Does Super Gluten Exist?

wheat farmThere are many factors that are blamed for the recent rise of gluten intolerance and celiac disease in America. Among the most common cited is increased gluten content in wheat as a result of wheat breeding.

To sort this out, the Department of Agriculture commissioned to investigate this issue. (1) Here is what they came up with:

Wheat breeding started about 10,000 years ago when wheat was first domesticated. It is believed that early farmers selected and bred wild wheat to have larger grains for easier picking after threshing. This meant that the original wild wheat – which is thought to have boasted a high protein (gluten) content of somewhere between 16-28% – was bred to have bigger grains and therefore less protein (gluten) and more starch (sugar). (1)

This first domesticated wheat was called einkorn wheat. It was a starchier grain with less protein (gluten) and more sugar, and very likely tasted better than the old fashioned wild wheat.

Then, between 2-5000 years ago, when yeast-fermented bread became popular, farmers began selecting for a higher protein (gluten) grain, which better supported the leavening of bread. (1) Ever since, wheat has actually been bred for a higher protein content (current average in bread: 11-16%), and many believe this to be the reason for the explosion of gluten intolerance today.

Be Careful What You Wish For

According to this report, the original wild wheat, which we all might say had to be a healthier grain, had gluten levels that reached two to three times the amount of gluten in today’s wheat! (1)

This study concluded that, though there has been an increase in celiac-based gluten intolerance in the second half of the 20th century, there is no evidence that this rise is due to the increase of the gluten content in wheat. In fact, according to this study, the gluten content in wheat during the 20th and 21st century has been relatively stable. (1)

The Take Away

While we can argue these facts, based on this study the increase in gluten sensitivity must be due to some factor other than increased gluten content in bread. Here are some other factors to consider:

  • Wheat was traditionally harvested once a year in the fall exclusively for winter eating. Maybe we overdid it by eating it every day for years on end!
  • The amount of gluten, a hard-to-digest protein, can be excessive when eating an out-of-balance meal, such as a bowl of pasta or a slice of pizza. Perhaps our gluten portions were out of control and did us in.
  • Perhaps the combination of stress and excess hard-to-digest foods have weakened our digestive strength making it more difficult to digest a tough protein like gluten.
  • Perhaps bad food, pesticides and stress have altered our microbiology – the ecosystem of beneficial bacteria that is responsible for proper digestion and assimilation in our gut – and thus left us unable to digest the gluten and handle its starchy content.
  • Perhaps we are sensitive to something else in wheat other than gluten.

Stayed tuned as I dive deeper into these factors in future blogs!


1. J Agric Food Chem. 2013 February 13; 61(6): 1155“1159.
Published online 2013 January 11. doi: 10.1021/jf305122s
PMCID: PMC3573730


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  • Tina Huston

    I’m jumping up and down right and waiving my arms saying, ” Hey, hey, perhaps it has to do with endocrine disruptors!” They’re every where, even in the cosmetics and toiletries we purchase in the natural food stores. Endocrine disruptors are responsible for obesity, diabetes, cancers, infertility, birth defects and a host of other diseases. The FDA is not protecting us from endocrine disruptors. They call it a sensitivity or allergy; I call it slowly being poisoned with synthetic hormones. I find it interesting that this seems to be happening with the onset of the industrial age and gets more prolific as the corporations grow larger and stronger. Please watch this 17 minute video from the University of Michigan: There is a ton of information on the web about endocrine disruptors.

  • Alice Miller

    Perhaps it is also the store bought bread vs homemade bread. I do eat some bread but have been making my own for over a year now, and I do notice a difference between the two. I’d much rather have my bread with only a few ‘whole’ ingredients vs chemical ingredients.

  • Anne Marie

    Dr. Douillard,
    Last month, twenty-nine experts, specialists, researchers, and opinion leaders from all over the world gathered to discuss current health issues and their potential relationship to gluten. The
    audience included health care professionals, as well as the general public. I have celiac so this is an important topic to me and my family. I don™t know if you had the opportunity to listen to any of these speakers, so here’s a link to have access

    The issue of gluten is now a global conversation and the information that I garnered at the Gluten Summit helped me to put together huge pieces of the puzzle. I would love to hear your thoughts from an Ayurvedic perspective.

  • Catherine

    I definitely believe (along with other factors you mentioned) that we have been over-glutened. This is a term I came up with :). Back in the 80′s I lived in Boston when the gluten invasion happened. Bagel’s became a huge hit and bagel shops opened everywhere. At the same time muffin shops began to pop up. Muffins became a convenient, on the run, grab breakfast on your way to the office food. And at the same time pasta became a big trend. Pasta shops and restaurants specializing in pasta opened. This is all connected with fast food and convenience. I ate all this stuff big time in the 80′s and 90′s and now my system can’t tolerate it. I see parents now days feeding their babies Cheerios and Gold Fish crackers and I just cringe!!!