Recently, many people are finding that, for their bodies, wheat just isn’t doing it. It seems to be causing more harm than good. But not all wheat sensitivity is created equal. It’s important to understand what goes on in the human body and what the options are. It’s hard to fix an unidentified problem.
In this article, we’re going to break down 5 different options for what may be going on in those people who find that the piece of toast just isn’t what it used to be. Let’s take a look:
#1 Celiac Disease
Celiac Disease is the big name in wheat allergy right now. The good news for many of us is also a risk factor for others. Celiac disease is most likely genetic. Most of the research suggests that celiac is a disease that attacks predisposed individuals – generally those with a first-degree relative with the disease (Parent, child, sibling). So, watch out for those family members.
Celiac is immune-mediated. The presence of gluten causes the immune system to damage the small intestine. The small intestine is lined with little finger-like projections called villi that aid in the absorption of nutrients in the blood stream. In individuals with celiac disease, these villi are damaged and lose the ability to absorb nutrients correctly. This can lead to nutrient deficiency which leads to serious problems. People with celiac disease have a much higher risk of developing other autoimmune diseases. That sounds scary.
The good news is the damage to the intestine can be largely reversed by switching to a gluten free diet. There also is some research being done that shows some promise for Einkorn. First, we need to understand something. A genome is the complete genetic instructions for an organism. Regular wheat contains three complete genomes labeled A, B, and D. Of these, the D Genome demonstrates the most reactivity causative of allergy or intolerance. Thus, species of wheat that lack this genome (Einkorn, Emmer, Durum) are much easier for people sensitive to gluten. Specifically, although Einkorn contains gluten, it only has the A genome. Of all the species, Einkorn showed the least epitopes (the target to which the antibody binds) related to celiac disease. So, although no wheat species has been officially recommended for people with celiac disease, the result of one study of Einkorn showed that, “After exposure to gliadin extracted from einkorn, intestinal biopsies of 8 individuals with celiac disease showed no reduction in intestinal villi height.” It’s something to keep an eye on. See this article for specifics on why that might be.
Despite all the hype, true celiac disease only affects 0.5% to 2% of the world’s population. So, if you have trouble with wheat but don’t think its gone that far, you may have one of the disorders listed below.
#2 Wheat Allergy
A basic wheat allergy only affects about 0.4% of the world’s population. Like any other allergy, wheat allergy is caused from the body having too many immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies specific to food allergens – in this case, wheat. IgE is the antibody that binds to allergens and causes the release of substances that cause inflammation or an allergic reaction. Generally, people with a wheat allergy can handle more wheat than celiac patients.
Most common in children under 6, a wheat allergy generally manifests itself through a type of baby eczema called atopic dermatitis and/or digestive problems. A small part of the population, usually bakers and millers, also may suffer from a type of asthma that comes from inhaling flour particles in the air. Most of us don’t have to worry about this particular problem but it’s a good thing to be aware of.
This stands for Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity. This applies to that group of individuals who demonstrate a sensitivity to gluten that isn’t as strong as in those with celiac disease. Research shows a similar adverse reaction from these people as from those with celiac disease. However, the intestinal villi shows no damage. There is probably just a high level of antibodies specific to gluten. People who struggle with this can benefit from a gluten-free diet but may not need to go that far. Many people with gluten sensitivity can enjoy Einkorn because it contains a completely different type of gluten, and less of it. So, it might be good to be checked for Celiac Disease. If the text comes back negative, the problem may be NCWS, which opens a lot of options for you.
#4 Fructose Malabsorption
Another possibility for those who find themselves struggling with wheat may be fructose malabsorption. This means that the body has trouble absorbing free fructose in the digestive tract. Then, the fructose that isn’t absorbed ferments and causes abdominal pain and other symptoms. While consuming standard levels of fructose, between 11% and 38% of healthy individuals show some fructose malabsorption. The diagnosis is done by testing hydrogen and methane in the breath after fructose intake. There is no cure right now for this, but symptoms can be avoided by a change in diet or with dietary supplements that convert fructose into glucose.
IBS is the acronym for the common problem called irritable bowel syndrome. This disorder affects the large intestine. People with IBS may also have issues with wheat because not all of the fructose is absorbed in the small intestine. Then, the fermentation aggravates the symptoms of those with IBS. IBS is very prevalent and affects about 14.1% of Americans and 11.5% of Europeans. While the symptoms like cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation are uncomfortable, IBS normally doesn’t cause major damage. It is something, however, that is probably not going away and will need to be managed with the appropriate diet and lifestyle.
Kucek, Lisa K., Lynn D. Veenstra, Plaimein Amnuaycheewa, and Mark E. Sorrells. “A Grounded Guide to Gluten: How Modern Genotypes and Processing Impact Wheat Sensitivity.” Onlinelibrary.wiley.com. Institute of Food Technologists, 17 Feb. 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.