A little biochemistry…
is a protein structure found in wheat, barley and rye. It is the substance that gives bread its chewiness and because it is strong and stretchy, it helps bread dough trap the CO2
produced by yeast or baking powder, making it light and airy. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, “Mmmm gluten, is there anything you can’t do?”
Gluten has become one of the most controversial topics in the modern diet. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease triggered by one of the components of gluten. It causes abdominal pain and discomfort, constipation and diarrhea, anemia and fatigue. It affects millions of people, and in extreme cases, especially in children, it can cause serious vitamin and nutritional deficiencies because the inflamed small intestine doesn’t function properly. Long term, untreated celiac can lead to many serious complications. Celiac is distinct from wheat allergy, which also exists.
(Wheat allergies involve different components of the immune system reacting in different ways than what occurs in celiac, and are similar to other food allergies. Wheat allergies can be triggered by one or more of the many proteins in wheat, not just those in gluten.)
Many people who don’t have the classic symptoms of celiac or wheat allergies, or who were determined not to have those diseases by various diagnostic tests (which according to the Wikipedia articles appear to have very low false negative rates), none the less claim or suspect they have some sort of gluten sensitivity. Hence the enormous current interest in gluten-free foods. (“Gluten free” gets 107,000,000 hits on Google.)
So is wheat the staff of life, responsible for getting humanity out of the stone age, and in the top five discoveries ever (along with fire, the wheel, beer and video games), or is it the greatest evil ever perpetrated, responsible for more misery and death than cigarettes, automobiles, alcoholism and war combined?
The Boston Skeptics are fortunate to have as our guest for April’s Skeptics in the Pub world-renowned pediatric gastroenterologist, research scientist and entrepreneur Alessio Fasano, M.D., who is director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC). His prevalence study published in 2003 established the rate of celiac disease at 1 in 133 Americans.
His visionary research has led to the awareness of celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders as a growing public health problem in the United States and worldwide. As Visiting Professor at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at MGHfC, Dr. Fasano treats both children and adults for gluten-related disorders, including celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy.
A passionate advocate for collaboration in research and clinical work, Dr. Fasano recently authored Gluten Freedom to provide patients, healthcare providers and general readers an evidence-based yet entertaining book to dispel some of the current confusion about gluten and how it can affect your health.
Dr Fasano will tell us about his research, the causes and treatment for celiac disease, wheat allergies and gluten sensitivity, and I’m sure we have many questions on these topics.
We will be meeting at 7PM on Monday, April 6, 2015 in the back room at The Burren, 247 Elm St. in Davis Square, Somerville. RSVP on our Facebook event page. If enough people say they will attend in advance, the Burren will provide us with our own wait staff and/or bartender, which will avoid a crush of people trying to get food or drinks. Also, it might be a good idea to arrive a little early if you possibly can.
BTW, someone asked if the Burren has any gluten-free items on their menu. I am informed that the Cod Espanola, the Balsamic Chicken, the veggie shepherds pie and nachos are all gluten free.
Hopefully, we won’t have yet another blizzard!
UPDATE Dr Fasano’s talk is now available on Vimeo:
Dr. Alessio Fasano speaks at the Boston Skeptics in the Pub, April 6, 2015