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Gluten May Not Be the Ingredient in Wheat That's Making You Sick

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Celiac disease affects only an estimated 1 percent of Americans, but more people than ever before are eschewing wheat and other grains that contain the protein gluten due to stomach discomfort. But it may not be the gluten that’s the problem, according to a new study in the journal Gastroenterologyhighlighted by New Scientist.

Previously, doctors maintained that celiac disease was the only cause of wheat sensitivity, leading experts to wonder if gluten-free diets were just the latest diet trend, not the solution to a real, widespread dietary issue. But recent research is starting to bolster the idea that there may be other causes of reactions to wheat, lending credence to the large number of people who report adverse reactions to eating it. A 2016 study pointed to a group of proteins in wheat called amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) as a trigger of inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body.

This latest study, conducted by gastroenterologists at Oslo University Hospital in Norway and Monash University in Australia, points to a group of carbohydrates called fructans, a kind of short-chain carbohydrate made up of fructose molecules. Fructans are found in high quantities not just in wheat, but in onions, garlic, asparagus, and certain other vegetables.

Researchers gave 59 people who had already independently put themselves on a gluten-free diet (but weren’t celiac) cereal bars that either contained gluten, fructans, or a placebo. They found that the participants who ate the bars containing fructans experienced more symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. There was no difference between those who experienced symptoms on the placebo bars and those who ate the gluten bars—in other words, the fructans were the problem.

If it’s fructans rather than wheat that causes gastrointestinal distress for people who diagnose themselves with wheat sensitivity, that explains why cutting out gluten may not make them feel totally better. They’re probably still eating onions and Brussels sprouts. When you go to a gastroenterologist complaining of gluten issues these days, they may instead prescribe a low-FODMAP diet—which targets certain hard-to-digest carbohydrates like fructans—rather than a gluten-free one. The low-FODMAP diet involves not just avoiding bread products, but sources of fructans, too.

Unfortunately, that means that if you aren’t celiac, new gene-editing research geared toward producing gluten-less wheat probably isn’t going to help you much. Cutting out your artichoke obsession might. On the bright side, it does mean that traditional sourdough bread is back on the table.

[h/t New Scientist]

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Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds
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Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

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Scientists Find a Possible Link Between Beef Jerky and Mania
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Scientist have discovered a surprising new factor that may contribute to mania: meat sticks. As NBC News reports, processed meats containing nitrates, like jerky and some cold cuts, may provoke symptoms of mental illness.

For a new study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, scientists surveyed roughly 1100 people with psychiatric disorders who were admitted into the Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore between 2007 and 2017. They had initially set out to find whether there was any connection between certain infectious diseases and mania, a common symptom of bipolar disorder that can include racing thoughts, intense euphoria, and irritability.

While questioning participants about their diet, the researchers discovered that a significant number of them had eaten cured meats before their manic episodes. Patients who had recently consumed products like salami, jerky, and dried meat sticks were more likely to be hospitalized for mania than subjects in the control group.

The link can be narrowed down to nitrates, which are preservatives added to many types of cured meats. In a later part of the study, rats that were fed nitrate-free jerky acted less hyperactive than those who were given meat with nitrates.

Numerous studies have been published on the risks of consuming foods pumped full of nitrates: The ingredient can lead to the formation of carcinogens, and it can react in the gut in a way that promotes inflammation. It's possible that inflammation from nitrates can trigger mania in people who are already susceptible to it, but scientists aren't sure how this process might work. More research still needs to be done on the relationship between gut health and mental health before people with psychiatric disorders are told to avoid beef jerky altogether.

[h/t NBC News]

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