Celiac-safe wheat? Traditional grains may have gluten-free potential despite negative study findings

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Celiac disease, Wheat

The production of celiac safe food products from non-commercial, traditional wheat strains has great potential, despite a recent study suggesting some are not suitable, say researchers.

In many quarters, the utilization of and reintroduction of traditional and rare grains is seen as a great opportunity for the production of gluten-free products that are safe for celiac disease and gluten intolerance's.   

There is only one species of wheat (Triticum aestivum​) predominantly used in the modern industrialized world. There are around 20 other species of wheat that are either not being cultivated by modern societies or are only grown in selected regions of the world. Researchers have seen opportunity to test these for their potential for consumption by people who have celiac disease.

“With such a large number of wheat species available, a significant amount of research has been done in the past 20 y that explores the use of different species and cultivars of wheat as an alternative to a strict gluten-free diet for celiac patients,”​ said Eric Marietta and Joseph Murray from the Mayo Clinic, USA.

“The identification of nontoxic or, more likely, less toxic cereals for celiac patients, especially in wheat species, represents an important goal that could open interesting perspectives including the prevention of celiac disease in at-risk individuals,”​ explained the research team behind the new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​.

Study details

Led by Carmen Gianfrani from the Institute of Food Sciences, Italy, the research team compared the potential for two strains of wheat from the Triticum monococcum ssp. monococcum​ family (known as Monlis and ID331) to stimulate the immune responses associated with celiac disease upon consumption of common wheat (T. aestivum​) – finding that both of the newly considered strains stimulated immune reactions that may be dangerous for celiac patients.

“Our data show that the ​monococcum lines Monlis and ID331 activate the celiac disease T cell response and suggest that these lines are toxic for celiac patients,”​ said the researchers. “Together, our results suggest that both lines of T. monococcum, Monlis, and ID331 are virtually unsafe for celiac disease patients.”

However, they noted that the ID331 strain “is likely to be less effective in inducing celiac disease because of its inability to activate the innate immune pathways.”

As a result the team said they do not support the use of ‘old wheat crops’ for the diet of individuals with celiac disease.

However, writing in an accompanying editorial for the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Marietta and Murray suggested that: “We can still be hopeful of finding cultivars of wheat species that are nontoxic for celiac patients, especially because there are so many more species of wheat and cultivars that can still be tested.”

“Whether these novel culivars could ever compete with regular wheat for yield or disease resistance is doubtful, but they may find a role given the increased interest in a gluten-free diet.”

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