What's Wrong with Wheat?

What's wrong with wheat? In a word: gluten. For many, gluten is an intestinal abrasive that effectively "sandpapers" your insides. Wheat, along with rye and barley, contain a family of gluten proteins that create long-term digestive problems for nearly everyone. And the problems don't stop there. Allergies, light-sensitivity, and even auto-immune reactions can be traced to gluten, not to mention "beer belly" and chronic fatigue. Gluten-senstivity is the most prevalent food reaction there is. To make matters worse, gluten tends to be addictive. A simple blood test is all you need to find out if you're at risk. If you suffer from psoriasis, migraines, depression, or fatique, you might want to get one.

Update: And if gluten isn't a serious problem for you, it turns out that no one should be eating modern wheat--a toxic compound, which, while only mildly poisonous, accumulates its damage with every drop of food you eat if, like most, you include wheat-based products with every meal.

Eric Armstrong

I am indebted to the health maintenance practioners at Health Now Medical for alerting me to the nature of gluten, for giving my body the assistance it needed to restore itself to full health, and for inspiring this article.

Why Gluten is Bad for You

Gluten is a family of proteins, including gliaden and glutenin (which have been the most widely studied). They are thick, gooey proteins that make things stick together when baked, instead of falling apart. Since there is so much of it in wheat, wheat is practically the foundation of the baking industry. Good for them. Bad for you. The problem is, it can slowly wreaks havoc on your insides.

Gluten causes problems for people who lack the genetic ability to break it down into smaller amino acids, so that can be absorbed. Most can't, but that's not a problem unless you also have an immune system that sees the molecule as a foreign invader. Because it doesn't get broken down, the immune system recognizes it as a "foreign protein", and attacks it. In the process, the intestinal wall is damaged. That's why gluten acts as an intestinal abrasive.

How Many People are Affected?

In the latest study, one in three people were found to be gluten sensitive, even though they were showing no symptoms at all. They were pre-symptomatic. Of people with any kind of digestive disorder (gas, heart burn, diarrhea, consitpation, or what have you) one in two were found to be gluten senstive. And if any blood relative was gluten senstive, the chances were a near certainty that they were, too.

So let's say that half the people in the country have some kind of digestive problem (a very conservative estimate). If the studies are accurate, then half of those folks are gluten sensitive (25%), as are a third of the remainder (17%). That would mean that something like 42% of the population has a problem with gluten.

So as much as half the population could be affected--but we don't know how big the problem really is, because doctors don't typically test for it. But in the DVD, Unlocking the Mystery of Wheat and Gluten Intolerance, Dr. O'Bryan gives a lecture that consists entirely of quotes from medical journals. There is no excuse for the fact that doctors are by and large ignornant of this material, and no excuse for failing to test for gluten sensitivity in every medical checkup. If they did that, we would have precise numbers in very short order.

How Gluten Creates Problems

The changes it makes in your body eventually cause sometimes-violent food reactions. Note that I didn't say "food allergies". A true "allergy" doesn't develop slowly, over time. And the severity of the symptoms don't depend on how much you have, or on how long you have been exposed. When you have a true allergy, the smallest amounts create a severe response, immediately.

The gluten grains aren't that dramatic. They immune reactions they incite slowly erode the intestinal wall, creating increasingly severe problems over a long period of time. Because of that immune response, gluten acts as an "intestinal abrasive". It sandpapers the intestinal wall it is so thin that it no longer functions properly. The glutens cause a variety of problems that collectively come under the heading, gluten sensitivity, or when severe, are said to cause a gluten reaction.

The symptoms take so long to develop, in fact, that you get used to them. "That's just the way things are", you think, or: "That's just what happens when you get older."  But you can become so used to them that they feel "normal". So large numbers of people take aspirin for their constant headaches, for example, never realizing that their diet is causing the problem. But it may very well be that you don't have to live with the symptoms you've become accustomed to, and that you don't have to take drugs to deal with them.

As the weakening of the intestinal wall progresses, other "food allergies" develop. The first one to develop is typically a reaction to milk, for example, because the enzyme responsible for digesting lacose (lactase) is produced at the tips of the villi that line the intestines. As those villi erode, the body becomes incapable of digesting lactose.

As time goes on, other such food senstivities develop. Eventually, the intestinal wall thins to the point that it starts absorbing things that should have been blocked (leaky gut). That's when the real problems start. In short, gluten reactions interfere with many bodily systems:

Where Gluten is Found

The largest amounts of glutens are found in wheat, rye, and barley--a closely related trio of grains that contain, respectively, gliaden and glutenin.

Gliadin is the worst of the offenders. Gliaden does not occur in oats, but other gluten proteins do, such as glutenin. So oats are a "borderline" grain. It may be that they don't cause problems, or it may be that we just haven't studied glutenin enough.

Then there is triticale (wheat and rye), kamut (Egyptian wheat) and wheat products like couscoous and semolina. Plus spelt, club, durum, bulgur, and einkorn--all wheat or wheat products, and all to be avoided by anyone who is gluten intolerant.

The only grains or flour from which gluten proteins are completely absent are rice, corn, potato, buckwheat, and coconut flour, arrowroot, millet, tapioca, teff, amaranth, and quinoa. Those are the only realistic grains for anyone who is gluten sensitive.

Soy and corn are gluten-free, as well. But virtually all of the wheat, corn, and soy grown in the United States has been genetically modified. In addition, both corn oil and soy oil depress the thyroid, which lowers your energy levels and causes weight gain. So neither corn nor soy are highly recommended at this time.

Gluten's Effects on the Body

You've already seen a fairly lengthy list of harmful effects. This section will dive a little deeper into the mechanisms that cause harm, and add to the list of undesirable effects, including:

Gluten Addiction

Super Size Me describes the addictive nature of American fast foods. They incite feelings of euphoria, only to create feelings of misery a few hours later--producing the need for another "fix". It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the hamburgers use a wheat filler, the fries are brushed with wheat to make them crispy. The process by which wheat becomes addictive works like this:

  1. Over time, gluten's erosion of the intestinal wall produces a "leaky gut" which absorbs full proteins that should have been blocked until they're broken down into amino acids.
  2. Glutens are opioid-like proteins that resist the digestive process, so they don't easily break down into amino acids.
  3. When the damaged intestinal wall passes them through intact, they cause a "gluten high" that lasts for a few hours, followed by an energy crash and a craving for carbohydrates--your next "fix".

The process is aided and abetted, of course, by the sugar and simple starches that are invariably present in baked goods. So when you're coming down, you'll have a craving for the thing that gets you high--something sugary and starchy, like a donut.

If all that sugar and starch did was to make you fat, that wouldn't be too bad. But the addictive nature of gluten means that you can't help yourself from eating more and more. Making it even harder is the fact that most people don't even know they're fighting a real addiction.

Of course, it takes a fair amount of gluten before the intestinal walls degrade to the point that the undigested proteins can pass. So it takes a long time. But bread and cereal are such a basic part of the American diet that folks who have a genetic inclination to gluten sensitivity will have begun to reflect those problems by the time they're in their teens.

Pot Belly

Your intestines swell with water as your body fights off the damage done by gluten. That gives you a "pot belly" ot "beer gut" that magnifies the appearance of any fat you have. In reality, it's a lot more water than fat. So regaining the flat stomach of your youth might be as simple as dropping gluten out of your diet.

I was informed of that little fact in mid-March. By the end of March, the stomach was visibly flattening. By the end of April, I had dropped close to 20 lbs--almost all of it water weight around the intestines--and that stupid little pot belly was nearly gone. These days, it's almost fully gone. I mean, I knew I was carrying some extra fat around the middle. But that belly was out of all proportion. So I looked a lot fatter than I really was. It's terrific to have a flat stomach again.
After writing that bit, I discovered gluten-free breads. Oops. Pot belly is back. (But it is not as intense as it was.)

Obesity and "Hunger Attacks"

As the intestinal abrasions accumulate, one very observable effect is the slow accumulation of weight--in addition to a stomach size that seems out of all proportion to the weight you've gained.

There's a good chance you're gluten senstive if you're experiencing a slow weight gain that seems unstoppable from month to month and year to year, regardless of how much you exercise. If it only stops when you starve yourself on some diet or another, only to come charging back with a vengenance when you finally stop, you should definitely get yourself tested for gluten senstivity..

You keep adding fat for two reasons:

If you wake up in the middle of the night because you're hungry, you should be tested for gluten sensitivity. If you slowly gain weight from year to year, you should get tested for gluten sensitivity. If you gain it rapidly from month to month, you may not even need to test. There is a good chance you are suffereing from adrenal exhaustion brought on by gluten intolerance. (More on that subject coming up.)


As the function of the intestinal tract degrades, you can become to susceptible to many other "food allergies", as well.

In reality, you are experiencing a food-sensitivity reaction, but it feels just like an allergy. At first, you think it's the flu. You have the aching muscles and massive fatigue you experience when you're sick. And your nose is all stuffed up, too.

But after a while, you begin to notice that you're getting "sick" in the middle of summer and in the spring, when the flu season is long over. So you begin to suspect grasses and pollen and every natural thing in the environment, never realizing that as your intestinal lining erodes, you are reacting to more and more of the things you eat.

You may even see a relationship to seasonal pollens, never realizing that main culprit is really gluten--especially if you were never allergic to those pollens before, and are now experiencing a reaction. It could be that they are a minor stress, well within your body's normal capacity, but in the presence of the continuous stress created by gluten, they put you "over the edge". As with obesity, the adrenals come into play here. The same cortico-steriods that are prescribed in nasal sprays are produced naturally by the adrenals. The amount the adrenals can produce determines your capacity for handling allergens. When the adrenals are otherwise preoccupied with dietary stresses, it can't produce as much antihistamine as it otherwise might. So what looks like a seasonal allergy can very well have one or more dietary reactions at its core.

Over time, a food-elimination diet will identify the culprits who have been causing you trouble. (A trained nutritionist can guide you through the process.) The usual suspects include:

The good news is that once you've restored your intestines to full health, you'll be able to add back many of the things that give you trouble. But until then, you need to avoid the ones that cause problems for a good two or three months, until the intestinal wall heals.

For more on the dietary causes and treatment of allergies, see Conquering Allergies.

Adrenal Exhuastion

Perhaps the most significant long-term effect of gluten sensitivity is adrenal exhaustion (inability of the adrenal glands to respond to the stress of daily life).

It occurs because the adrenals are constantly reacting to the inflammation caused by gluten in the intestines. After doing that for long enough, they have no capacity left over to produce the other hormones they're responsible for, including steroidal hormones that act as anti-histamines and the hormone that unlocks fat.

Adrenal exhaustion can produce a number of symptoms:

Celiac Disease and Other Problems

When the intestinal problems reach critical levels, the diagnosis is Celiac Disease, which just means "disease of the abdominal cavity". (Informative, huh?) But long before that kind of intestinal atrophy is reached (or diagnosed), many other conditions may occur--conditions that may have gluten reactions as their underlying cause:

Diagnosing Gluten Sensitivity

Much of the population has the wrong genetic makeup to deal with gluten. If you have any of the severe symptoms described above, you should definitely get a gluten test. If you display any of these early warning signs, you may want to get yourself tested, as well:

There is a very simple blood test that will tell you if gluten is the likely cause. (There's also a saliva test.) All they have to do is take a sample of your blood and look for antibodies (markers on your white blood cells). Given that gluten-senstivity is the most prevalent food reaction on the planet, it is absolutely astonishing that this test isn't part of the everone's standard medical checkup. (I can only conclude that agribusiness supplies the funding for medical schools, along with drug companies.)

You may be Gluten-Intolerant If...

  1. You have a large belly, or you have a problem losing weight.
  2. You almost never eat a meal without bread.
  3. When you go to a restaurant, the bread they serve at the start of the meal is like, the best thing ever!
  4. When the noise level goes up in a restaurant, it sets you edge. And the sudden silences make you especially nervous.
  5. When you drink a beer, you find yourself getting nervous after the first one, alert to the sounds around you, and wanting to get away.
  6. When you come home after eating out, you immediately start eating something else.
  7. After eating a meal, if you have to walk any distance outside in the open, you find yourself getting anxious, or maybe even having a panic attack.
  1. You have a large belly, or you have a problem losing weight.
    The intestinal cells acquire water to combat the inflammation, while the gluten-addiction keeps you eating high-carb foods.
    (especially in combination with the addictive nature of the high fructose corn syrup found in so many soft drinks and dressings).
  2. You almost never eat a meal without bread.
    That's addiction, pure and simple.
  3. The bread at the restaurant is the best!
    That is the adrenaline response, as your immune system gears up to fight the gluten.
  4. Noisy restaurants and sudden silences set you on edge.
    Adrenaline response.
  5. The first beer makes you nervous.
    Adrenaline response.
  6. When you come home after eating out, you immediately start eating something else
    This one could indicate a blood sugar imbalance. High insulin levels could be taking the blood sugar out of your system, threatening to make you light-headed. Aware of that a physical level (not yet consciously hungry) you may be eating to prevent that problem. Or you could be experiencing "withdrawl" symptoms, as the endorphin high created by the immune-system induced adrenaline-spike abates. Or both.
  7. Walking outside after eating makes you nervous.
    Adrenaline response.

Avoiding Gluten

Gluten can be difficult to avoid, because it turns up in so many places. But if you suffer from gluten sensitivity, once you find out how much energy you have and how much better you feel without it, you'll have no difficulty convincing your self that it is worth the effort.

Remember, gluten is addictive. So for a couple of weeks it will feel like you're giving up the whole world. You may wonder, "What on earth will I eat?" But in a matter of weeks, the addiction will be gone. You'll be less hungry, and you won't go hungry. You especially won't be having those hunger attacks that make you feel like you're starving. After a while, as Dr. Rick Peterson says, "It's just the way I eat". It may not seem possible now, but you'll look at cookies and cakes, bagels and donuts, pancakes and muffins, and find yourself thinking: "Yuch. Who needs it?"

As mentioned earlier, a food elimination diet is the best way to identify the secondary food reactions that result from degraded intestinal operation. If you're dealing with a severe problem that stems from gluten inolerance, that's a good thing to do. But the most important thing is to avoid gluten in all its forms.

Absolutely Avoid

Hidden Sources of Gluten

Also avoid these additional sources of gluten:

See also:

Conditionally Avoid

Note, too, that by avoiding grain products and baked goods, you will be drastically reducing your exposure to the trans fats found in partially hydrogenated oils. To find out how deadly those can be, read, What's Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils?

But please note that you not have to live without baked goods entirely. There are plenty of gluten-free breads and even cookies these days, made from one or more of the "good grains" listed below:

Good Grains and Flours

Flours made from these foods do not contain gluten, and cause no "mimicry" reactions:


Healing the Damage

If you are gluten-sensitive, the bad news is that gluten is everywhere in the American diet. But the good news is that there are many things you can do about it:

Once gluten has been removed from your diet, there are a variety of ways to promote intestinal healing:

(For a complete program designed to overcome damage to the intestines caused by gluten, see Intestinal Healing.)

While your intestines heal, take supplements to offset the damage and give your body the extra ammunition it needs to function effectively:

Healing Time

The body's fastest growing cells are in the intestinal wall. They replace themselves every 4 months. So much healing can take place in that time, as long as you totally avoid gluten during that time. You also need to avoid triggers of "secondary allergies"--foods that cause problems because the compromised villi (tiny, hair-like projections in the intestines) can't produce the enzymes necessary to digest them.

The restoration of those villi takes additional time. Cell replacement in the intestines only takes 4 months, but cellular growth takes 6 to 12 months. The time you'll need depends on the rate at which you heal--a rate which is affected by age, but which is primarily determined by the overa-all quality of your diet and the degree to which you can successfully avoid the dietary ingredients that trigger intestinal inflammation.

Basically, intestinal healing is a process that can months or years, depending on how long gluten has been in your diet. Most importantly, it is a process which can only occur when gluten has been completely removed from the diet. Even a small amount can cause a major setback in healing, because the body reacts so vigorously to it.

To determine which foods cause you problems, it's a good idea to remove every possible suspect from the diet. Get down to a minimal diet that you know is healthy, and then try new things every three or four days. Give each one 3 days to manifest systems before you decide that it is ok, then either avoid it or add it back to your diet. (This "elimination diet" is best done under the supervision of qualified nutritionist, so you find out everything you should avoid.)

As your intestinal wall regrows, foods that gave you problems before become easily tolerated once again. So every three months or so, you can re-test the foods that are on the not-OK list.

The villi that produce lactase--the enzyme necessary to digest the lactose in milk--are at the very tips of the villi. So dairy is likely to be the last food you'll be able to add back to your diet. (Even then, you may need to cycle it, having it every three or four days, instead of every day.)

Because dairy is the last food that will come back to your diet, and because healing takes 6 to 12 months, there's no point in testing dairy products until 6 months after you start the healing process. You might then test it once a month, until you find that it no longer gives you problems. At that point, you'll know that you have fully healed.

Of course, it's also possible that dairy will always be a problem for you. But if you ever had a time in your life when it wasn't, then the "dairy test" is good way to tell when you're done.

2013 Update: Modern Wheat is Poisonous

If you're of European descent, it's highly likely that gluten is a problem, for you, and you should avoid it. But even if don't have (or don't think you have) a problem with gluten, you should still avoid wheat!

The basis for that statement comes from a Discovery News article, Why You Should Stop Eating Wheat. (They added the word "probably", as a journalistic defense against lawsuits. I took it out, for accuracy.) Here's what that article had to say:


AND (more from the article)

AND (even more)

Bottom Line:

Gluten is a problem for most--especially those of European descent.
Modern hybridized wheat is a problem for everyone.



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