If you are a gluten-free baking fan you are likely familiar with xanthan gum, and possibly guar gum too. Both help add elasticity and texture to baked goods, characteristics which would traditionally be provided by gluten. These gums can be added in to your own gluten-free mixtures when baking, or, in the case of many gluten-free baking mixes and all-purpose flour blends currently on the market, they have already been included. Some individuals prefer, however, to avoid these gums. Is there an alternative? Relatively recently, psyllium powder has emerged as another option. Beyond the gluten-free world, psyllium has gained awareness due it’s being a source of fiber (both insoluble and soluble), and for this reason is associated with the health benefits of both fiber types respectively: digestive regularity, and possibly reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. Adding on to the attractions of this substance, it turns out that psyllium powder can often be used in gluten-free baking as well, contributing some of those same sensory characteristics traditionally provided by gluten. While it’s not necessarily a straight swap in recipes which call for xanthan or guar gum, you’ll find more gluten-free recipes these days which call for it instead, and if you are feeling adventurous, you can always do some experimenting in your own favorite recipes too.
GENETICALLY ENGINEERED WHEAT
Could research related to genetically engineered wheat lead to relevant results for the gluten-free community? While at present no genetically engineered wheat is commercially grown in this country, research in this field has taken place, and it includes some interesting findings. Researchers from the U.S. and Spain published a study earlier this year in which they developed a low-gluten wheat. It was demonstrated in this study that the technology used could reduce the amount of certain gliadins in the wheat kernel, thereby providing a type of wheat which would have reduced immunoreactivity for people who are sensitive to gluten. It is unknown where future research could lead, but this is certainly an interesting prospect.
Sanchez-Leon S, et. al. Low-gluten, non-transgenic wheat engineered with CRISPR/Cas9. Plant Biotechnol J. 2017 Sep 18. Doi: 10.1111/pbi.12837 [Epub ahead of print]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Low-gluten%2C+nontransgenic+wheat+engineered+withCRISPR%2FCas9
ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS FOR GLUTEN-RELATED DISORDERS?
In the middle of the last century, a Dutch pediatrician was the first to identify gluten as the specific component of wheat that causes symptoms in celiac disease patients. Since then, there has been no doubt in the medical and scientific community that the treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. Research is currently ongoing into potential pharmaceutical treatments for celiac disease, but at present the only effective therapy remains the gluten-free diet.
Some individuals with celiac disease, however, may seek alternative treatments, and look to providers claiming that celiac disease can be “cured” or treated with alternative methods. It is critical to realize that such claims and treatments are not supported by science. While alternative healthcare may be useful for other conditions and symptoms, it is essential for the health of a person with celiac disease to maintain the established treatment of a gluten-free diet.
When it comes to non-celiac gluten sensitivity (also known as “NCGS”, “gluten sensitivity” or, more recently “non-celiac wheat sensitivity”), the situation is less clear cut. * This is because the science and understanding of this condition is much less advanced than is the case for celiac disease. While in the case of celiac disease the mechanism by which gluten damages the intestine and causes problems is known, this type of specific knowledge simply does not exist for “gluten sensitivity.” In fact, for some “gluten sensitive” individuals, it may be other components of gluten-containing grains that are responsible for symptoms, and not gluten at all (which explains use of the term “non-celiac wheat sensitivity”). Since the nature, and even true identity, of “gluten sensitivity” is poorly defined, the treatment is likewise less well defined. More research is finding, for example, that some individuals who believe they have gluten sensitivity, may instead be sensitive to FODMAP’s (specific carbohydrates found in many different foods, not just in gluten-containing grains). (FODMAP’s: https://gluten.org/resources/health-wellness/gluten-sensitivity-and-fodmaps/.) Some individuals may have other food intolerances which are contributing to their symptoms. So, in cases of “gluten sensitivity”, alternative approaches may be useful in identifying other causes of symptoms, which could mean that a gluten-free diet is neither the necessary nor appropriate treatment. The response for now regarding the existence of alternative treatments for gluten-related disorders is “no” in the case of celiac disease, but “possibly” with regard to “gluten sensitivity.”
*The mechanism behind “gluten sensitivity” has not been defined. It is currently diagnosed by ruling out other conditions (including celiac disease and wheat allergy) which may be causing the symptoms. Then, if a gluten-free diet relieves symptoms, gluten sensitivity may be diagnosed. It is important for individuals who believe they are gluten sensitive to work with their individual healthcare team to rule out and investigate other possible causes of symptoms.
-Van Berge-Henegouwen GP, Mulder CJJ. Pioneer in the gluten free diet: Wilem-Kare Dicke 1905-1962, over 50 years of gluten free diet. Gut 1993; 34: 1473-1475.
-Lionetti Elena, et al. Re-challenge Studies in Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front. Physiol., 05 September 2017.