MTPR

Against The Grain: Gluten Anxiety, Part 1

Jun 6, 2015

The most obvious question is also the most difficult to answer: How could gluten, present in a staple food that has sustained humanity for thousands of years, have suddenly become so threatening? There are many theories but no clear, scientifically satisfying answers. - Michael Specter

The Food Guys summarize a November 2014 article from The New Yorker, written by Michael Specter, called "Against The Grain: Should You Go Gluten-Free?"

Specter writes:

Humans have been eating wheat, and the gluten in it, for at least ten thousand years. For people with celiac disease—about one per cent of the population—the briefest exposure to gluten can trigger an immune reaction powerful enough to severely damage the brushlike surfaces of the small intestine...

Until about a decade ago, the other ninety-nine per cent of Americans rarely seemed to give gluten much thought. But, led by people like William Davis, a cardiologist whose book 'Wheat Belly' created an empire founded on the conviction that gluten is a poison, the protein has become a culinary villain. Davis believes that even 'healthy' whole grains are destructive, and he has blamed gluten for everything from arthritis and asthma to multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia. David Perlmutter, a neurologist and the author of another of the gluten-free movement’s foundational texts, 'Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain’s Silent Killers,'  goes further still. Gluten sensitivity, he writes, 'represents one of the greatest and most under-recognized health threats to humanity.’

Specter writers about a study that examined another component of wheat, a "combination of complex carboydrates called FODMAPs, an acronym for a series of words that few people will ever remember: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols..."

Most people have no trouble digesting FODMAPs, but these carbohydrates are osmotic, which means that they pull water into the intestinal tract. That can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea. When the carbohydrates enter the small intestine undigested, they move on to the colon, where bacteria begin to break them down. That process causes fermentation, and one product of fermentation is gas. In Gibson’s new study (Peter Gibson is a professor of gastroenterology at Monash University and the director of the G.I. unit at the Alfred Hospital, in Melbourne, Australia), when the subjects were placed on a diet free of both gluten and FODMAPs, their gastrointestinal symptoms abated. After two weeks, all of the participants reported that they felt better. Some subjects were then secretly given food that contained gluten; the symptoms did not recur...The cause of the symptoms seemed to be FODMAPs, not gluten; no biological markers were found in the blood, feces, or urine to suggest that gluten caused any unusual metabolic response.
 

There'll be more reflections on gluten next time on "The Food Guys." 

(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 6/7/15 and 6/11/15. Listen weekly on the radio at 11:50 a.m. Sundays and again at 4:54 p.m. Thursdays, or via podcast.)