04/06/2021 at 8:32 AM CEST
A scientific study reveals that the increase in nitrogen in fertilizers for wheat may be behind the increase in cases of celiac disease in the world. The use of this element to fertilize these crops has increased tenfold since the 1960s.
Wheat is the most abundant crop in the world and remains the main food grain for humanity. Its plantations currently occupy an area of 217 million hectares worldwide. And, although its direct consumption has decreased in recent years, the increase in flour used as a food additive has caused an increase in the annual per capita intake.
However, ingesting gluten, which is a wheat protein, can cause intolerances and allergies among consumers. Celiac disease is one of the most important conditions. Although science continues to investigate the causes of this reaction, it seems that they are related to the quantity and quality of gluten, as well as a wide spectrum of factors: intestinal infections, infant feeding & mldr;
Now, a group of scientists has linked celiac disease to the progressive increase in the use of nitrogen in agricultural fertilizers used in wheat crops.
From the 1960s until now, the global use of nitrogen for these uses has increased tenfold. Excess nitrogen to fertilize wheat crops transfers to grain and flour increased amounts of gliadin, which is a protein involved in the formation of gluten.
The study ‘Could global intensification of nitrogen fertilization increase immunogenic proteins and favor thre spread of coeliac pathology?’, Published in the journal Foods by CREAF and CSIC researcher Josep Peñuelas, provides important clues about this process.
The work reveals that the per capita intake of flour in recent decades has remained more or less constant, but, instead, the concentration of gliadin in wheat has increased.
This has caused that the average consumption of gliadin per person has also increased.
Peñuelas has declared to the CREAF blog: “Nitrogen fertilization translates into a possible direct global health problem& rdquor ;. Although he is cautious and recalls that there are few studies yet on the subject, he warns of the importance of the discovery. “We do not do the medical study, but we warn of a new consequence. The relationship we have identified does not imply the existence of a single direct cause. There may be other factors, but this one is important & rdquor ;, he notes.
“The nitrogen fertilization that we ecologists study has very relevant effects on microorganisms and the functioning of the earth, and we add that it also has an effect on human health,” he adds.
Data on the demand and application of nitrogen fertilizers in world agriculture reveal a very notable increase. Specifically, the latest International Conference of the Nitrogen Initiative reveals that global consumption of nitrogen fertilizers grew by 33% between 2000 and 2013.
Other indicators show that there are differences between the different regions of the world when analyzing this nitrogen intensification, being higher in Asia and lower in Europe.
According to the author of the study, “everything suggests that we have another risk factor caused by a world richer in nitrogen through the increase in gliadins in wheat, an important risk factor that may explain, at least in part, the increase in the prevalence of celiac disease & rdquor ;.
“Global change is leading us to a global health change& rdquor ;, he states.
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