Protein found in wheat causes non-celiac people to feel sicker

Turns Out Gluten-Free Folks Aren’t Crazy: Scientists Find Wheat Proteins That Make People Sicker

Scientists have provided vindication for people without celiac disease who say that they feel better when they avoid foods that contain wheat and gluten. A group of relatively unknown wheat proteins has been shown to worsen a whole host of medical conditions even among people who do not have a wheat allergy or celiac disease.

Researchers presenting at the 2016 United European Gastroenterology conference have identified a group of non-gluten proteins that can trigger symptoms of many health conditions such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain, Mental Floss reports.

The scientists found that a group of wheat proteins called amylase-trypsin inhibitors, or ATIs, can have powerful affects on the body. While ATIs only represent about 4 percent of wheat proteins, consuming them can cause severe reactions throughout the body. These reactions can trigger inflammation in the digestive tract, lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain.

They also found that this inflammation can worsen symptoms of autoimmune conditions such as asthma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Lead researcher Detlef Schuppan of Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany says that ATI and gluten produce similar reactions in the human body, “thereby potentially worsening the symptoms of pre-existing inflammatory illnesses,” he said in a statement through the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s EurekAlert.

“The study shows that the consumption of ATIs can lead to the development of inflammation in tissues beyond the gut, including the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen and brain. Evidence suggests that ATIs can worsen the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, lupus and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as inflammatory bowel disease.”

These ATIs can also lead to the development of gluten sensitivity even when people do not have celiac disease, the researchers noted. They added that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is now an accepted medical diagnosis for people who do not have celiac disease but benefit from a gluten-free diet. Patients who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity report symptoms such as abdominal pain, headaches, joint pain and eczema after consuming gluten-containing foods. These symptoms tend to improve rapidly on a gluten-free diet, even though they do not seem to be allergic to gluten.

Scientists now plan to begin clinical studies to explore the role that ATIs play on chronic health conditions in more detail. “We are hoping that this research can lead us towards being able to recommend an ATI-free diet to help treat a variety of potentially serious immunological disorders,” says Dr. Schuppan.

The researchers also hope that these findings lead to a better term for non-celiac gluten sensitivity. “Rather than non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which implies that gluten solitarily causes the inflammation, a more precise name for the disease should be considered,” added Dr. Schuppan.

Many people on gluten-free diets report that they feel much better when they stop eating wheat products, but they get tired of being mocked and told that their issues are all in their heads.

Naysayers frequently belittle people who go gluten-free, especially as headlines have often reported on a lack of scientific research to back up claims that patients felt better when they gave up wheat products.

This research follows another report issued last summer, where scientists at Columbia University Medical Center found evidence that wheat products lead to a weakened gut lining in some people, even though they did not have celiac disease. This weakened intestinal barrier can lead to a body-wide inflammatory immune response that causes a number of issues such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, depression, fatigue, inflammation and cognitive issues shortly after they consume wheat products.

Co-author Peter H. Green, the director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center, reported that the findings demonstrate that there is a biological basis for these symptoms in a significant number of patients.

“Our study shows that the symptoms reported by individuals with this condition are not imagined, as some people have suggested.”

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the small intestine after a person eats gluten, which is primarily found in wheat, rye and barley products. The intestinal damage that results leads to a range of gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhea and bloating. It eventually leads to many other health problems as a result of the damaged intestines’ inability to properly absorb nutrients.

Many people who do not have celiac disease report that health issues improve after they eliminate wheat and gluten products from their diets.

An estimated one in five people actively choose gluten-free foods for health reasons, says Gluten-Free Living, although only about one percent of the population has celiac disease. Now science may finally be catching up to what many people have already known.

[Featured Image by Julia Sudnitskaya/iStock]