I admit it: I hunt for gluten sensitivity. My own friends have scoffed at me “not everybody is gluten sensitive, Nikki”… As if I am somehow insulting their diets by suggesting that others follow my lead into a gluten free life. I know I’m on the hunt for something that relatively few people care about, and I’m okay with that. Somebody has to tell the world about this issue. Maybe I’m just passionate about this topic because going gluten free has helped me so much. Maybe it’s because I have trained and read so much about the topic. Or maybe it’s because it’s a very big issue and nobody else is tackling it. Gluten sensitivity is the elephant in the room.. Will you be one of the few who take notice?
Like Autism, scheptics like to debate weather or not gluten sensitivity (let’s call it GS for short) and Celiac Disease (CD) are truly on the rise. It certainly seems like it’s becoming more popular, but is it because of a true rise in incidence, or is “going G-free” the newest fad diet?
It’s hard to provide real (research) proof that GS is on the rise because we’ve only started looking at non-celiac gluten sensitivity somewhat recently. However, it does appear that CD is on the rise, and not by a small margin. The most comprehensive study on this topic was done in 2009 . The study compared blood samples from 9,133 healthy young adults from Warren air force base in the 1940s and 50s and compared them to the blood of 12,768 gender matched subjects in present day. The results of the study showed that in the last 50 years, incidence of CD has increased from 1 in every 700 to 1 in every 100 people. Furthermore, upon follow-up the researchers discovered that patients with undiagnosed CD had 4-fold increased risk of death. Since everything you can imagine that would kill you is related to inflammation (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, autoimmune disease, Alzheimers), it is of no surprise to see that an inflammatory bowel disease like CD can shave years off your life. Sure, it’s a hassle to avoid gluten, but wouldn’t it be better than setting yourself up for an inflammatory disease later in life?
So why are we reacting to gluten now more than ever before? Wheat isn’t that new to us that we should react any differently than we did 50 years ago, right? As with most of the health problems we face today, there is no one cause of this phenomena.
I will discuss a few of the proposed mechanisms at play, but it all boils down to three main reasons:
1. Our environment has changed. Let’s face it, folks. We’re not in Kansas anymore. If you compare our world in 2012 to even twenty or thirty years ago you can tell that change is all around us. GMO food crops are causing immunological and inflammatory changes in our bodies without us even knowing it. We are exposed to numerous chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, flame retardants, and cleaning chemicals before we even exit the womb. The animals we eat are being raised in CAFOs and dark, crowded chicken coups, fed hormones and antibiotics to the point of near death, and then brought to our dinner table. If that’s not an unhealthy environment I don’t know what is.
2. We have changed. Children are given more vaccines now than ever before. Our diets are not supplying us with the vitamins and minerals we need to keep us healthy. We don’t go outside and play anymore. We’ve given so many antibiotics it’s a wonder any of our gut flora are still alive. We probably all have had a leaky gut at some point in our lives, giving our immune system the perfect opportunity to launch an attack on unsuspecting proteins like gluten. We don’t exercise enough. Our chronic stress is frying our brains and our guts. We’re not physically as able to process the food we take in, including wheat.
3. The wheat has changed. Not only in the sense of genetically modified wheat, either. Even if the wheat in the field was the same wheat, we do so much stuff after we harvest it now that it’s hardly recognizable to the naked eye, let alone the immune system. After being harvested it is not uncommon for crops such as corn and wheat to sit in silos for months or years. During that time, the grains begin to rot, leading to the formation of enterotoxins. Once we get it to the plant to be made into your PopTart it is further modified. Harsh acids and temperatures deaminade gluten so that it becomes more water soluble, making it easier to work with and add it to products. Sure, it’s easier to work with in the factory, but do you think your body actually knows what to do with it once you ingest it? Deaminaded gluten can cause some of the most vigorous immune reactions to wheat, but guess what? That’s not tested for in the classic celiac panel (but it IS in the Cyrex panel!)
 Rubio-Tapia, A. Increased prevalence of mortality in undiagnosed celiac disease. Gastroenterology 2009 Jul;137(1):88-93. (PubMed ID 19362553)