Gluten may not be the culprit when it comes to wheat sensitivities, according to a new body of research presented at the United European Gastroenterology Week 2016. Instead, a team of scientists from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany discovered a different protein in wheat known as amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) may be what triggers the stomach-sickening inflammation and other symptoms.

For the study, the team stopped focusing on gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye — and shifted their attention to ATIs because it appears to cause inflammation and worsen other chronic health conditions. Although ATIs only make up 4 percent of proteins found in wheat, they are responsible for a lot of damage throughout the body. Not only is the stomach at risk for dangerous inflammation, but so are the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain as well.

ATIs may also contribute to the development of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Those who do not have celiac disease, which is a serious autoimmune disease that causes damage to the intestines, can still be negatively affected by gluten-containg foods, such as pastas, breads, and baked goods. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, one out of every 100 people suffer from celiac disease, but it is unclear how many suffer from wheat sensitivity.

“We believe that ATIs can promote inflammation of other immune-related chronic conditions outside of the bowel,” said the findings’ presenter Dr. Detlef Schuppan, who is a professor at both Johannes Gutenberg University and Harvard Medical School, in a press release. “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 activate specific types of immune cells in the gut, thereby worsening the symptoms of pre-existing inflammatory illnesses.”

Dr. Schuppan and his team’s research has shown that following an ATI-free diet, which is reducing ATI-containing wheat products by 90 percent, should be enough to improve symptoms. More research is needed before a regimen with medically-backed recommendations can be given out to patients, but until then, all research is pointing to one conclusion - chronic diseases are worsened by ingestion of wheat ATIs.

Schuppan said: “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.”

Source: Schuppan D. UEG WEEK 2016. 2016.