A few months back, I had a conversation with some family members in the medical profession that enthusiastically proclaimed the work of Dr. William Davis, author of the “Wheat Belly” books, diet, and related website. The book claims (among other things), that gluten intolerance (and we’re NOT talking about Celiac Disease, which effects only about 1% of the population) was due to “Genetically Modified” wheat (or those dreaded GMO’s). I subsequently had a chat with a world-recognized plant geneticist on the merits of the arguments posed in the “Wheat Belly” series of books. (https://www.wheatbellyblog.com/books/), and learned some startling things.
To summarize my conversation, U.S. wheat is NOT GMO, and the claims of “genetic alterations” causing wheat/gluten intolerance and increased rates of obesity are absolutely without scientific merit. Indeed, the wheat you are eating today is not genetically dissimilar from the wheat people ate during the time of the crusades. GMO strains of wheat are NOT authorized for food use in the United States, and have similarly been banned inside the EU except for grain fed to livestock there. In short, you will not find “GMO” wheat outside of the laboratory.
Humans have only been consuming wheat type grains for about 10,000 years, and some people do not metabolize gluten properly, but there is NOTHING NEW going on here! Improvements in understanding gastrointestinal and other disorders have resulted in medical diagnostic and classification changes. Those changes have resulted in better identification of causes for certain diseases and disorders. While it is true that the consumption of gluten does introduce certain antigens to the human digestive tract, it is also true that many many other foods do also. The result is that few healthy people have problems with these foods, since we have been adapted by evolutionary forces to cope with all sorts of antigens, and this generally works out just fine unless the lining of the intestinal tract has been compromised by some other factors. But that definitely does NOT have anything to do with “GMO wheat” in N. America or Europe.
It is therefore unlikely there has been a “surge” in wheat intolerance, and even if there was, it would have nothing to do with “GMOs” since the U.S. grain supply does not use GMO wheat.
This is just another scheme to make money by leveraging junk science to create hysteria. This type of garbage “science” is similar to the “anti-vax” hysteria created by the 1998 article published by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in the Lancet (later retracted in 2010 due to questionable conduct, poor investigative methods, and profiteering by it’s author). Once these “facts” are covered by the media and make it into the public consciousness, they are extremely difficult to dislodge. I would be willing to bet that most anti-vaxers have no idea that Wakefield’s paper was pulled and thoroughly discredited 8 years ago, nor do “Wheat Belly” adherents realize that the madness surrounding “GMO wheat” is not even based on genetic fact.
For a sound scientific explanation about how gluten behaves in the human digestive system and the safety of wheat in our diet, I strongly recommend this webinar by Dr. Alessio Fasano presented at the National Academy of Science:
Science does not know everything, and what we do know changes as we learn, test, experiment, and verify – that is the process. While we may not be perfect, the goal of the scientific method is to try to deduce – in a systematic and hopefully unbiased way – something useful about the universe in which we live. It behooves us all to take some responsibility in understanding the limitations of science, and that people will sometimes make fantastic and terrifying claims to further their financial or other interests using the cover of “science”. The media’s reporting and level of responsibility on these matters has been nothing short of utterly feckless. Caveat Emptor!