Wheat-derived products have become a staple of the average American’s diet, especially for children; but increasing numbers of children and adults are finding that they feel better, have sharper focus, and a clearer mind when they leave the wheat out.
Celiac disease, however, deserves a separate discussion. It is a serious immune system disorder that can affect children and adults alike with varying degrees of severity. Although generally associated with chronic diarrhea, at its worst it can lead to failure to thrive, mental retardation, and even early death in untreated children.
Celiac disease has been with us throughout history. The very term celiac is derived from the ancient Greek “Koiliakos” meaning “suffering in the bowels” and the oldest known written record of it goes back to the ancient Roman physician Galen.
What many do not realize is that for most of history, in fact until the 1950’s, celiac disease was a medical mystery and children who had the severe form of it were hospitalized with no hope of a cure.
World War II eventually led us to the solution. When the Germans confiscated all the wheat and other grains in Holland to feed their armies, hospitalized children suffering from celiac disease suddenly and mysteriously recovered, only to relapse again when the war ended. However, it was not until 1950 that the pieces of the puzzle were put together in the doctoral thesis of a Dutch pediatrician by the name of Dicke.
Today it is a well-established fact that a majority of people with celiac disease can enjoy full remission of symptoms through complete avoidance of wheat and other grains that contain a protein called gluten. But could we be on the verge of another breakthrough in our understanding of celiac disease, and possibly other forms of wheat and gluten intolerance?
A recent study found that bread made from wheat flour that is fully fermented using various strains of lactobacillus bacteria is tolerated by individuals with celiac disease (Appl Environ Microbiol 2004 Feb; 70 (2): 1088-1096, PMID 14766592).
Bacterial fermentation is the authentic way sourdough bread is made (unfortunately not the kind sold today in most bakeries and stores). This method represents a primitive bread-making technique and it may not have been until other forms of bread-making were introduced, including yeast fermentation, that celiac disease first appeared.
The lactic acid-producing bacteria used in the study are capable of predigesting gluten and other allergy-inducing proteins, making them tolerable and possibly even beneficial. Children with severe intolerance to milk and other dairy products can actually thrive on yogurt that is fully fermented using the same types of bacteria. Unfortunately this yogurt is not available at stores, but can be ordered from specialized farms throughout the country, including www.whiteegretfarm.com in Texas, or can be made at home using starter from www.customprobiotics.com . I am still researching sources for the right types of bread.