13

Mark's Daily Apple gives an example of a claim that I have encountered: that modern wheat bears little resemblance to wheat prior to the 1960s, and that this new wheat is the cause for the rise in wheat-related digestive and health issues in the past 50 years.

Modern wheat is dwarf wheat, a cultivar developed in the ’60s to massively increase yield per acre. [...] It’s less nutritious. [...] It’s more damaging to celiacs and gluten-sensitives. [...] celiac disease is on the rise, and some researchers have suggested that this is caused by the prevalence of certain gluten proteins that predominate in the new varieties of wheat. Namely, a gluten peptide known as glia-α9, which is nearly absent in older wheats but prevalent in modern wheats, is the most reactive “CD (celiac disease) epitope.”

Are the predominant wheat strains eaten today significantly different in nutrition to those used prior to the 1960s? Are they more likely to trigger celiac disease or similar gluten sensitivities?

  • Welcome to Skeptics! We want to focus our attention on doubtful claims that are widely held or are made by notable people. Please provide some references to places where this claim is being made. This will help resolve what the question actually is; it is currently unclear. – Oddthinking Dec 12 '13 at 1:11
  • 1
    Is this an example of what you mean? marksdailyapple.com/the-problems-with-modern-wheat/… – Oddthinking Dec 12 '13 at 1:12
  • This video makes the claim mentioned in the question. (I would find the exact location, but I'm on pay-per-mb mobile data plan, and don't want to pay to stream videos) – Flimzy Dec 12 '13 at 9:43
  • @Oddthinking yes, more or less. I think the book Wheat Belly that is mentioned in that article is a source of these claims as well, though I have not read the book. I heard the claim in a discussion with a friend and have not been able to find the precise wording he used online but that article is close enough. – Vidro3 Dec 12 '13 at 15:18
  • @Vidro3: I've done a major edit to make it fit the claims in that page and re-opened. Let us know if it is no longer capturing the question you want asked. – Oddthinking Dec 12 '13 at 15:34
5

Are the predominant wheat strains eaten today significantly different in nutrition to those used prior to the 1960s?

Yes.

In the 1960s, a handful of semi-dwarf, disease-resistant wheat varieties (e.g., Norman Borlaug's Pitic 62 and Penjamo 62) began to replace traditional wheat varieties (e.g., einkorn, kamut, emmer) due to the greatly increased yield of such varieties, especially in tropical and subtropical climates.

Since then, the mineral concentration of zinc, iron, copper, and magnesium has decreased significantly.[1] Further significant health benefits, not explainable by mineral concentration change, are also demonstrable as a result of replacing modern wheat with a traditional cultivar.[2]

[1]: Evidence of decreasing mineral density in wheat grain over the last 160 years. Fan et al. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2008;22(4):315-24.

[2]: Characterization of Khorasan wheat (Kamut) and impact of a replacement diet on cardiovascular risk factors: cross-over dietary intervention study. Sofi F et al. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Feb;67(2):190-5.

Of course, we also process our modern wheat to remove the bran and germ from the endosperm, and we skip the sprouting, fermenting, and slow-rise yeast baking, all of which have significant effects on nutritive value,[3] but that is not the cultivars' fault.

[3]: Traditional preparation methods improve grains' nutritive value. Whole Health Source. Tuesday, May 4, 2010. (N.B. There are 15 scientific journal references in that, so don't be put off by it being a blog post.)

Are they more likely to trigger celiac disease or similar gluten sensitivities?

Yes.

Modern wheat has been shown to contain greater levels of specific toxic forms of gluten (gluten is a family of proteins, some problematic and some not, along a spectrum). The greater levels of these proteins (e.g., T-cell alpha-gliadin) are more likely to trigger celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.[4][5]

[4]: Presence of celiac disease epitopes in modern and old hexaploid wheat varieties: wheat breeding may have contributed to increased prevalence of celiac disease. van den Broeck et al. Theoretical and Applied Genetics. Nov 2010; 121(8): 1527-39.

[5]: Celiac disease: quantity matters. Koning F. Semin Immunopathol. 2012 Jul;34(4):541-9.

  • I would change the answer to the second question to a "possibly", rather than a yes, as the references you provide do not establish any causal link. Furthermore, one should take great care looking at this type of issues, as there has definitely been a change in the diagnosis methods for these type of conditions since the 1960s. – nico May 30 '14 at 10:50
2

This question is based on 2 debatable claims made by the blogger who writes marksdailyapple. One that celiac disease [CD] is on the rise, and there exists an entity named "gluten sensitives".

The study he links to for the first claim [1] is actually talking about CD autoimmunity as it can not talk about CD itself which requires small bowel biopsy to make the diagnosis. This is clear in the study title. Furthermore they state

Compared to controls, untreated CD subjects showed increased incidence of osteoporosis and associated autoimmune disorders, but they did not reach statistical significance

so the link between autoimmunity and actual disease is not established, and can not be assumed as the blogger did.

A study published 2 years later [2] states:

The prevalence of celiac disease (CD) in the United States is unknown. We sought to estimate CD prevalence nationwide by using a nationally representative sample.

so, it is somewhat hard to claim increasing disease prevalence when the first prevalence study was only just done in the USA.

The existence of the condition "gluten sensitivity" was recently studied [3] in people who fulfilled the criteria for non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Instead their symptoms were found to be due to FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols). The existence of this condition is thus somewhat doubtful.

In a placebo-controlled, cross-over rechallenge study, we found no evidence of specific or dose-dependent effects of gluten in patients with NCGS placed diets low in FODMAPs.

Therefore the answer to the question is no. Sorry if this upsets the large numbers of people following gluten free diets.

[1] Natural history of celiac disease autoimmunity in a USA cohort followed since 1974. Catassi C1, Kryszak D, Bhatti B, Sturgeon C, Helzlsouer K, Clipp SL, Gelfond D, Puppa E, Sferruzza A, Fasano A. Ann Med. 2010 Oct;42(7):530-8. doi: 10.3109/07853890.2010.514285.

[2] The prevalence of celiac disease in the United States. Rubio-Tapia A1, Ludvigsson JF, Brantner TL, Murray JA, Everhart JE. Am J Gastroenterol. 2012 Oct;107(10):1538-44; quiz 1537, 1545. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2012.219. Epub 2012 Jul 31.

[3] No effects of gluten in patients with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity after dietary reduction of fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates. Biesiekierski JR, Peters SL, Newnham ED, Rosella O, Muir JG, Gibson PR. Gastroenterology. 2013 Aug;145(2):320-8.e1-3. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2013.04.051. Epub 2013 May 4.

  • This is good information, but it doesn't even attempt to answer the question: Has wheat changed since the 1960s? For this, I must downvote the answer, even though I like the information it contains. – Flimzy May 30 '14 at 12:39
  • @Flimzy there are two questions. One asks about whether wheat strains in use have changed. The second whether there are health consequences. Someone else has answered the first question. I answered the second question rendering the relevance of the first question moot. I anticipated downvotes since 10% of the population now claim gluten sensitivity. I would expect them to be upset with the answer since implementing such a diet is expensive, and thus having their diagnoses challenged somewhat disturbing. Easier to uphold the status quo and downvote me. – HappySpoon May 30 '14 at 20:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .