In 2006, the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology released the results of a study which suggested the possibility of adding einkorn grain to the dietary options of celiac patients. I was able to get a copy of the full study but cannot post it entirely because of copyright restrictions. Instead, I have quoted the abstract and posted it below:
(For those who don’t know, the genetic classification of einkorn wheat is Triticum monococcum, which is an important detail as you read this post.)
Lack of intestinal mucosal toxicity of Triticum monococcum in celiac disease patients
Daniela Pizzuti1, Andrea Buda1, Anna D’Odorico1, Renata D’Incà1, Silvia Chiarelli2, Andrea Curioni3 and Diego Martines1
1 Department of Surgical and Gastroenterological Sciences, 2 Department of Surgical and Oncological Sciences, 3 Department of Agricultural Biotechnology, Padua University, Italy
Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 2006; 41: 1305-1311
Objective. The treatment of celiac disease is based on lifelong withdrawal of foods containing gluten. Unfortunately, compliance with a gluten-free diet has proved poor in many patients (mainly due to its low palatability), emphasizing the need for cereal varieties that are not toxic for celiac patients. In evolutionary terms, Triticum monococcum is the oldest and most primitive cultivated wheat. The aim of this study was to evaluate the toxicity of T. monococcum on small intestinal mucosa, using an in vitro organ culture system.
Material and methods. Distal duodenum biopsies of 12 treated celiac patients and 17 control subjects were cultured for 24h with T. aestivum (bread) gliadin (1mg/ml) or with T. monococcum gliadin (1mg/ml). Biopsies cultured with medium alone served as controls. Each biopsy was used for conventional histological examination and for immunohistochemical detection of CD3+intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) and HLA-DR. Secreted cytokine protein interferon-γ (IFN–γ) was measured in the culture supernatant using an enzyme-linked immunoadsorbent assay.
Results. Significant morphological changes, HLA-DR overexpression in the crypt epithelium and an increased number of CD3+IELs, found after bread gliadin exposure, were not observed in celiac biopsies cultured with T. monococcum gliadin. In contrast, with bread gliadin, there was no significant IFN-γ response after culture with monococcum gliadin. Similarly, biopsies from normal controls did not respond to bread or monococcum gliadin stimulation.
Conclusions. These data show a lack of toxicity of T. monococcum gliadin in an in vitro organ culture system, suggesting new dietary opportunities for celiac patients.
Considering the health benefits of einkorn grain compared with common bread wheat, and the seemingly “low palatability” of the gluten-free diet, this study is really creating a lot of excitement (and controversy) in the gluten-free community.
In the concluding paragraphs of the study, the researchers express their optimism about einkorn:
Taken together, these findings suggest that T. monococcum, like avenins (in oats), rice, and maize, which contain no homologous sequences to the 33-mer gliadin, might be tolerated by celiac patients, and could therefore be included in their diet, offering a distinct nutritional improvement. T. monococcum has a higher protein and carotene content and a greater resistance to fungal disease and tolerance of salinity than durum or bread wheat.
One of my goals in researching ancient einkorn wheat, is to assemble a team of doctors and specialists who will conduct a clinical follow-up study about the possibilities of using einkorn as a food safe for celiacs. I hope my readers who are interested in the same topic will support this research in any way they can.
Update: please read our more recent post about the possible reasons why einkorn is easier to digest than modern wheat.