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The Great Gluten Panic, Part 2

| 2/6/2014 9:25:00 AM

baked goodsClick here to read "The Great Gluten Panic, Part 1."

The manager of an organic flour mill told me recently that he is seeing huge demand among his customers for flour produced from the grain of a single variety: the heirloom hard red winter wheat 'Turkey Red.' That popularity is good for his business, but he was curious about customers' reason for seeking out Turkey Red flour; some of them, it turns out, believe they are gluten intolerant and they claim that their symptoms go away when they eat only Turkey.

The miller, like anyone who works with wheat, is aware that the kernels of all varieties, including Turkey and other heirlooms, contain high concentrations of gluten proteins. The forms of gluten that are extremely hazardous to people suffering from celiac disease are present in all wheats, and there is no evidence that old-time wheat varieties like Turkey are any less likely than modern ones to hurt people who suffer from allergies or milder forms of gluten intolerance either.

Given the mass confusion over wheat and gluten that has arisen in recent years, it is very likely that the miller's customers who see benefits when they switch to Turkey are experiencing the kind of placebo effect that I discussed in my previous post.

A rise in the diagnosis of celiac disease in particular has been attributed by some, including William Davis, author of the book Wheat Belly, to an assumed increase in the human population's exposure to certain partial digestion products of gluten proteins called “epitopes” that have been implicated in celiac disease. One of the known problem peptides, called Glia-α9, was examined in an oft-cited study done in the Netherlands. In it, the authors concluded that modern wheat varieties produce higher concentrations of Glia-α9 than do varieties from earlier in the twentieth century. 

But on closer inspection, the results tell a different story. Grain from all 86 varieties in the study, modern and traditional, contained Glia-α9 and are therefore toxic to celiac patients. On average, the newer varieties contained an estimated 20 percent more Glia-α9 than did older varieties; however, that difference was not analyzed statistically in the paper. When you do a simple such analysis, it shows that the 20-percent difference could easily be the result of mere chance. Indeed, there was wide variation among varieties within both the new and the old groups. And the highest level of Glia-α9 in the entire study was found in one of the old varieties.

8/27/2015 10:04:16 PM

This is an interesting write up. I had come across Dr. Davis's writings right before finding this article. I agree with you about his complete lack of understanding of plant breeding. For an even better example, note his words about hybrids: "Mate an apple with a grape, you get a grapple, a sweeter grape-like apple." I don't have a PhD but even I know that grapples have NOTHING to do with hybridization. No wonder why so many people are confused about what a hybrid even is!

2/8/2014 4:25:25 PM

Bah! There is an awful lot of "spin" in this article. For instance the 2010 Netherlands study by van den Broeck, is dismissed out-of-hand by claiming "oh, it could just be random", and instead of offering an alternate explanation for the rise in Celiac diagnosis the author uses the tobacco company technique of claiming there is "no evidence" that wheat can cause problems by citing a very narrow study of 34 people WITH IBS!! Heh. Gluten is one thing, and wheat gluten is another. The Mayo clinic has been studying the issue with blood samples collected from the early 1950's. They found a four-fold increase in the celiac markers in people today than in people from just 60 years ago. You have to wonder if the research by Norman Ernest Borlaug and the Rockefeller foundation on a new dwarf wheat hybrid, which became almost the exclusive variety of wheat grown around the world since the 1960's, has anything to do with it... Of course correlation does not mean causation, but, like the tobacco industry's insistence that cigarettes had nothing to do with lung cancer, your quickness in dismissing any correlation out-of-hand seems suspicious.

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