Are Changes in Wheat Responsible for the Rise in Celiac Disease?

One cardiologist thinks so, but scientists don't agree

Wikimedia Commons/ Bluemoose

No one is certain why there's been a rise in celiac disease.

If you’ve heard of author William Davis, a cardiologist from Milwaukee, it’s probably because of his popular book Wheat Belly, which extols the virtues of a wheat-free diet. After Davis stopped eating wheat, he claims that a host of ailments including diabetes, mood swings, joint pain, and acid reflux subsided. Davis has claimed that the rise in celiac disease, an aversion to wheat gluten, in the past 20 years is largely due to the fact that new varieties of wheat were introduced, intended to increase grain yields. But this week a research chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture released findings of a study refuting this claim.

According to NPR, the chemist, Donald Kasarda, gluten levels in wheat have remained the same over time, and celiac expert Daniel Leffler agrees that the cause of the disease is largely due to a series of factors.

"I don't think there's one evil food causing the problem in our society," Leffler told NPR. "There's good evidence that the vast majority of people actually do just fine with wheat."

So while celiac disease is up, to about 1 percent of the population, there’s no consensus as to why this is the case. Whether it’s because of antibiotic use early in life, the so-called "hygiene hypothesis," which claims that our surroundings are so clean that our bodies find non-toxic things, like peanuts, to become allergic to, or whether it’s a different protein in wheat entirely that makes people ill, it’ll most likely be a long time before we get to the bottom of gluten intolerance.  

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