AS the incidence and awareness of celiac disease has increased over the years, so has the speculation that a change in the gluten content of wheat varieties is the culprit.
It is estimated that one in 133 Americans, or approximately 1% of the U.S. population, has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by consuming gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
After reviewing historical agricultural data from 1900 until the present, U.S. Department of Agriculture research chemist Dr. Donald Karsarda concluded that increasing the gluten content in wheat through plant breeding is not the reason for the rise in celiac disease prevalence.
Karsarda found that the protein levels in wheat have remained steady since the early part of the 20th century, while the increase in celiac disease incidences has occurred during the second half of the century.
In fact, until recently, the total content of wheat protein could not be measured and probably was not the focal point in improving wheat varieties over the years.
Genetic modification of wheat has also been blamed for the rise in celiac disease, but this is not possible because biotech wheat is not grown commercially in the U.S.
Nevertheless, Karsarda noted that there has been a surge in the consumption of vital gluten, which is pure gluten that's removed from wheat and added to vegetarian meat substitutes and whole wheat products. During the same time period as the rise in celiac disease diagnosis, the consumption of vital gluten has tripled in the U.S.
Still, he said further investigation beyond the increase in gluten protein content in wheat varieties is needed.