When most people think of wheat-related health issues, they think of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye that’s harmful for anyone with celiac disease. But gluten may not be the only culprit: A different family of proteins found in wheat and other grains—called amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs)—has also piqued the interest of scientists in recent years. And now, German researchers say that ATIs appear to cause inflammation, and make chronic health conditions worse.
According to the scientists from the Johannes Gutenberg University, for some people, eating ATIs (which make up no more than 4% of wheat proteins) can trigger powerful immune responses in the gut that can affect other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain.
This reaction can worsen chronic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, they say. It also likely contributes to the development of a condition known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, in which people test negative for celiac disease but still suffer gastrointestinal pain, fatigue, and other unpleasant symptoms after eating bread, pasta, and other wheat products. (Celiac disease is a serious condition in which an autoimmune reaction to gluten damages the intestines, causing diarrhea, weight loss, and nutritional deficiencies.)
Detlef Schuppan, MD, who holds faculty positions at both Johannes Gutenberg University and Harvard Medical School, presented these findings at UEG Week in Vienna, Austria, an annual meeting for gastroenterologists and digestive-disease researchers from around the world. His presentation was based on several studies published in the last few years, as well as some recent, yet-unpublished research.
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