Doctors Say Changes In Wheat Do Not Explain Rise Of Celiac Disease
September 26, 2013
“We know that celiac disease has doubled in the last 20 years,” Davis says.
And he says we known that humans have probably not changed, “so the more likely culprit is the wheat itself.”
It’s true that about 40 years ago, breeders introduced new varieties of wheat that helped farmers increase their grain yields. Those varieties, which came out of the Green Revolution, now make up 90 percent of all the wheat that farmers grow around the world.
But the claim that the more productive wheat is somehow making people sick didn’t sound right to scientists who work with the crop.
“I never thought that wheat was toxic,” says Donald Kasarda, who has studied gluten proteins for more than 40 years as a research chemist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Leffler says it’s true that the prevalence of celiac disease is up. About 1 percent of the population has this condition, which makes it very vulnerable to even small amounts of gluten, and they say it isn’t just due to better diagnosis and awareness.
There’s also a growing consensus that another portion of the population does have a nonceliac gluten sensitivity.
That means they test negative for celiac disease but have some similar symptoms — like diarrhea, abdominal pain and headaches — after eating foods with gluten.
Leffler says there’s likely no single cause leading to the increased prevalence of celiac. And he doesn’t agree with the notion that changes to modern wheat could explain what’s happening.
“We sort of chafe at these oversimplistic theories that purport to explain an entire rise in a disease,” he says.
Leffler says the increase in celiac disease comes at a time when lots of other autoimmune diseases and allergies are on the rise, too.
And one theory that might help explain this phenomenon is the so-called hygiene hypothesis.