Wheat Proteins May Cause Inflammation Beyond the Gut

Scientists have been aware of the condition known as celiac disease for some time. Celiac disease affects about 1% of the population. Its sufferers cannot eat gluten, which is found in foods such as Wheat, Rye and Barley. If they do then it will damage their small intestine and they will not be able to absorb as many nutrients from food as they should. However, there is an increasing body of evidence that some people are sensitive to wheat, without having celiac disease.

Until now, this has usually been known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. While it is true that following a gluten-free diet often alleviates most of the symptoms that these people suffer from, such as bowel problems, headaches. Joint pain, or eczema, according to Professor Detlef Schuppan of Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, ‘Rather than non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which implies that gluten solitarily causes the inflammation, a more precise name for the disease should be considered.’ The findings of his research were recently presented at the United European Gastroenterology week in Vienna, where specialists discussed the latest developments in research related to digestive and liver diseases.

Rather than focus on gluten, Professor Schuppan and his team of researchers have focused on a group of proteins in wheat – amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs). These inhibit the enzymes of many common wheat parasites such as mealworms and mealybugs, as well as playing an important role in the metabolic processes involved in seed development. They only makeup about 4% of the proteins found in wheat, but have been shown to have significant affects on humans nonetheless, causing  inflammation in the gut, which can also spread to other areas of the body, including the lymph-nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain. It has been suggested that ATIs can increase the likelihood of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, asthma, liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease.

Wheat is a major part of most people’s diets today, being a major ingredient in most processed foods. However, it was only added to the human diet about 12,000 years ago, not such a long time ago in evolutionary terms.

It is believed that ATIs may be playing a significant role in contributing to non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Research in the area is still in preliminary stages, but Professor Schuppan is confident and concludes ‘we are hoping that this research can lead us toward being able to recommend an ATI-free diet to help treat a variety of potentially serious immunological disorders.’

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