Gluten Grief

Many people with symptoms such as ADD/ADHD, autism, brain fog, canker sores, fatigue, gas, headaches, heartburn, infertility, irritable bowel, joint pain, lupus, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, skin rashes, weight gain, and even mental conditions feel much better when they stop eating wheat, rye and barley. The culprit is at least in part the sticky elastic protein, gluten, contained in the grain. (Lectins and fructans may also be a problem.)

Before I proceed…yes, bread is mentioned in the Bible as the “staff of life”. However, today’s grains are not the same thing. As noted in the book Wheat Belly, selective breeding has greatly increased the amount of gluten they contain. Even more fundamental is the fact that our hunter/gatherer ancestors did not farm grains. While our human chemistry has changed very little since that time, our intake of wheat-based foods and ingredients has skyrocketed. These foods are a major component of the Standard American Diet (or SAD as nutritionists call it).

Gluten containing foods are inexpensive, convenient and we like them…a LOT. Unfortunately, that is about where the list of positives stops. The reasons to avoid gluten listed below are not necessarily in priority order because for an individual, any one of them might be the key to improving health.

  1. Wheat is often listed as one of the top 8 allergens. However, that isn’t quite accurate as true allergy to wheat is relatively rare. Negative reactions common to wheat are not in the same category as the easily observable nearly instantaneous true allergic reactions—e.g. like when a person’s throat swells right after eating peanuts. It may be harder to make the cause/effect connection with wheat because the side effect may not appear for hours, days or weeks. In the case of a severe reaction called celiac disease, the health risks may take years to fully manifest. It is quite likely that at least 15% of the public is intolerant of gluten. (I didn’t know that I was until I was tested.) It is known that schizophrenics have increased levels of gluten-fighting immune factors in their blood. Is it simply coincidence that when grains were rationed during WW2, admissions to psychiatric institutions declined worldwide?

  2. Perhaps as many as 1 in 131 persons have that very severe reaction to gluten called “celiac disease”. It nearly destroys the intestinal tract and the person’s ability to absorb nutrients. Lack of important nutrients can lead to many serious conditions and maybe a shorter more uncomfortable life. It now appears that celiac sufferers may also be at greater risk for lymphoma.

  3. Mass-produced grains are stored in silos where molds grow and produce poisons called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins can create virtually any symptom as well as health conditions ranging from boggy brain and joint pain to depression, heart disease and even cancer.

  4. Grains are a source of starches that feed pathogenic yeasts such as “Candida” in our bodies. Yeast is a type of fungus that releases mycotoxins inside us. These toxins may in turn cause the health problems noted in #3 above. Strong evidence also links them to “leaky gut” and auto-immune diseases such as Lupus. (The term “leaky gut” is shorthand for a health-robbing situation where we cannot absorb nutrients very well but easily absorb toxins and partially-digested food molecules into blood circulation.)

  5. Grains tend to make our tissues more acidic. To buffer that acidity, the body often must pull minerals out of storage places like the bones. (Vegetables encourage tissue alkalinity.)

  6. Whole grains contain phytates (technically saturated cyclic acids) that bind up minerals (like magnesium and zinc) and block their absorption.

  7. Grains are typically high in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3 fats. As discussed often on our radio show, the goal is to reduce intake of pro-inflammatory omega-6 and increase intake of anti-inflammatory omega-3.

  8. Most food products made with gluten grains tend to be the processed ones that increase blood sugar and insulin. High insulin raises the risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Just look at what passes for breakfast these days: bagels, biscuits, coffee cake, donuts, muffins, pancakes, refined cereal, sweet rolls, toaster pastry or waffles.

  9. Processed food items made with grains are designed to be “habit-forming” (if not flat addictive). Overuse of them is not only fattening, but may also displace vegetables and good protein foods from the diet.

  10. Those same habit-forming foods that are sources of empty calories often contain partially hydrogenated oils (source of Trans fats) and many chemicals that disrupt our normal chemistry.

  11. Under-active thyroid (hypothyroid) is a serious problem affecting millions of Americans. Besides fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, and so forth (see my thyroid survey), it is even an often overlooked cause of elevated cholesterol. Gluten is apparently a common cause of thyroid issues, especially those of the autoimmune variety.

  12. Some experts warn that everyone may react badly to gluten to some degree because grains are not well digested and therefore cause inflammation in the G.I. tract.

  13. Okay, let’s make this a “baker’s dozen” reasons. Gluten grains (again wheat, rye and barley) are also a significant source of factors known as lectins. (Do not confuse them with leptin that the body produces). Lectins act as anti-nutrients and can also harm the digestive lining. This article describes them well.

Nutritionist David Getoff created this useful chart on sources of gluten and hidden gluten. This site LINK has an interesting article on gluten. And this “infographic” is an excellent overview.

But don’t we need these grains you say? Short answer: no. The fiber and nutrients contained in grains are also available in vegetables (which provide many more benefits and fewer risks). Naturally, you will hear a lot of pro-grain propaganda from companies selling cereal and crackers. Even organizations like health charities and the dietitians’ groups speak well of them. But, before you take that praise too seriously, look at the support they receive from the refined food manufacturers. Likewise, remember that the US Department of Agriculture is not only charged with helping our health, but also with assisting farmers in selling grain. Little or no research has been done to gauge the health effects of the ever larger amounts and changed types of gluten in the American diet. It is a It is buyer beware gamble. Since the giant corporations who make grain-based foods have a lot of sway with the USDA and with Congress, do not expect help from on high.

For those with long term G.I. problems, osteoporosis, or a family history of celiac disease it would be best to get tested by a celiac specialist before you try eliminating gluten because that makes the test more accurate.

For everyone else, a couple of weeks of avoiding gluten grains costs you nothing. You have nothing to lose health-wise and possibly a lot to gain.

Copyright 2013-2018 by Martie Whittekin, CCN

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