Non Celiac Wheat Sensitivity Arrives

February 02, 2014
Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity Arrives
 Reference:  Scientific American  Feb 2014, British Medical Journal

Everyone knows about gluten sensitivity these days.  It’s sort of the rage.  Gluten-free this and that is showing up on menus.  I got a gluten-free hamburger at a restaurant (just a naked hamburger and a slice of tomato.  No bun).  Churches have gluten-free communion bread.  Breweries are turning out gluten-free beer.  But you may not get an understanding nod from your doctor if you say you feel better when you don’t eat wheat.  You get your celiac disease blood test and come back negative.  What next?  Even Scientific American published an article last year poo-pooing the gluten-free craze. Measurement helps. 

Wheat turns out to be an interesting grain.  With the genetic hydriisation of three grains that were combined back in the 1950s to make our modern strains of wheat, we added 28 more chromosomes to the 14 original wheat chromosomes.  Modern humans have about 20,000 genes.  Modern wheat has 95,000.   When we eat wheat, we may not always have a friendly reaction.  And sorting out 95,000 genetic messages might take science a while.  If we just look at gluten, we might be missing the real story.  We know that gluten is the sticky stuff that allows wheat to rise because it helps make the yeast bubbles.  It also has several segments that are quite distinct and cause separate immune reactions. 

But are there other proteins in wheat that may be raising the ruckus?  Or is it a different type of immune reaction that we have not measured to date? Celiac disease is certainly a distinct entity.  We can measure IgE antibodies to gluten and we can biopsy the small bowel and show stunted little villi in the wall of the bowel. That makes for blood tests that are negative or positive.  A biopsy of the wall of your small bowel will be positive for those villi.  You got a genuine diagnosis. 

But what happens if your body makes IgG? Well, along come Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity Syndrome.  It has now been recognized as a distinct entity by the Celiac Disease association.  And better, a company by the name of Cyrex has developed an immune assay that can measure 24 different immune reactions in which gluten and wheat might be causing trouble.   Check our their “Array 3” with all its complicated names.   The key concept here is that for every IgE test, the kind that develops with allergy, they also have an IgG test.  

Those folks who have the “Non-celiac” wheat sensitivity will have positive IgG tests, and their IgE will be negative.  In a traditional health setting, they will be told their gluten testing is all negative.  They will feel that their problem must be in their heads.  But they don’t feel well when they eat wheat. Suddenly it makes sense, and we have a test to objectify it.  IgG may not make for the dramatic symptoms of IgE, but the low grade, chronic inflammation it sets off just may be the key to understanding heart disease, Alzheimer’s…..this may be huge!

WWW.  What will work for me?  Wow.  I’ve now measured five people in my practice and it works!  It’s real. The Cyrex array finds folks with negative celiac testing, but who have symptoms.  I’m totally fascinated.  This is a story to follow.   This might be something I test myself for!


 1.  Gluten sensitivity with celiac disease is rare – about 1 in 138 people.  T or F               Answer:  True
 2.   People can be wheat sensitive and have negative celiac disease tests.  T or F               Answer.   True
 3.   To date, traditional medicine has called these folks “nuts”.  T or F                    Answer:  True
 4.   Wheat has more genes in it than humans.  T or F                      Answer:  Yup. Some 4 times.
 5.   The immune system can find tiny amounts of material and make immune reactions to it.  T or F                          Answer:  Tiny is hardly the word.  That’s how it protects us.
 6.  The Cyrex company has figured out a way to test for non-gluten wheat sensitivity that may answer the key question, “Why do I feel crummy when I eat wheat?”                       Answer:  That’s it in a nutshell. Stay tuned.

Column written by John Whitcomb, MD at Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI