An Ancient Grain Eases A Modern Ailment

kamutKhorasan wheat, an ancient Near Eastern grain better known by its commercial name, Kamut, appears to be a much better option than conventional wheat for people with irritable bowel syndrome, according to data from the first-ever head-to-head human comparison study.

Francesco Sofi and colleagues at the department of nutrition, Careggi University Hospital, Florence, divided 20 people (13 women, 7 men) with moderately symptomatic IBS into two groups: one group was provided with bread, pasta and other grain-based products made from Khorasan wheat (Triticum turgidum) and told to eat only these for 6 weeks; the other group got similar products made from organically-grown modern Durum or bread wheat.

Following the initial trial period and another 6-week washout period, the investigators switched the product supplies so those formerly eating Khorasan were switched to Durham and vice versa.

Steady daily consumption of the Kamut resulted in statistically significant reductions in abdominal pain, bloating, improved stool consistency and tiredness. Patients reported less intensity and lower frequency of pain, bloating, abdominal distension which translated into improved quality of life measures.

Symptom burden remained or returned to baseline levels during the periods when patients were eating the modern wheat products (Sofi F, et al. Br J Nutr. 2014; 13: 1-8)

Fewer Inflammatory Cytokines

The patient self-assessments correlated with measurable changes in circulating inflammatory cytokines. During the periods in which the subjects were eating only the ancient grain products, they showed significant reductions in levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, including IL-6, IL-17, interferon-γ, monocyte chemotactic protein-1 and vascular endothelial growth factor. There were no such cytokine changes during the periods when they ate the modern wheat varieties.

Dr. Sofi and his colleagues have been at the forefront of research into Khorasan/Kamut. In 2013, they published a study using a similar cross-over model, and showing that exclusive consumption of this grain variety had significant beneficial effects on a host of cardiovascular risk factors in healthy men and women.

During the 8-week periods when the patients were eating Kamut, they showed reductions in mean total cholesterol (-8.46 mg/dl); low-density lipoprotein (-9.82 mg/dl); and blood glucose. They also showed significant increases of serum potassium and magnesium. These changes were not seen during the periods when the subjects ate conventional wheat.

As was the case in the IBS study, these subjects also showed reductions in circulating levels of key pro-inflammatory cytokines (interleukin (IL)-6, IL-12, tumour necrosis factor-α and vascular endothelial growth factor) during the Kamut trial periods (Sofi F, et al. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013; 67(2): 190-5).

Some advocates claim that ancient grains like Khorasan wheat contain less gluten than modern varieties that have been bred over centuries for high-gluten content. This may be true. However that does not mean that they are safe for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Tanja Suligoj and colleagues at King’s College London showed that a wide variety of ancient grains including Khorasan/Kamut could elicit strong and heterogeneous responses from T-cell lines derived from patients with celiac disease. The data were published last year in the journal, Clinical Nutrition.