Gluten-free diets have been the subject of great debate for years. Do people who have celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder, need to avoid gluten in order to properly absorb nutrients and prevent intestinal damage? Absolutely. Do people who don't have celiac disease need to avoid gluten in order to stay healthy or lose weight? Probably not... Which is one reason why the gluten-free fad has been a sore subject for those who have the disease.
But somewhere in the gray area between these two gluten-free extremes exists a group of people who do experience unpleasant side effects when they eat wheat but who don't have celiac disease. Up until now we've called their condition "non-celiac gluten sensitivity," but that name might not be accurate, according to October 2016 research presented at United European Gastroenterology Week 2016 in Vienna.
An international group of scientists say that a group of proteins (aka not gluten) called amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) can cause inflammation and affect the body in ways that have long been blamed on gluten.
ATIs only make up about 4 percent of wheat proteins, but they pack quite a punch: According to the researchers, they can trigger powerful immune reactions that begin in the gut and spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain. That inflammation can then worsen the symptoms of unrelated conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, lupus, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Ultimately, this suggests that ATIs may contribute to the discomfort some people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity experience after eating wheat, but much more research needs to be done to confirm. Lead study author Detlef Schuppan, MD, PhD, from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, hopes that his group's research will lead doctors to redefine the non-celiac condition — and develop an ATI-free diet that can be recommended to patients in the future.