Gluten-free because they have to be

Posted May 18, 2015

May is Celiac Awareness Month

Source: Celiac and the Beast
The wheat grown by Kansas farmers feeds the world – except for those afflicted by a serious autoimmune disease. During the month of May – Celiac Awareness Month – the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness encourages individuals to learn the important difference between those who choose to follow gluten-free fad diets and those who are gluten-free because they have to be. 

For individuals with celiac disease, their immune system identifies gluten as a threat to the body. So, when someone with celiac eats something containing gluten, their body goes on the defensive to protect itself, with the small intestine suffering collateral damage. 

Specifically, celiac disease affects the carpet of small, finger-like projections that help the body absorb vital nutrients, called villi. As a result, the small intestine can no longer absorb essential nutrients, no matter the person’s diet, causing a variety of defects including iron deficiency, indigestion, nausea, abdominal pain, lactose intolerance and weight loss. 

Source: Scientific American
Today, less than one percent of the American population is affected by celiac disease, but that is four times more common than 60 years ago. For these three million Americans, the only current prescription is to follow a gluten-free diet, which involves eliminating all wheat, barley and rye. 

But, Kansas wheat farmers, through the Kansas Wheat Commission, are working to potentially change that requirement through science. This research, conducted by Dr. Chris Miller of Heartland Plant Innovations, is the most comprehensive study of wheat proteins related to celiac disease. This two-part approach involves identifying the varying levels of reactivity to different wheat varieties as well as identifying the exact proteins that cause a celiac reaction. 

The result of this research could allow wheat breeders to someday create varieties of wheat that would be celiac safe, but still contain the gluten needed to make that great loaf of bread or the perfect pizza dough. 

In the meantime, find more resources on the importance of celiac disease testing from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Also learn the differences between this serious disease and gluten-free fad dieting from the Wheat Foods Council and additional perspectives from the National Wheat Foundation

By Julia Debes