The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)


The gluten “addiction”: for the love of bread and pasta

JOAN C. STEVENSON1, CRYSTAL L. MAKI2, PARSAN SAFFAIE1, KELLE RANKIN-SUNTER3 and MJ MOSHER1.

1Anthropology, Western Washington University, 2Genetics, University of Iowa, 3Bellingham, Gluten Intolerance Group

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The seed storage proteins of wheat (e.g., gluten), rye and barley can trigger celiac disease (CD) and gluten sensitivity (GS) in genetically susceptible individuals. The increasing ubiquity of gluten in prepared foods and nonfood products may partly account for the rise in the prevalence of CD and GS since the 1950s. Undiagnosed individuals with CD have an increased risk of morbidity and mortality which can be alleviated by a gluten free diet (GFD). Few adhere fully to a GFD and we believe that the expense and inconvenience are insufficient reasons for the reluctance to give up wheat.

Participants with gluten-averse conditions (mostly CD) (39 F, 4 M) were surveyed regarding symptoms before and after diet, compliance, and family reactions. The sample (39 F, 4 M) was unusual in that 98% of participants had some college and were older (Mean = 58.1 ± 2.2 years). Participants indicated that family members do not want to be tested and few households of affected individuals are fully GF. We argue that adherence to GFD is a challenge because: 1) 86% of the participants continue to have symptoms after observing a GFD and most affected individuals have no apparent symptoms so no clear reason to change diet; 2) many patients and health care personnel are ignorant about the necessity of GFD; and finally, 3) there are longstanding cultural traditions that reinforce both the desire for and agricultural practices that breed for wheat products with qualities that make for better breads and pastas (“comfort foods”).

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