Today’s News: New Gluten Standards help those with Celiac Disease

This came over the news wire today and reminded me today is FRIDAY! Time to post. So I might as well post about this:

Today, your Food and Drug Administration released new regulations to define gluten standards in food labeling. Until now, different manufacturers would set their own standards for what is considered “gluten-free.” They can label it gluten-free even though it has gluten in it. Crazy, I know!

So why do this? People with allergies to gluten and illnesses like celiac disease cannot digest gluten foods. So, of course, the want to know if there is gluten in the foods.

New standards require foods labeled “gluten-free,” must contain less than 20 parts-per-million (ppm) of gluten. They would have to meet this standard even if they state “no gluten,” “free of gluten” and “without gluten.” And imported foods sold here too. Good that they get those loopholes.

Yes, “gluten-free” foods will still have some gluten in it. The FDA says that it can’t go down to 0 ppm because current testing can’t reliability detect gluten levels that low. Research and interviews with celiac disease experts say the 20 ppm level is low enough that almost everyone with the disease would have no reaction.

So what is this gluten, and what is celiac disease?



Gluten is a protein”composite” found in foods processed from wheat, barley, rye and related grain species. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and chewy texture. It’s a group of proteins. Simple.


Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine. You guys remember that autoimmune is the body’s immune system attacking itself, thinking that it is its own enemy. In the 3 million or so Americans with celiac disease, it affects people who are genetically predisposed, and shows up from infants to adulthood. Once diagnosed, you have it for life, and the only treatment is the elimination of gluten from the diet.

Which is why accurate food labeling of gluten is important.

Symptoms include pain, discomfort, constipation, diarrhea, failure to thrive (in children) and fatigue, or any combination. People sometimes get misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS, a topic for a future post).

So what happens in the body? Celiac disease occurs in people who have a defect in chromosome 6. This causes a protein to be made incorrectly (those of you who have taken immunology, look up HLA protein of the MHC-II antigen-presenting receptor). This protein is part of the immune system, taking foreign particles and showing them to T-lymphocytes.

Because this incorrectly made protein holds on to a part of the gluten protein more tightly than its supposed to, it has a greater chance to activate these T-lymphocytes and start the immune reaction – hence we have the auto-immune disease.


Versus Wheat Allergy

Even though responses in the patient may be the same or similar, wheat allergy is different than celiac disease in the body. An allergy (those of you in my class may remember) causes IgE and mast cells to respond and result in what you know: rashes (dermatitis), runny nose, itchy eyes, gastrointestinal and respiratory distress, and vasodilation.

Wheat allergy usually presents itself as a food allergy, meaning you get a reaction when you eat it, but in severe cases it can also be a contact allergy, when you get a reaction by touching it. Wikipedia says “wheat allergy” is a misnomer, because there are many things in wheat that can cause allergies, one of which is parts of the gluten protein.

So that’s why it may get confused with celiac disease. But the mechanism that causes the reaction in the body is different between the two. About 1 in 133 people in developed nations have allergic reactions to gluten, some of which can be severe enough to be life-threatening.



3-1/2 weeks until school start: what have you accomplished during break? I’ve re-done my front yard garden. Now to update the ProfChang website and finish some long-awaited databases for my business. Challenge me to get these done and prep for Fall start! Congrats to AC this weekend!

Oh, and I haven’t forgotten the embryology self-study for those who are interested. *overdue* (sigh)

I’ll post some motivational quotes on @prof_chang during what’s left of this break.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: