|Coming soon to Oktoberfest? Source: Usien.|
Thanks to Australian scientists and farmers, German consumers now have access to gluten-free beer made from a new strain of barley, a breakthrough for manufacturers seeking alternatives to rice and sorghum. Approximately 70 tonnes of the new Kebari strain of barley have been sold to Germany’s largest brewer, Radeberger. Kebari barley is non-GMO, instead, it is the product of decades of breeding out gluten by cross-breeding low-gluten varieties of barley. Production of this new strain will be strictly controlled in Australia, in order to prevent any cross-contamination which could have negative effects on the health of coeliac or gluten sensitive consumers. Kebari barley only contains tiny amounts of gluten, but at 5 parts per million it is well below the WHO qualification of 20ppm. European beer drinkers have embraced gluten-free varieties more than other regions, with most growth in the sector coming from those who do not suffer from coeliac disease, although diagnosis of the condition has increased. Coeliac disease is largely genetic, with an estimated prevalence of 0.5-1% globally, and features an immune reaction to gluten that usually involves intestinal damage, rarely only symptoms involving other organs, or both. The majority of patients with coeliac disease will have damage to the small intestinal villi, which negatively affects nutrient absorption. Therefore, the need for gluten-free options, or foods with a gluten content low enough to not trigger a reaction, must be taken seriously as untreated coeliac disease can lead to increased risk of disease and higher mortality rates. Additionally, patients with certain other diseases, such as hepatitis B, may have a higher prevalence of coeliac disease, whether it is a cause or effect of these other conditions.
But what about those who have no reason to suspect coeliac disease, and are just eliminating gluten to maintain general health? Are they simply following a “fad” that will pass eventually and give way to another dietary “no-no”? There is a theory, in fact, that gluten may be bad for everyone. Some say that gluten is indigestible in humans, and that gluten sensitivity, where there is no damage to the intestines, may affect millions more than the 18 million already known. This is harder to diagnose, as patients could have anything from a list of around 100 symptoms, with varying degrees of similarity to coeliac disease. Some autoimmune diseases may be triggered by gluten intake, as similar antigens to those made by our bodies may “confuse” the immune system. Gluten has also been implicated in a range of neurological issues, particularly neuropathy and ataxia. For example, there has been an association made between gluten and schizophrenia, and there has also been evidence linking gluten to cerebellar degeneration in ataxia of “unknown cause”. Ataxia is the best description of my symptoms. In addition to gluten, the lectins, opioid-like compounds and high levels of aspartate and glutamate found in wheat may also cause damage, particularly to the nervous system. The lectins in wheat can cause intestinal damage and inflammation. Gliadomorphin, an opioid found in wheat, can activate brain opioid receptors and thus damage neurological function. Aspartate and glutamate are “non-essential” amino acids which stimulate the nervous system and can kill neurons by over-stimulation (excitotoxicity). Therefore, wheat may be the worst out of the several grains that contain gluten. While it has not been concluded that gluten is harmful to most, or all, people, mounting evidence that it can cause harm, along with the value of personal choice, mean that the production of gluten-free beer may benefit many of those who choose to consume alcohol (in moderation, of course).