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Over the last several years, many who value health are becoming aware of the dangers of gluten, especially when it's consumed as modern wheat. Severe digestive distress, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ADHD, multiple sclerosis and even mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are just a few of the maladies linked to the protein in wheat, barley and rye. As reactions continue to escalate at a staggering rate in the United States, both researchers and private organizations are beginning to take a look at ancient cereal grains as a possible solution to our wheat troubles.
Commonly known as einkorn, Triticum monococcum is an intriguing heritage grain that was harvested as early as 16,000 BCE. Cultivation began during the Neolithic Era and early Bronze Age (10,000-4,000 BCE) and continued into the early 20th century, when much of einkorn production was replaced by hybridized, high-yield, pest-resistant strains of what we now recognize as modern wheat. Einkorn is nutritionally superior to hard red wheat, supplying higher levels of protein, fat, phosphorous, potassium, pyridoxine and beta-carotene. It's also much lower in problematic gluten. Enthusiasts of einkorn believe it tastes better, lending a "light rich taste which left common bread wheat products tasteless and insipid by comparison," according to the ASHS publication Progress in New Crops. What's really garnering attention, however, is that einkorn may be nontoxic to individuals suffering from gluten intolerance.
Safe for celiacs?
Several studies indicate that einkorn could provide a new grain option for the millions with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. In one experiment, intestinal biopsies were taken from 12 treated celiac patients, as well as 17 control subjects, and cultured with either standard bread gliadin or einkorn gliadin for 24 hours. At the end of the testing, researchers concluded, "[This study shows] a lack of toxicity of T. monococcum gliadin in an in vitro organ culture system, suggesting new dietary opportunities for celiac patients." Another study involved 12 celiac patients who had been adhering to a gluten-free diet for at least one year. In a single-blind, cross-over investigation, each participant was given einkorn wheat, rice or amygluten on days 0, 14 and 28. At the end of the study, researchers noted that, although "[n]o definite conclusion can be drawn on the safety of Tm [einkorn]. . . Tm was, however, well tolerated by all patients providing the rationale for further investigation on the safety of this cereal for CD patients."
Additionally, Norwegian researchers have identified a T-cell stimulatory gluten peptide in modern wheat which triggers an autoimmune response in people sensitive to the protein. Alpha-gliadin genes on wheat chromosome 6D appear to be the culprit. Of particular interest to individuals with celiac disease is that einkorn wheat does not contain this troublesome peptide. Further research is needed, but preliminary findings hold promise for those suffering from gluten reactions. Mayo Clinic researchers sought to elucidate the mechanism at play within the long observed link in both animal and human studies between dietary gluten and the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes (T1D), focusing on the role of the gut microflora in mediating its diabetes promoting properties.
In the new study titled, "Low Incidence of Spontaneous Type 1 Diabetes in Non-Obese Diabetic Mice Raised on Gluten-Free Diets
Is Associated with Changes in the Intestinal Microbiome",[ii] they sought to confirm "whether changes in the intestinal microbiome could be attributed to the pro- and anti-diabetogenic effects of gluten-containing and gluten-free diets, respectively." They noted recent research showing that intestinal microflora have a major influence on the incidence of T1D, and theorized that since "diet is known to shape the composition of the intestinal microbiome," they might find an important link by testing changes in the gut flora of animals fed either gluten or gluten-free diets.
The study design was described as follows: "NOD [non-obese diabetic] mice were raised on gluten-containing chows (GCC) or gluten-free chows (GFC). The incidence of diabetes was determined by monitoring blood glucose levels biweekly using a glucometer. Intestinal microbiome composition was analyzed by sequencing 16S rRNA amplicons derived from fecal samples."
The researchers observed the following results: "First of all, GCC-fed [gluten-containing chow fed] NOD mice had the expected high incidence of hyperglycemia [elevated blood sugar] whereas NOD mice fed with a GFC [gluten-free chows] had significantly reduced incidence of hyperglycemia. "Secondly, when the fecal microbiomes were compared, Bifidobacterium, Tannerella, and Barnesiella species were increased (p = 0.03, 0.02, and 0.02, respectively) in the microbiome of GCC [gluten-containing chow fed] mice, where as Akkermansia species was increased (p = 0.02) in the intestinal microbiomes of NOD [non-obese diabetic] mice fed GFC [gluten-free chows]. "Thirdly, both of the gluten-free chows that were evaluated, either egg white based (EW-GFC) or casein based (C-GFC), significantly reduced the incidence of hyperglycemia."
The researchers found that when they added back gluten to the gluten-free diet group the following occurred: Diabetic symptoms returned, Akkermansia species were reduced and Bifidobacterium, Tannerella, and Barnesiella increased. According to the study, these observed changes suggest "that the presence of gluten is directly responsible for the pro-diabetogenic effects of diets and it determines the gut microflora." They observed a gluten free "diabetes inhibitory" diet resulted in altering the non-obese diabetic mice's microflora to reflect a "richer" bacterial profile.
Conversely, they observed that a gluten-containing diet resulted decreases in a genus of gastrointestinal microbiotia (Akkermansia) previously shown to protect against the development of type 1 diabetes. Since the immune system develops and its function is maintained in large part through its relationship with the microflora in our gut, it makes sense that gluten's promotion of autoimmune disorders, which include celiac disease and type 1 diabetes to name but a few, could be connected to the way this complex of proteins adversely affects the diversity of gastrointestinal microflora. The researchers concluded: "Our novel study thus suggests that dietary gluten could modulate the incidence of T1D [type 1 diabetes] by changing the gut microbiome."
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