Is gluten on the increase?

I often hear people say that the reason that there more problems today with consumption of wheat products is because the gluten content has increased.

I always wondered where that argument came from. I am obviously no defender of wheat nor gluten, but I also don’t like attention diverted by issues that have no basis in truth.

So this paper written by a USDA scientist entitled Can an Increase in Celiac Disease Be Attributed to an Increase in the Gluten Content of Wheat as a Consequence of Wheat Breeding? I believe helps settle the issue. After surveying analyses of various wheats of the 20th century, he concludes:

I have not found clear evidence of an increase in the gluten content of wheat in the United States during the 20th century, and if there has indeed been an increase in celiac disease during the latter half of the century, wheat breeding for higher gluten content does not seem to be the basis.”

Interestingly, analyses of emmer wheat (the 28-chromosome form of the Bible, for instance) demonstrates much higher gluten content than modern wheat.

The astounding list of problems we have with modern wheat is not due to an increase in gluten content. It is due to other changes, including:

–Altered structure of the gliadin proteins. The Glia-alpha9 sequence, for example, that is associated with triggering the changes of celiac disease in HLA DQ8/2-positive people, has been enriched in modern wheat, though nearly absent from the wheat of 1960 and earlier.
–Change in the structure of wheat germ agglutinin, the indigestible protein of wheat that exerts direct toxic effects on the small intestine and may block leptin, the hormone of satiety.
–Unique antigens (allergy- and immune-stimulating proteins) posed by new forms of alpha amylase inhibitors and other proteins.

Wheat consumption has been a problem for humans for 10,000 years. It’s been made much worse by the genetics changes introduced over the past 40 years . . . but it is not due to an increase in gluten.

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Comments & Feedback...

      • smgj

        Another explanation may be the effect from gliadine in increasing zonulin in the intesins in combination with the changed eating habits in the western world. Say 50 years ago the habit was 3-4 meals a day and one or two of them wheat free – at least here in Norway (dinner was eaten at about 2pm and without wheat and the porrige meal would most often be wheat free).
        I think: if zonulin keep the passages in the intestins open for “too long” after consuming wheat it would possibly have less impact if it was longer between the meals?
        Now the “experts” say that we should eat 5-7 smaller meals each day – and most of the including wheat in some form… It seem to me that it would increase the problems even without any changes in the wheat itself.

        • Dr. Davis

          Yes, I believe you are absolutely correct that the gliadin-zonulin pathway gets set in motion and triggers all the messy business of “re-exposure reactions.”

          You can appreciate how far WRONG the experts have gotten it! That advice INCREASES the likelihood of adverse effects of eating, despite the popularity of that message in the dietary community.

  1. Boundless

    > It is due to other changes, including:
    Add:
    - Yield, which made this stuff so cheap and plentiful that it now contaminates the majority of prepared foods.

  2. melanes

    Perhaps it’s not the gluten content of the wheat itself that the idea comes from. Perhaps it is the the total gluten content found in prepared foods combined with the total gluten consumed. Just as an example, a friend of mine has a bread recipe. She adds an additional 1/2 cup of vital wheat gluten on top of the bread flour. Before going G-Free, my total daily gluten consumption was pretty high. I was eating gluten at every meal and in my mutliple daily snacks. Far too much.

    • Dr. Davis

      Yes, I think that is a factor, too, Melanes. But I believe the dominant effect is the changed nature of the gliadin/gluten structure.

  3. Ed

    Dr Davis,
    Could celiac’s be allergic to gluten but the supposed gluten sensitive people aren’t allergic to gluten but something else in modern wheat.

    My point is : let us say if a Celiac eats emmer wheat ( The ancient wheat) they have a problem but if a gluten sensitive person eats emmer wheat they may have no problem. The point maybe gluten sensitive people aren’t sensitive to gluten maybe they are sensitive to altered gliadin proteins and/or altered wheat germ agglutinin, in modern wheat.

    Gluten sensitive people maybe an incorrect term. Gluten sensitive people may not be sensitive to gluten.

    A thought. ED

    • Dr. Davis

      You are way ahead of the gastroenterology community in your thinking, Ed!

      While they struggle to define “gluten sensitivity,” they may actually be exploring a whole mixed bag of sensitivities to wheat, including sensitivity to wheat germ agglutinin that has NOTHING to do with gluten.

  4. Keri

    I have been doing a lot of reading on the pros and cons of this lifestyle change, and have met with skepticism from others. Honestly, I don’t see what is so horrible about eating better! I made a wheat belly protein bar as a trial and I have to say it was amazing. I could taste each ingredient and together it was so full of flavour and delicious. There can be nothing bad about eating real, wholesome food- and if the side effects are losing weight and feeling better, for me it’s a no brainer. I am so excited to begin this journey of transformation!!!

    • Dr. Davis

      Ignore the naysayers, Keri. They will come back to you and ask what you are doing when they observe how slender and healthy you are!

    • Pip Power

      Hi,

      Pity the Dull & Ignorant, when the Experts are SO ignorant!

      CONVENIENCE; that’s the problem & no one at home to cook the meals for the family!

      I found this comment while surfing:

      Italians still eat emmer (farro), it’s in every supermarket. I didn’t realize what it was until I read the first chapter of Wheat Belly last night! I’m not sure how widespread its use is in the average Italian’s diet, but it’s easy to buy here, and easy to prepare. (I cooked it like rice, and it was delicious! Recipe was in “Everyday Italian” cookbook, by Giada DiLaurentis.) I’ll miss it when I move back home to the states

  5. Boundless

    > I always wondered where that argument came from.

    Mostly malice. It’s probably one of the top two straw man arguments lobbed at you. The other thing Big Grain would like to imagine you said is “wheat is GMO”, which it isn’t, yet. Straw man arguments are always worth calling out, particularly when they’re made of wheat straw.

    Inept speed readers can also breeze through WB, and retain only the words:
    wheat, gluten, genetics,
    and form all sorts of confused concepts.

    That said, what is true is that gluten CONSUMPTION rose along with the genetic tinkering. Higher yields made it possible for this toxin to be ubiquitous.

      • Pip Power

        Dr Davis,

        Obesity effects low wage earners more then the high salaried people.

        A big problem today with people is their lower attention span.

        Most blogs I surf make the mistake of trying to include too much information.

        What is needed is a,

        DIET FOR DUMMIES

        Theses are what you don’t eat on a no carb diet!

        These are what you eat on a no carb diet.

        Spell out what are grains!

        What about things like Sunflower seeds etc?

  6. Susan Fox

    There is so much I could say about the benefits of dropping wheat it would take a huge book to fill it. I dropped wheat in desperation after having severe digestive problems when I returned to the U.S. I had been living on a sailboat in the Caribbean for 4 1/2 years and didn’t have as many problems as when I returned to the U.S. Later I realized I had problems before leaving the U.S. that were connected. After being back for more than a year I decided to drop wheat because my symptoms seemed similar to an acquaintance who told me about her celiac issue. Right away my diarrhea and abdominal pain started clearing up. After 2 weeks I noticed I had lost the severe joint pain I’d been having. I was puzzled. I also noticed I was losing weight and worried I had an illness but the fact was I was starting to feel better than I had in a long time. I also noticed some other health changes for the better but had no idea why. Then …one day I found the Wheat Belly book while searching for something interesting to read on my Kindle. I had only read 20% of it when I realized this book explains why everything I went through happened. It all made sense! Finally! ….. And it was based on good science not some faddish theory. So I wrote a letter to Dr. Davis and told him of my experience. He wrote back and asked me to write about it in this blog but I had never done that before so I didn’t write in this blog until more recently.

    Since that time I finished the Wheat Belly Book and gradually figured out which foods to eat. When I got the Wheat Belly Cookbook I was thrilled. The first part of the book explains even further about the damaging effects of wheat and more…the damaging effects of junk carbs and sweeteners plus more. I really like that he explains about ingredients and where to buy them. I’ve been cooking and baking up a storm since getting the cookbook. Everyone I serve the foods to loves them. I’ve also been giving the cookbook as gifts.

    The most frustrating thing for me, knowing first hand that Dr. David is totally correct, is hearing my friends complain of weight gain, digestive problems,arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, neuropathy, eye problems, heart problems and more and convincing them they should not only give up wheat but also follow Dr. Davis other advice on avoiding damaging foods. It’s so frustrating to see them suffer when I know they would improve their health and feel so much better if they would do this. It’s like watching a lung cancer patient light up a cigarette while I stand by helplessly.. ….This may not have fit the above post exactly but I needed to say this. Thank you Dr. Davis for giving me a healthy, happy future. P.S. I just finished a book titled The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg which might help people break the wheat addiction. I also have had counseling for changing some of my habits which helped immensely. It works.

  7. John H

    Online research about the origin and evolution of wheat concurs that one, of many species, of wild einkorn – Triticum urarta crossed with another plant to create wild emmer and this happened about 360,000 years ago.  Wild emmer then became domesticated emmer which is the ancestor of all wheat.  

    2004 research posted online appears to show that the gliadins of T urarta are more similar to modern wheat than to einkorn, barley or rye. 

    ” 1A ω-gliadin mature peptides were nearly identical to those for the T. urartu ω-gliadins and were more similar to 1D ω-gliadin sequences than to sequences for T. monococum ω-gliadins, barley C-hordeins, or rye ω-secalins.”

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00122-003-1565-9?LI=true

    The gliadin differences are not that surprising when understanding that einkorn is not an ancestor of wheat, but rather was domesticated from a different wild einkorn species – Triticum boeoticum.  

  8. Kellie

    Just a thought but I feel it is a big factor – the increase of known cases of Coeliacs Disease could also be contributed to the fact that Medical Practitioners now know to test for it. So in terms of gluten being on the increase I feel that it has always been in our diets but we were simply not aware of the affects and therefore many have gone undiagnosed.

    Like I said just a thought. I have a daughter who is a Coeliac and it took almost 18 months for her to be diagnosed, we have heard so many stories of people feeling unwell for years but not being tested and therefore diagnosed for Coeliacs until they are in their 30′s, 40′s & 50′s. We were lucky and our daughter was diagnosed before she turned 4, the diet is easy to follow and the whole family benefits from it. It certaninly has it’s challenges outside of the home though and I feel the community could benefit from some education on the subject :)

    • Boundless

      > … the increase of known cases of Coeliacs Disease could also
      > be contributed to the fact that Medical Practitioners now
      > know to test for it.

      Could be, or not. Any analysis on reporting rate change has to control for a change in rates of testing.

      As far as I know, the percent of undiagnosed celiacs still stands at 90%. If more testing were being done, we might expect some progress there.

      And don’t forget that 100% of the people with the genetic marker for celiac are just the potentially visible 15-20% of an iceberg of people who react just as severely to wheat, but don’t carry the marker. These people are often brushed off by modern so-called medicine. They might be offered a cookie and consoled with the comforting advice that it’s all in their head.

      > So in terms of gluten being on the increase I feel that it has always
      > been in our diets but we were simply not aware of the affects
      > and therefore many have gone undiagnosed.

      We are all celiac.
      It’s just a matter of degree and decades.

  9. Loretta

    Dr. Davis, Is oat flour a forbidden ingredient for us wheat free folks? I have seen it a number of times on wheat free and gluten free sites. Thanks much.

  10. Bob

    Ok, lost 15 pounds in16 weeks but just quit alcohol also hoping to be able to have a beer without reaction. Trying to find a proper post so I am putting it here. anyone have trouble with polenta? Seemed to upset my stomach.
    Thanks. We love being wheat free and dr Davis flax crackers are great for dipping. We feel like we are cheating.

    • Ruth

      Hi, there are so many wine and beers available which has the wheat and gluten but at the same time there are few wheat & gluten free alcohols also available like in USA Anheuser-Busch, Bard’s Tale Beer etc.

  11. Mia

    Not sure where else to ask this…reading both Wheat Belly & the Wheat Belly Cookbook and starting to put it into action in our already low carb lifestyle.

    Big question for Dr. Davis and/or anyone who can answer-

    A lot of the recipes call for flax seeds. I have a VERY strong family history of breast cancer and try to avoid soy and estrogenic foods. I’ve read a little about flax seeds and if I’m understanding it correctly they sound estrogenic.

    I’m thinking I should avoid them? If not, do you think it’s safe for someone who needs to avoid estrogenic foods? What would I replace them with in recipes, more almond flour?

  12. Brandon Palmer

    Has anyone heard of a link with gluten sensitivity/celiac disease and episcleritis?? My mother has it and I read it’s a inflammatory issue and can be linked to a autoimmune disease. I am her son who never was tested but when I took wheat out of my diet I became a new person. My son had acid reflux at 5 and when we took gluten out his symptoms stopped as well. I read it’s genetic so I’m thinking other family members have it and don’t know it. Diabetes, Down Syndrome, Acne, Weight Gain, Infertility, Arthritis, Alzheimer’s are linked to most of my family. Any help would be appreciated. I love your book by the way, helped me tremendously!! Thank you Dr. Davis.

    Brandon
    Oconomowoc

    • Dr. Davis

      No formal association that I am aware of, Brandon.

      HOWEVER: So many new associations of wheat and various conditions are showing themselves, with marked transformations (and recurrence with re-exposure) that it is ALWAYS worth a try. After all, wheat elimination is easy, essentially free, and yields so many health benefits anyway!

  13. mtnmama

    “wheat germ agglutinin, the indigestible protein of wheat that exerts direct toxic effects on the small intestine and may block leptin, the hormone of satiety.”

    Wow. Now I understand why my body is relearning what it means to be sated. Before ditching wheat, I was always eating, never really feeling sated, as distinct from “full.” It’s a new sensation and I’m learning to honor it.

  14. Pip Power

    Hi,

    What are grains?

    Do eating seeds contribute to our Health Problems?

    What about Flaxseed, Sunflower & Pumpkin seeds?

    How does the removal of wheat from our diet help sore joints in our body?

  15. Pip Power

    What Foods Are in the Grains Group?

    Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products.

    Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, Whole Grains and Refined Grains.

    Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm.

    Examples include:

    whole-wheat flour
    bulgur (cracked wheat)
    oatmeal
    whole cornmeal
    brown rice

    Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins.

    Some examples of refined grain products are:

    white flour
    de-germed cornmeal
    white bread
    white rice

    Most refined grains are enriched. This means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron are added back after processing. Fiber is not added back to enriched grains. Check the ingredient list on refined grain products to make sure that the word “enriched” is included in the grain name. Some food products are made from mixtures of whole grains and refined grains.

    Commonly eaten grain products
    Whole Grains
    amaranth
    brown rice
    buckwheat
    bulgur (cracked wheat)
    millet
    oatmeal
    popcorn
    rolled oats
    quinoa
    sorghum
    triticale
    whole grain barley
    whole grain cornmeal
    whole rye
    whole wheat bread
    whole wheat crackers
    whole wheat pasta
    whole wheat sandwich buns and rolls
    whole wheat tortillas
    wild rice
    Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals
    whole wheat cereal flakes
    muesli
    Refined Grains
    cornbread*
    corn tortillas*
    couscous*
    crackers*
    flour tortillas*
    grits
    noodles*
    pitas*
    pretzels
    white bread
    white sandwich buns and rolls
    white rice
    Pastas
    spaghetti
    macaroni
    Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals
    corn flakes
    * Most of these products are made from refined grains. Some are made from whole grains. Check the ingredient list for the words “whole grain” or “whole wheat” to decide if they are made from a whole grain. Some foods are made from a mixture of whole and refined grains.

    (edited)

    The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), an organization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was established in 1994 to improve the nutrition and well-being of Americans. Toward this goal, the Center focuses its efforts on two primary objectives

  16. Robert Wm Smith

    Hello. I have decided to give up wheat products though the majority of my diet is organic. In the past seven weeks I have noticed small changes, though in my view, not enough to be clear of the benefits of my decision. One area of confusion is the relationship to barley, particularly non genetically modified barley. The main product that I am missing greatly is beer. Most of the craft beers in Alberta Canada on several other provinces do not use genetically modified products as far as I know.

    Cutting to the chase…aside from the obvious calorie content, why must I give up craft beers and ales?

    What is “wheaty” about spelt , millet, flax and similar grains?

    Please steer me in a comfortable direction.

    • TInaC

      They do make gluten free beer that is pretty good. It’s made from sorghum, which I believe is free from GMO’s.

  17. Donna Eberwine

    I used to eat a heaping tablespoon of wheat germ with my yogurt every single morning–for years. After reading about wheat germ agglutinin and its effects in the human body (it clumps your red blood cells together), I gave it up. I had developed basal thumb arthritis that was so bad it had deformed my hand, debilitated my grip and caused such chronic pain that I was planning to have hand surgery. Within three weeks of giving up wheat germ, I had no pain anymore. Within a year, I regained nearly 100% of the strength in that hand. Wheat germ is not a health food. It is toxic!

  18. john downes

    I disagree with the scientist. Bakers are the ones who know. It would be really difficult for a scientist to answer that question, and it draws into question his data source(s). and how he sourced relevant historical information. Apart from that, the culinary history of flour clearly reveals that European flour is of quite low gluten it is called “soft”. It does not maintain a substantial rise in bread.. The highest gluten flour came from the Ukraine as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire…this good wheat enabled Viennoiserie and “French bread”. We bakery historians know that the modern bread industry started with this higher gluten wheat…this then started coming from Canada after Ukraine wheat was planted there, now we have the famous hard/strong Canadian wheats which kick started bigger bread. It caused a sensation in Europe because it absorbed more water because of the higher gluten and produced more bread than the “home” wheat. The availability of this higher gluten wheat varied a lot and it wasnt available regularly as a high or sole grist ratio until the post WW2 era. Prior to that, bakers used the softer wheats which were cheaper and more available…its talked bout all the time in the bakery parlance of the era…and they mixed the softer wheat with the high gluten wheat. Reference to millers grist codes also supports this.
    So its the availability of high gluten wheat which has changed…now everybody can get it and in turn, consume more gluten.
    Your comment re the Gliadin fraction is really interesting, and as Gliadin is part if the Gluten structure, doesnt this mean in fact that the Gluten HAS changed?
    The experience of baking with anvient-type wheat flour and modern wheat flour is visceral evidence. The old wheat doesnt produce as much of a rise, but is very delicious and edible. Modern strong wheat tastes like cardboard but produces huge bread. There is also often more “bloom” on bread mde from old wheat…colour/aroma/attractiveness.
    Even if the the gluten content has not increased it seems it is more of the protein fraction of wheat than before. The water soluble proteins have largely been bred out of bread wheat, leaving the gluten fraction more dominant than before. The old wheat sometimes has a very high protein score, but these arent gluten proteins, they re the easily assimilable water soluble proteins. The wheat has changed, no doubt and you allude to that , but i reckon the sientist didnt see there are many angles to the question.
    Thanks for your informative site