What is the connection between gluten sensitivity and GMOs?
Gluten is a protein naturally present in wheat, rye and barley, none of which are available as GMOs. However, some have over-laid the rapid increase in gluten-related diagnosis with a similar increase in GMOs and wonder if there is a connection. One line of reasoning involves "leaky gut" and the idea that GMOs somehow increase this syndrome which then allows gluten and potential allergens to pass into the blood stream and trigger an immune response.
To date, we have not seen research that supports this conclusion. The only evidence-based therapy for gluten sensitivity is complete avoidance of gluten. Also, consider that celiac authorities tell us that the rate of disease is approximately the same across the world, about 1 in 100. If GMOs were to blame you'd expect much higher rates in countries that rely heavily on GMOs, like the USA. That's not the case.
In 2013, Wegmans Nutritionist Trish Kazacos, RDN, had the privilege of interviewing Alessio Fasano, MD, Medical Director for the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Fasano was lead author of the landmark study “Prevalence of celiac disease in at-risk groups in the United States”: a large multicenter study that was published in 2003 in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Before the study, celiac disease was considered to be rare in the United States. However, after screening more than 13,000 people in 32 states the study showed that 1 out of 133 individuals, roughly 3 million Americans, have Celiac disease. And, an estimated 83% of those individuals are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. Below is a snippet of the interview in which the worldwide prevalence of celiac disease was discussed.
Trish: A question we are often asked is, why are more people in the US being diagnosed with Celiac disease, and how does this compare to other countries?
Dr. Fasano: There are two reasons. One is increased awareness by healthcare professionals. If you go just back only 10 years before we published our study, Celiac disease was a neglected condition in the US. We knew it was something that was causing GI problems but our knowledge at that time was it was confined to Europe. In only 10 years we went from completely oblivious to it being a hot area in the field of gastroenterology.
Second, there is an increased prevalence of Celiac disease over time that parallels similar trends in other autoimmune diseases. In other words, we’re in the midst of an epidemic. Our data which has been corroborated by many others seems to suggest that that Celiac disease has doubled in prevalence every 15 years. Only half a century ago it was much more rare than now. The reason why this is happening is only partially known. The US was supposed to be different than other countries when we made the statement that it was rare here. Now we realize we’re in a global village of health issues including Celiac disease, and therefore its prevalence in the United States is very, very similar to what is recorded in other countries not only Europe, but now Belize, North Africa, South America, and so on and so forth—so we’re not special.