Here's a word you've heard a lot but probably couldn't really say what it is.

Ready? Gluten.

Researchers estimate, gluten makes about 6 percent of Americans feel sick.  On the other hand, 20 percent of Americans are out shopping for gluten-free food, spending $4.6 billion dollars. What the heck is going on?

We got started down this path with a video submission from viewer William Fairely.

“It seems I have become, at this advanced age, gluten intolerant,” he said.

“My question is, what is gluten?  And why suddenly are we now intolerant to it and having problems with it? This is what I need to know. Can you help me verify this?” Bill added.

Alright. Let's start there. What is gluten?

It's a combination of proteins found inside the wheat kernel.

Inside dough, gas bubbles are forming. Gluten's job is to keep those bubbles trapped inside the bread. It does that by giving the loaf strength and structure, as it bakes. Basically, gluten makes bread fluffy.

Georgia Lopez, in Fort Worth lives gluten-free. While some people have a rare disease, called Celiac, where wheat actually damages the body, that’s not what this story is about. Georgia has gluten sensitivity.

“The kids would be like, why is mommy sick all the time?” Georgia said.

When she makes dinner nothing includes wheat or flour-- like her tortilla soup.

“What was it like when you dropped the gluten?  How did you feel then?” reporter David Schechter asked.

“Within a day, I felt 100 percent better,” she said.

Gluten sensitivity is not a disease.  It is a medically accepted diagnosis with symptoms that include intestinal distress, stomach pain, fatigue and headaches. Why do so many people say they're having these problems?

We went to go see Betty Murray. She's a certified nutritionist.

“Where did this come from?” Schechter asked her.

“We are A-1 able to test for it, where we were not able to do that before,” she said.

A leading advocacy group called Beyond Celiac says the only way to diagnose gluten sensitivity is to eliminate it from your diet and see if that improves health. But Murray disagrees and does recommend newly available lab tests, like Wheat Zoomer.

During Facebook Live interview people are telling Murray their gluten problems seem to come out of nowhere.

She says it's because we may be losing the good bacteria we need for digestion-- from taking too many anti-biotics and antacids.  And our immune-systems are stressed out from fighting off things like allergies.

“Too often, what has happened for someone like that, where they were fine and then they weren’t? They've had some sort of event or triggering.  At some point their immune system was like, 'I'm done.  I can't do it anymore,'” Murray said.

In a Facebook comment a viewer said wheat is not the same now as when God created it.

“Is that true?” Schechter asked.

“That is true.  One of the things that was important in the last 50 years was to increase the yield of wheat, particularly in the US.  Meaning, make more grain seeds out of it,” Murray said.

“When we did that we increased the gluten content.  And that made the food more immune stimulating.  It just did,” she added.

Has someone been jacking with our wheat?  We went to Oklahoma State University to see Brett Carver. He's a wheat breeder, developing new varieties of the grain.

“Why are you doing this?” Schechter asked him.

“Feed the world,” he said.  “The population of the world is growing.  The land in which we produce wheat is not growing so must be able to produce more wheat with less land,” Carver added.

Remember, Betty Murray said-- wheat breeders are packing more gluten protein into modern wheat. What does Carver have to say about that?

“You're a wheat breeder. Does that mean you're back there trying to pack more gluten into wheat?” Schechter asked.

“No.  I'm trying to produce more grain in a field of wheat, yet keep the gluten count the same because that's what the consumer is used to, that's what the baker is used to.   That's what the miller is used to.  We want to keep that part absolutely consistent,” Carver said.

In fact, peer-reviewed research from a scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture concludes the gluten level in wheat has not changed.

On Facebook Live, Jorge said his father-in-law swears that wheat gluten is terrible for us.

“Is wheat gluten terrible for us?” Schechter asked Carver.

“No. And it hasn’t been terrible to us for 10,000 years.  Because we have evolved with wheat.  And the wheat gluten we have evolved with has not changed, in terms of genetics,” he said.

So, we’ve verified three things:

·         First, gluten sensitivity is a medical diagnosis and it can be debilitating.

·         Second, wheat gets a bad rap. The statement that there is more gluten in modern wheat is false.

·         And last, what's causing gluten sensitivity?  The leading science on this suggests antibiotics and antacids have changed the bacteria in our gut-- limiting our ability to digest gluten. 

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