In the M. Night Shyamalan thriller, The Happening, a worldwide plague strikes humanity that causes anyone affected to kill themselves. The trigger turns out to be a substance released by plants into the air that affects the minds of humans. According to the movie, plants developed the toxin to save themselves from humans.
As we discover more about gluten, lectins and now a new protein called ATI, it seems Shyamalan’s film may have been closer to the truth than anyone could have thought. Plants may be fighting back against their predators, including us.
Gluten, a storage protein in wheat, barley, rye and oats, is understood to cause an inflammatory response leading to celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder affecting millions worldwide that causes inflammation and damage to the lining of the small intestine.
Lectins, much smaller protein structures have also been implicated in inflammation and were originally thought to cause celiac disease decades before gluten was discovered.
Now, German researchers have found that amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs), proteins in plants responsible for combating pests and insects, lead to development of inflammation outside the gut, including the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen and brain.
ATIs make up no more than 4% of wheat proteins, but can trigger powerful immune reactions in the gut that can spread to other tissues in the body. Lead researcher, Professor Detlef Schuppan from the Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany, explains, “As well as contributing to the development of bowel-related inflammatory conditions, we believe that ATIs can promote inflammation of other immune-related chronic conditions outside of the bowel. The type of gut inflammation seen in non-coeliac gluten sensitivity differs from that caused by coeliac disease, and we do not believe that this is triggered by gluten proteins. Instead, we demonstrated that ATIs from wheat, that are also contaminating commercial gluten, activate specific types of immune cells in the gut and other tissues, thereby potentially worsening the symptoms of pre-existing inflammatory illnesses”.1
Conditions that Schuppan found ATIs can worsen included rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, lupus and non-alcoholic fatty liver.
ATIs and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
In addition to worsening conditions outside the bowel, ATIs may contribute to non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity has only recently been accepted as a medical diagnosis for those people without celiac disease who benefit from a gluten-free diet. Symptoms include headaches, inflammatory bowel disease, abdominal pain, eczema, joint pain and fatigue. If ATIs are behind non-celiac gluten sensitivity, this may mean gluten is less responsible which would require redefining the syndrome.
In conclusion, ATIs are proteins in plants that act as natural pesticides to protect themselves. These ATI “pesticides” can damage the health of humans, worsening certain health conditions and increasing inflammation throughout the body.
The Happening was a fictional movie, but perhaps it hit closer to the truth than Shyamalan could imagine. It seems plants can, and are, fighting back against us.
EurekAlert, https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-10/sh-nsl101016.php ↩