Health

Stop Saying Celiac Disease Is Due to Chemicals Used on Grains – it’s Not

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Information like this is dangerous.

Madeline Dyer
Photo by Evi Radauscher on Unsplash

Recently, I came across an article that made me rather angry. It argued that Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are actually due to the damage caused by chemicals sprayed on grains rather than the grains themselves. While this very well could be true for some forms of gluten intolerance, it is not the case with Celiac disease, and articles like this are harmful and dangerous.

The article in question is this one, at Get Holistic Health — an article that finishes with: “Moral of the story? We need to go glyphosate-free, not gluten-free. And that means going organic, especially when it comes to grains and animals who eat those grains.”

While I agree that chemicals can be very dangerous, I’m always wary of articles that suggest celiac disease isn’t real in this sense and isn’t a problem with gluten. I’m diagnosed with celiac disease, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there and people regularly tell me it’s the chemicals not the gluten that affects me – even though this is wrong. The slightest bit of gluten and even cross-contamination (no matter how organic it is) can and will hospitalise me and cause me to have seizures, whereas other grains (such as corn and rice) which don’t contain gluten but are still treated with the same chemicals don’t affect me at all.

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As the NHS website reports, “Coeliac disease is a common digestive condition where the small intestine becomes inflamed and unable to absorb nutrients.” This site goes on to say: “In coeliac disease, the immune system mistakes substances found inside gluten as a threat to the body and attacks them. This damages the surface of the small bowel (intestines), disrupting the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. It’s not entirely clear what causes the immune system to act in this way, but a combination of genetics and the environment appear to play a part. Coeliac disease is not an allergy or an intolerance to gluten.”

Celiac (spelled Coeliac in the UK) disease is due to gluten — the protein found in many grains, including wheat, barley, rye, and spelt. (Oats that aren’t pure and marketed as ‘gluten free’ also contain gluten due to processing methods — and oats contain a similar protein that also causes the celiac reaction in some individuals that have celiac disease).

It is this gluten protein that causes the immune response. Not any chemicals sprayed on the plants.

Additionally, there is a rise in celiac disease in later years, yes, but this is likely due to better diagnostic tests and awareness. I also remember at a conference I attended that they said that the celiac gene is one of the few genes that has been spreading throughout the ages, since prehistoric times (not just since modern chemicals were used).

There is evidence that Neolithic people had coeliac disease, found by positive tests for the HLA-DQ2.5, HLA-DQ2.2, and HLA-DQ8 genes which cause an immune response when activated and in the presence of gluten.

Nature.com reports of a skeleton of a prehistoric woman found who showed signs of malnutrition and osteoporosis, two common complications of Celiac disease. Additionally, “DNA analysis had previously shown that the woman carried two copies of an immune system gene variant that is associated with coeliac disease. Although coeliac is a complex disease in which multiple environmental factors may play a role, the gene variant is found in nearly all patients in contemporary populations. The combination of those genetic risk factors and malnutrition in someone likely to have good access to food make coeliac disease a reasonable diagnosis, says Gabriele Scorrano, a biological anthropologist at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, who led the latest study, published this month in American Journal of Physical Anthropology.”

So while chemicals can cause gluten intolerance, and this is an important thing for the public to be made aware of, chemicals do not cause celiac disease. This existed long before the chemicals.

In articles that warn of the dangers of chemicals, I feel there needs to be a distinction made between that and celiac, as us celiacs literally cannot process gluten due to faulty genes that causes an inflammatory response to activate when gluten proteins are detected, and no amount of organic gluten would be safe for us.

But I do certainly agree that people should eat organically where possible and avoid chemicals. And it could very well be that exposure to chemicals is causing more people who carry the celiac gene to have the gene ‘activated’ — especially as “up to 40% of the general population carry the gene for these DQ types” yet only 1% have celiac disease where the gene has become active (source: Coeliac UK).

But articles like this worry me as celiacs who take the advice and eat organic and chemical-free gluten would still be doing internal damage to their villi due to their genetics. And celiacs who eat gluten are increasing their risks of cancers, neurological damage, osteoporosis, and many other severe problems.

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