The following is an excerpt of a blog post by Layla Katiraee at the Genetic Literacy Project website about claims of GMOs and glyphosate causing gluten allergies.
The Internet is exploding with stories about the supposed dangerous link between one disease or another and genetically modified foods. One of the more intense debates revolves around what appears to be a recent surge in gluten allergies. Merely typing in “GMO and gluten” into Google yields more than 500,000 mentions, with most of those generated by various “green” and anti-GMO groups.
The claims can be traced to an obscure essay, “Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance,” published in 2014 in a Slovakian predatory ‘pay for play’ journal by two scientists—MIT computer researcher Stephanie Seneff and Anthony Samsel, who identifies himself as an “independent scientist and consultant”. Neither has any known expertise in genetics or toxicology. They speculated that trace exposures to the common herbicide glyphosate, which is used in conjunction with some GMOs, could account for what they claim is a rise in celiac disease and gluten intolerance.
Do GMOs or the herbicide glyphosate create gluten allergies, as these scientists and many green groups allege?
To investigate these claims, it is necessary to understand the difference between gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease, and to determine whether there has been an increase in the incidence of these conditions. Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat and other grains. It helps dough rise and gives it that delicious chewy texture, and has been in our diet for over 10,000 years. Individuals who have autoimmune reactions to gluten have Celiac Disease, which is characterized by irritation in the small intestine. Over time, the condition leads to the loss of the lining of the gut and patients may lose the ability to absorb nutrients. There are both environmental and genetic factors that play a role in susceptibility to the disease.
There are two additional categories to gluten allergies: allergies to wheat, and the newly labeled “gluten sensitivity”. The former is what you might consider a “standard allergy”: skin reaction, wheezing, etc. The latter consists of cases in which there is neither an allergic nor an autoimmune reaction, but individuals experience “distress” when eating wheat and other grains. They might have some of the symptoms of celiac disease (such as bloatedness or diarrhea) and feel better when they cut gluten out of their diets. A key distinguishing characteristic is that their small intestine is usually normal. It’s difficult to diagnose because there’s no real immune response and it’s subject to a placebo effect. In addition, there’s a whole slew of symptoms for “gluten sensitivity” (also known as “non-celiac gluten sensitivity“), including eczema, headaches, fatigue, depression, anemia, joint pain etc.
Despite the sheer volume of hits on Google, a search in PubMed found zero studies linking the two. Anti-GMO campaigners postulate two primary hypotheses as to how GMOs cause gluten sensitivity. The first is that glyphosate may kill the healthy bacteria in the gut, leading to a bacterial imbalance. The second is that the Bt-toxin, found in Bt-resistant GM crop, punctures holes in human cells (in this case, the gut), leading to a leaky gut.
The Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF) challenged the hypotheses propagated by the Institute for Responsible Technology, stating that it was speculation. The scientists at CDF pointed out that patients with Celiac Disease or gluten-sensitivity feel better when they cut gluten out of their diets. If the cause of their sensitivity were GMOs or glyphosate, then they’d have to cut out a lot more than just gluten.
To read the entire post, please visit the Genetic Literacy Project.