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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Could a Wheat-killing Fungus Turn the Whole World Gluten-Free?

    Celiac.com 09/25/2014 - Nine out of ten wheat crops around the globe are susceptible to a killer fungus that attacks wheat. The pathogen is Puccinia rust fungus. Puccinia triticina causes 'black rust', P.recondita causes 'brown rust' and P.striiformis causes 'Yellow rust'.

    Photo: Wikimedia Commons--NabokovOriginally named Ug99, but now known as wheat stem rust, the fungus affects wheat, barley and rye stems, leaves and grains, and causes plants to rot and die just a few weeks after infection. Infections can lead up to 20% yield loss exacerbated by dying leaves which fertilize the fungus. The fungus regularly causes serious epidemics in North America, Mexico and South America and is a devastating seasonal disease in India, and a widespread outbreak could destroy flour supplies as we know them.

    Previous solutions to the problem of wheat stem rust relied on simple crossbreeding. Beginning in the 1940s, breeders began combining rust-sensitive commercial wheat with hardier rust-resistant strains. However, those solutions were only temporary at best, as the rust always managed to find a way around rust-resistant genes after just three or four years.

    Scientists now use what they say is a more effective method of thwarting rust, wheat breeding, called “pyramiding,” in which multiple rust resistant genes are loaded onto a single wheat strain, potentially keeping rust at bay for decades to come, but pyramiding takes up to 15 years to produce a rust-resistant wheat strain. This means that the vast majority of wheat strains under cultivation could be subject to rust in the mean time.

    Obviously, not all of the wheat strains susceptible to rust will be affected in any given year, but major outbreaks can and do happen. The possibility that large percentages of the world’s wheat crops could be destroyed by rust are very real, hence the intensity of the efforts to develop rust-resistant strains as quickly as possible.

    However, if these efforts fail, or lose traction, look for non-wheat crops to fill the gap. That will mean large numbers of people going gluten-free for reasons having nothing to do with celiac disease or dietary fads.



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    Rather than hybridizing with rust resistant strains, why not just plant the rust resistant strain?

    Most often, the disease-resistant strains of crops are poor-yielding, or have other susceptibilities that make them undesirable. Before wheat was domesticated (more than 10,000 years ago), the wild ancestor was pretty worthless to grow for food. Thankfully, there are some 25,000 cultivars of wheat that have been developed, so there is a lot of genetic diversity that the breeders can tap into. But they are always only one step ahead of the pathogens -- for any crop.

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    Cool! wouldn't that be great for us. No more worries about cross-contamination.

    That's "cool" only if you are happy about world-wide starvation! And wheat is not the only grain crop that has gluten, so we would still have the same worries. There is no universally safe food for all people. In China, more people have an intolerance to rice than to wheat. Not only that, every single crop has it's own set of pathogens. (Just look up "rice diseases" in Wikipedia.) Breeders have the same problems in other crops as in wheat, and are applying the same technique of breeding in multiple resistances in an effort to keep ahead of pathogens. But pathogens are clever organisms and can adapt to mechanisms of resistance. Disease isn't good for people or plants. celiac disease is a heavy burden, but not an excuse to dump food sources of other people.

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    Another good reason to be gluten free and GMO free. Wheat is so far from the original plant, it's starting to get scary.

    If wheat were not so far from the original plant, it would not be a source of food today. The same goes for all the other grains, most of which are even farther from the original ancestor than wheat. Before crops were domesticated, there was no agriculture. People hunted and they gathered grains and berries from plants that yielded such meager nutrition that they had no time to do anything else but try to keep themselves fed. Domestication was accomplished by stone age plant breeders using some of the same approaches that are used today.

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    Rather than hybridizing with rust resistant strains, why not just plant the rust resistant strain?

    Good question. Likely for reasons having to do with lower yields, less favorable characteristics, lower resistance to other pests, and other factors.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

  • Related Articles

    Amy Leger
    Celiac.com 10/29/2008 - Equality.  That’s all any parent wants for his or her child.  In this case I’m talking about food at school.  Are you completely frustrated that you can’t get a gluten-free lunch for your child at school?   According to a recent survey by the American Celiac Disease Alliance, many parents of celiac children may feel the same way.  The survey conducted during the summer of 2008, found of 2,200 respondents, 90% had to regularly pack gluten-free lunches for their celiac child. I used to be one of them and was stuck feeling like I was banging my head against a wall trying to get a few hot lunches for my child.  That goal of equality saw me through a journey — years in the making — that would eventually pay off.
    Just before my celiac daughter’s kindergarten year began, I thought I covered all my bases.  I talked to the school nurse, Emma’s teacher, and the head of the cafeteria about her condition and her diet.  I found there was very little she could have at school except beef tacos, which she loved.  Eventually that one menu item, which made my daughter feel just like the rest of the kids, vanished; a near tragedy for her, sheer frustration for me.  I would ask myself “Why do the schools have to serve up so much food with gluten?” I also didn’t feel like I was taken seriously by the cafeteria employees.  I housed some small gluten-free food items in the freezer at school in case of emergency.  That expensive food was thrown away, with no one even realizing they did it.  That told me, they weren’t paying attention.  And I was done.  It seemed as though Emma was destined for cold lunches until she graduated from high school.  
    Honestly, school lunches may not be the perfect meals for our children, but suddenly many parents feel an urgency to feed them school food when their celiac child starts to feel left out.
    The good news is: times may be changing.  Sherri Knutson, Student Nutrition Services Coordinator for the Rochester, Minnesota School District, and her staff have developed a monthly gluten-free, menu for students.   “We’re making it come together…to meet the needs of the student,” Knutson said.  It is more like students!  As many as 20 children every day order from this menu which actually mirrors the “regular” monthly menu, including gluten-free chicken nuggets, spaghetti and hamburgers WITH a bun.  Knutson says they started slow in 2004, offering only a few gluten-free options each week and then expanded from there.
    Offering the menu comes at a cost – to the district.  Officials with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the school lunch program, say schools cannot charge parents more for specialized, expensive diets.  A regular school lunch in that district costs $2.05, but the gluten-free lunch costs about double.  Knutson’s district essentially “eats” the cost.  “Cost is not one of the factors that should impact [implementing this diet in schools].”  But she admits they look into finding ways to cut costs, like baking their own gluten-free goodies.
    Now word is spreading about this groundbreaking menu.  Knutson says she is getting calls from school districts across the country asking her how she does it.  Her answer is simple, start small and do what you can.  She also asks parents to be understanding and patient; accommodating the gluten-free diet is very new for most school districts. 
    My conversation with Knutson was enlightening and empowering, but back at home I was struggling with my own district.  There were times in the last four years, where I wondered if the district even cared about my daughter’s health and nutrition needs.  After months of many unanswered emails and phone calls with my district nutrition department in late 2007 and early 2008, I finally called my school board member to get some attention.  That one phone call got the ball rolling.  In the six months since, I have had several meetings with key employees in the district and school.  My district also appointed a coordinator for specialized diets who works directly with schools that have special food requirements for certain students.  In October of 2008, I saw a first draft if it’s two-week, gluten-free menu.  The nutritionist I work with tells me it is just the beginning.  I am so pleased and proud of them for finally taking some much-needed action.
    It is amazing how far you can come with a lot of work, tenacity and passion for equality.  If you are in the same situation that I was, I urge you to take action.  If your school cook won’t help you, go to the district nutrition director, if they won’t help you go to the superintendent, if they won’t help you go to the school board, and if they won’t help you, contact the education department in your state.  That group may oversee statewide compliance of USDA rules.  I was able to get this done without a 504 plan for my child.  Simply put, a 504 plan is detailed paperwork which gets you the needed accommodations for your child and their diet.  You may need to create a 504 plan to push along the lunch changes for your child.  Watch for much more on this important issue in upcoming posts.
    I cannot guarantee you will get drastic changes in lunch offerings from your district, so if you are still in a slump, check out the American Celiac Disease Alliance.  Serving specialized diets in school is a hot topic right now and the ACDA is trying to advocate for all of us.  Your child has a right to eat school food.  And this is one food fight – worth getting in on!
    *For much more information on the Rochester, MN School District’s Gluten Free menu, see this article I wrote for FoodService Director Magazine in September 2008.


    Jefferson Adams
    Celiac.com 07/09/2014 - Does the blood pressure medication Benicar (Olmesartan medoxomil) trigger celiac-like gut symptoms?
    The law firm Levin, Papantonio has filed a lawsuit claiming just that, on behalf of a Texas man who allegedly developed a rare gastrointestinal condition known as sprue-like enteropathy while taking Benicar.
    According to the complaint, Benicar caused the plaintiff to suffer severe gastrointestinal symptoms, including chronic diarrhea, weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration. These symptoms are commonly associated with a rare sprue-like enteropathy.
    The lawsuit comes as Benicar faces scrutiny following a Mayo Clinic study linking the popular drug to rare sprue-like enteropathy in users.
    The connection between Benicar and the sprue-like enteropathy symptoms was first noted by Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist, Dr. Joseph Murray, after he observed two patients taking Benicar experience relief from symptoms thought to be associated with Celiac disease. Upon discontinuing the use of Benicar, the gastrointestinal symptoms vanished.
    Dr. Murray then conducted a three-year study of 22 people who experienced celiac-like symptoms while taking Benicar. He found that 14 of those patients had symptoms so severe that hospitalization was required.
    Moreover, none of the 22 original patients responded to a gluten-free diet, and none showed any detectable levels of tissue transglutaminase in the blood, which would point to celiac disease.
    After discontinuing the Benicar treatments, the intestinal symptoms disappeared in each of the 22 patients, and they all regained lost weight.
    In 2013, in keeping with Dr. Murray’s findings, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration changed Benicar’s label to include a warning that the drug may trigger sprue-like enteropathy and symptoms similar to celiac disease.
    If you think you may have suffered adverse effects from Benicar, check with your doctor, and possibly with a lawyer.
    Sources:
    Mayo Clinic: Study on Benicar and sprue-like enteropathy FDA Safety Communication Concerning Label Change on Benicar, 2013. digitaljournal.com.

    Jefferson Adams
    Celiac.com 08/29/2014 - Well, we haven’t had a good gluten-free celebrity dustup in a while, so I’m happy to report that the most recent shots have been fired by actor Charlize Theron, who called ‘b$#@@#$$’ on the non-celiac gluten-free diet fad in Hollywood.
    Talk show host Chelsea Handler asked Theron about her thoughts on the gluten-free cupcakes Handler sent her last Christmas.
    That prompt was enough for Theron to share her true feelings about both the cupcakes, and the whole (we assume she means ‘fad’) “gluten free” issue in general.
    “I just think that if you are gonna send a gift, let it be enjoyable. Why send me a very cupcake with no sugar in it? What’s the use? There’s no use. It tastes like cardboard! And this was the ultimate test,
    Not only did the cupcakes taste “like cardboard,” but Theron found few takers when she tried to pawn them off; even to a bunch of ‘fashion people,’ who ‘love skinny stuff…even they couldn’t eat it.”
    Nor would her cleaning ladies. Nor, according to Theron, would her dogs. “My dogs wouldn’t even eat it. I couldn’t get rid of the goddamned cupcakes in my kitchen.”
    Theron went on to say that she thinks “the gluten-free thing is b$#@@#$$. I’m sorry, that’s just me. I don’t believe it and I think studies now recently just proved that it is b$#@@#$$. But I actually do think it’s b$#@@#$$.”
    So, whether you agree with her or not, Theron has officially put her Hollywood friends on notice about their fad gluten-free diets, and clearly stated what so many Americans have felt for some time: For people without celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is “b$#@@#$$.”
    With the most recent and comprehensive studies now casting serious doubt over the existence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, what do you think? Is Theron onto something, or is she being way too dramatic? Share your thoughts below.

    Jefferson Adams
    Celiac.com 05/13/2015 - In addition to being a common ingredient in many commercial food products, gluten is also used in numerous medications, supplements, and vitamins, often as an inert ingredient known as an excipient.
    Because chronic gluten-related inflammation and damage impairs absorption of nutrients, and likely causes malabsorption of oral medications, it is extremely important for people with celiac disease to review the nutrition labels of all foods and beverages, as well as the package inserts (PI) for information about gluten content.
    Most oral medications depend on absorption through the small intestine via passive diffusion. GI-tract damage may shift this diffusion process into systemic circulation, which can result in increased or decreased absorption, depending on the drug molecules.
    Since drug molecules have varying and unique chemical properties, it is hard to determine the exact means of drug absorption in celiac patients, and also hard to determine the impact of celiac disease on drug absorption.
    Based on their molecular properties, researchers suspect the absorption of a number of drugs is impaired by gluten sensitivity.
    These drugs include: acetaminophen, aspirin, indomethacin, levothyroxine, prednisolone, propranolol, and certain antibiotics.
    For these reasons, it is important for doctors to monitor serum drug levels for medications with narrow therapeutic indexes in people with celiac disease. If you have celiac disease, please let your doctor know before you take these drugs.
    Source:
    US Pharmacist. 2014;39(12):44-48.

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