Monday, May 23, 2011

Wheat and Egypt

A while ago I posted "Wheat and Malnutrition" which contained this bit:

"We have recently completed a screening project on school children in Cairo City, Egypt. Blood samples were obtained from 1,500 children attending school in Cairo City between October 2001 and June 2004... The prevalence of [celiac disease] in this sample of Egyptian students was 53% (95% CI 0.17-0.89). This estimate may be low, as more CD cases could be diagnosed at the follow-up, e.g. in the group currently showing a positive tTG IgA and a negative EMA [partial CD symptoms]."
(This is in the Wall Street Journal, which is subscription-only.)

That's pretty incredible, as celiac is supposed to be a rare, genetically determined condition.  In my post "Wheat and Poison Ivy", I presented the notion that wheat is simply a toxic plant, like poison ivy.  Toxins are typically more toxic past a certain point, and toxicity increases with dose.  "The dose makes the poison", in other words.

Logically, therefore, those Egyptian kids should be eating a lot of wheat to induce that level of toxicity (a 53% rate of celiac disease, better understood as wheat poisoning).

Well, lo and behold:

"Wheat is the biggest dietary staple in much of the region, providing cheap nutrition in bread, pasta and couscous.

"Tunisians eat more wheat than anyone on the planet: 478 pounds per person a year, compared to 177 pounds in the U.S. Egyptians and Algerians also eat more than twice as much wheat as Americans, says the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization."

(Also from the WSJ, titled "Mideast Staggered By Cost Of Wheat", May 19.)

Celiac is also common in Tunisia, although not at the level of that Egyptian school.  I'll note that that doesn't indicate a clear dose-response level.  One would expect some variation.

So what is also announced in the WSJ on the day that they published that article on wheat consumption in Egypt? A new aid plan for Egypt. Because they buy most of their wheat; from the United States, no doubt, since we're the largest exporter in the world.  They'll use the money to buy more wheat.

It beats starving, but not by much.  And, apparently, not for long.