The Umami Hypothesis and the Meaning of Co-Morbidity

In an article in Slate about restrictive diets, Daniel Engber noted that

Celiac patients have almost twice the normal risk of cancer, and one-third of them suffer from another autoimmune disease, like Type 1 diabetes, lupus, or multiple sclerosis.

Does celiac disease cause cancer, Type 1 diabetes, lupus, and multiple sclerosis? Not very plausible. Does cancer cause celiac disease? Does lupus cause celiac disease? Not very plausible. Much more plausible is that all five have a common cause. I believe that common cause is a malfunctioning immune system due to not enough bacteria in the diet (the umami hypothesis).

More (May 2012). I now think that all these diseases are due to wheat molecules leaking into the blood and setting off an immune reaction that attacks parts of the body (because the wheat molecule resembles those molecules). The leaky gut that allows wheat molecules to enter the blood is caused by lack of bacteria in the diet.

7 Replies to “The Umami Hypothesis and the Meaning of Co-Morbidity”

  1. I agree that the most likely explanation is that they all share an underlying common cause. This is why I give my family yogurt and kefir every day, and why my wife and I eat kimchee every day. And why I started making kombucha.

  2. Hi Seth–
    A major article in Scientific American for August discusses celiac disease in depth. It’s pretty clear it’s caused by an inborn heightened immune sensitivity to gluten. Eliminating gluten from the diet cures the condition. The interesting part of the article came in a sidebar that talked about delayed onset CD in adults and how it might be related to a change in the microflora of the gut that activates the genes. Excellent article, well worth reading.

  3. Thanks, Sheila. A big problem with the “inborn heightened immune sensitivity to gluten” explanation is that it doesn’t explain the co-morbidity I describe. The article puts it like this:

    A growing body of evidence suggests that virtually the same trio of factors underpins most, and perhaps all, auto­immune diseases: an environmental substance that is presented to the body, a genetically based tendency of the immune system to overreact to the substance, and an unusually permeable gut.

    In multiple sclerosis, what’s “the substance”? In arthritis, what’s “the substance”? Why should “an unusually permeable gut” cause arthritis? Or MS? It doesn’t make sense. The author is confusing correlation with causation. Nor is there any explanation of elevated cancer rates, which go unmentioned in the article.

  4. Here is a study I just spotted:

    Umami and the foods of classical antiquity1,2,3

    Robert I Curtis
    1 From the Department of Classics, University of Georgia, Athens, GA.

    2 Presented at the “100th Anniversary Symposium of Umami Discovery: The Roles of Glutamate in Taste, Gastrointestinal Function, Metabolism, and Physiology,” held in Tokyo, Japan, September 10–13, 2008.

    3 Address correspondence to RI Curtis, Department of Classics, Park Hall, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-6203. E-mail:

    Umami is the taste of foods that are rich in glutamic acid and 2 ribonucleotides, 5′-inosinate and 5′-guanylate. This distinctive taste of modern Eastern cuisine, which is finding a receptive audience in the Western hemisphere, characterized many dishes that ancient Romans consumed >2000 y ago. Romans enjoyed numerous foods that are identified today as containing significant amounts of natural umami substances and frequently used fish sauce as a condiment in their recipes. Fish sauce imparted to Roman dishes a moderately salty, slightly fishy taste that combines synergistically with other foods to create the umami flavor. Fish sauce derives from the hydrolysis of fish in the presence of salt primarily through endogenous enzymic proteolysis. Its simple production process, low cost, and ability to enhance the taste of many foods has made it the basic condiment for traditional dishes consumed in many Southeast Asian countries. Fish sauce also has important nutritional value, primarily in the form of amino acids. Because ancient Romans made fish sauce in the same way and with the same resources as modern fish sauce producers of Southeast Asia, the amino acid profiles of the 2 products are probably nearly identical. Archaeological sources indicate that fish-processing centers operated throughout the Mediterranean area, and processed fish was an important element in long-distance trade. A close study of the remains of the Roman city of Pompeii indicates that fish sauce was a thriving business that rendered the popular condiment accessible to people of all social classes.

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