Is gluten the real culprit?
Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are becoming more and more prevalent in the United States. According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, celiac disease affects at least 3 million Americans, and research suggests that roughly 18 million Americans suffer from gluten sensitivity.
However, a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study in 2013 found that the effects of gluten were largely inconsistent and independent of dose. In this study, subjects were placed on three different diets: high-gluten, low-gluten, and whey protein as the control diet. In terms of inconsistency, fatigue and bloating worsened in the low-gluten and placebo treatments, but not in the high-gluten treatment. Additionally, gluten had no effect on the biomarkers of intestinal inflammation or an immune response, suggesting that gluten may not be the real culprit of intestinal inflammation after all.
Why the sudden onset of gluten-related symptoms?
Another problem with blaming gluten is that the timeline of gluten sensitivity doesn't make sense. If we've been consuming wheat as early as we knew how to harvest it, then why is it just now (in the last 10 years) causing problems for us? You may hear people say, "Wheat has changed! It's been hybridized and deamidated," but this doesn't really explain much.
Hybridization, or cross-pollination, is a process that occurs regularly in nature and produces many different foods that we're familiar with including grapefruit, lemon, pineapple, cantaloupe, seedless watermelons, beets, carrots, corn, potatoes, oats, rice and even wheat. In fact, wheat is a cross-pollination of wild grasses, making it a direct result of hybridization.
Deamidation is the removal of an amide group as a result of enzymes or mild acid treatments. The process of deamidation has been used by food scientists since the 1940's to improve solubility, emulsification, and other functional properties of food. Studies have shown that deamidated wheat proteins are correlated with a negative immune response, but wheat is not the only crop to undergo deamidation. Other foods, including soybeans, eggs, cow's milk, and whey protein may also be deamidated during processing.
What else could be causing these problems?
If wheat hasn't really changed and gluten isn't the real culprit, then what is causing this myriad of symptoms? Most likely symptoms of "gluten sensitivity" are actually caused by an herbicide (weed-killer) and a group of carbohydrates known as fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols, or FODMAPs for short.
If you take another look at the crossover study from 2013, you can find that all subjects were placed on a specific diet for two weeks before starting trial. You will also find that this specific diet was a low FODMAPs diet, and that it alleviated digestive symptoms and fatigue for all 37 subjects. A low FODMAPs diet excludes foods such as: