Scientists have discovered that a type of protein in wheat, known as amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATI’s), triggers inflammation that can cause a number of chronic health conditions, such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
While previous studies were focused mostly on the effect of gluten on human health, this new research is putting ATI’s in the spotlight as a cause for concern.
What are ATI’s?
Amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATI’s) are a certain type of protein that can be found in wheat and other plants, which occurs as a natural pesticide. These pesticides are not added by human intervention but are actually an inherent part of the plant, which helps to keep it resistant to certain pests and insects.
While more than 80% of wheat proteins are categorized as gluten, less than 4% of are categorized as ATI’s, but recent studies have shown that it can trigger a similar immune response in the gut, which can also spread to other tissues in the body.
Studies have shown that ATI’s can be linked to inflammation in the brain, lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, lungs, joint, and digestive tract. It has also been associated with worsening the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, lupus, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS).
For some individuals, ATI’s are recognized as a foreign substance by the immune system, which triggers an inflammatory response. This reaction has been found to occur in both celiac and non-celiac patients, which is why it is being proposed to be named “non-celiac wheat sensitivity” going forward.
Professor Schuppan from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany and the lead researcher of the study, says: “As well as contributing to the development of bowel-related inflammatory conditions, we believe that ATIs can promote inflammation of other immune-related chronic conditions outside of the bowel. The type of gut inflammation seen in non-celiac gluten sensitivity differs from that caused by celiac disease, and we do not believe that this is triggered by gluten proteins. Instead, we demonstrated that ATIs from wheat, that are also contaminating commercial gluten, activate specific types of immune cells in the gut and other tissues, thereby potentially worsening the symptoms of pre-existing inflammatory illnesses”.
How is it treated?
Researchers are conducting clinical studies to find out how significant the role of ATI’s are on chronic health conditions and how it can be treated effectively.
Professor Schuppan says: “We are hoping that this research can lead us towards being able to recommend an ATI-free diet to help treat a variety of potentially serious immunological disorders. Additionally, rather than non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which implies that gluten solitarily causes the inflammation, a more precise name for the disease should be considered.”
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is now accepted as a medical diagnosis for individuals who benefit from a gluten-free diet but have not been found to have celiac disease.
Symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity include irregular bowel movements, abdominal pain, headaches, eczema, joint pain, and inflammation, which have been found to rapidly improve by removing any form of wheat from the diet.