blood with blood from 50 years ago, and wondering whether the wheat is different.

Well, the wheat is different.

They include our lack of genetic adaptation to grasses, and particularly gluten, in our diet. Wheat was introduced into Europe during the Middle Ages, and 30 percent of people of European descent carry the gene for celiac disease (HLA DQ2 or HLA DQ8), (xii) which increases susceptibility to health problems from eating gluten.

American strains of wheat have a much higher gluten content (which is needed to make light, fluffy Wonder Bread and giant bagels) than those traditionally found in Europe. This super-gluten was recently introduced into our agricultural food supply and now has "infected" nearly all wheat strains in America.

I'm not so sure about lack of genetic adaptation to grasses-- would that include rice? I also had no idea that wheat was introduced to Europe so recently.

Whatever happened to the high wheat Mediterranean diet?

Are gluten problems more common in the US than elsewhere?

Anyway, the article has details about finding out whether gluten is bad for you.

I don't see a clear theory about why gluten problems have gone up so much, but this might have some connection to a bit from Diabetes Rising, which claims that diabetes (both types) has gone from a very rare disease a century ago to a fairly common one, and no one knows why.

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[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC)

Nancy, I'm finding an awful lot of references to wheat with regard to the Roman Empire: prices of wheat, wheat as a trade item, growing areas for wheat. Most of Rome's empire was in Europe. A review on the Bryn Mawr Website of a book on food in the ancient world includes this line: " The chief source of sustenance was either wheat or barley. The Greek climate made barley a more suitable staple, whereas Rome favoured wheat." And while I don't consider Wikipedia a terribly reputable source, I will noted that they state that wheat had reached Germany and Spain by 5000 BC. They cite Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel as their source for that.

I call shenanigans on the idea that wheat did not show up in Europe until the Middle Ages.

[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2011 07:22 pm (UTC)
Thanks. This doesn't make me completely discount the rest of the article, but it does make me trust it less.
[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2011 07:33 pm (UTC)
I think the wheat in the Roman empire was a different strain: what we nowadays call spelt. Modern types of wheat, including 'hard' wheat (used for pasta) and 'strong' wheat (used for modern bread) are more recent introductions to Europe.
[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2011 07:46 pm (UTC)
I need to track down a source, but I distinctly remember seeing photographs of fossilized wheat kernels excavated from neolithic Jericho (~7000-9000BCE). The cultivar wasn't nearly as productive as modern strains but it was visibly a strain of wheat. Jericho was trading for obsidian from Asia Minor... so there's a fairly easy path to trace to get wheat into Europe in time to make that 5000BCE appearance estimate.

-- Steve wonders how much of the increase in diagnosis comes from greater ability to detect celiac disease... in Roman times it'd be considered "flux of the bowels" and indistinguishable from food poisoning or water-borne illness, and even a century ago it would've been hard to pick out from other common ailments.
[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2011 08:54 pm (UTC)
I happen to have Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking on my desk here, let's see what he says...

The major wheats of Roman times were tetraploid emmer and durum. Hexaploid bread wheats seem to have originated c. 8000 years ago, but it's not clear when they became major staples in the west.

He also refers in passing to "...a long hiatus from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, when hardier but less versatile cereals and potatoes were the principal staple foods".
[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2011 09:28 pm (UTC)
The swipe at American eating habits is doubtless red meat for the Puffington crowd, but it's weirdly ahistorical (baguettes, anyone?) when wheat is Eurasian and the stereotypical American starches are potatoes and corn. Without a citation, it's hard to tell what the writer actually means there, though.
[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2011 02:39 pm (UTC)
As others have pointed out, varieties of wheat were part of the regular diet of Europeans at least 10,000 years ago, while the Emmer/Einkorn chimaera which provides most bread wheat was known at least 8000 years ago. These have been major topics of study in archaeology and physical anthropology for much of the past 200 years. Still, none of that counts for much on an evolutionary timescale. Just possibly there might have been greater reliance on fewer varieties of wheat in the middle ages than before, but the basic claim is false.

I had heard that grasses evolved very, very recently, with estimates varying from 60 down to about 20 million years ago, but this turns out to be bullshit (or actually dinosaur shit).

I have no idea why the number of chromosomes should increase with cross-breeding of grasses, but there seems to have been a steady climb from 5 up to a current 42... maybe it's just easier to split them than to join them together, maybe an overabundance of genetic material is part of what makes wheat such an attractive food?

I bet you would be interested in 1493:Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles Mann. I haven't read it yet, but mindstalk's write-ups make it sound fascinating, and I intend to get to it any month now.
[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC)
It's possible that grasses evolved more than once. What distinguishes grasses from other low-lying herbs is that they grow from the base of the plant rather than the tip, which means they can survive grazing (and mowing) more effectively.
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