These days, wheat is essentially a toxic compound. It raises blood sugar faster than a candy bar, may well contain metabolic poisons (no one really knows), and it has more gluten than ever before in history—a protein that literally sandpapers the insides of many, leading to a leaky gut, autoimmune diseases, and a host of other problems.
Originally published 2007
Acknowledgement I am indebted to the health maintenance practitioners at the Root Cause Medical Clinics 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.
Worse than a Candy Bar
To start with, wheat bread raises your blood sugar faster than a candy bar! To back up that statement, here are some notes from Wheat Belly, by Dr. William Davis (available at Amazon–if you use the link to buy a copy, I get a penny).
- “Whole wheat bread increases blood sugar to a higher level than sucrose….eating two slices of whole wheat bread is really little different, and often worse, than drinking a can of sugary soda or eating a sugary candy bar”
- The glycemic index of whole wheat bread (72) is higher than that of a Mars bar (68), and much higher than that of a Snickers bar (41).
- “There’s even more to wheat’s curious glucose behavior. (It induces) a 120-minute long phenomenon that produces the “high” at the glucose peak, followed by a “low” of the inevitable glucose drop. The surge and drop creates a two-hour roller coaster ride of satiety and hunger that repeats throughout the day….(along with) mental fog, fatigue, and shakiness.”
(Here, he is focused on the effect of wheat. The other half of the equation, of course, is the effect of insulin, which takes sugar out of the blood stream. Lots more on that subject, below.)
Partial Hydrogenation, All Over Again
But the problem of blood sugar is just the beginning. Now that partially hydrogenated oils have basically been removed from the food supply, the one thing you MUST eliminate from your diet these days, for the sake of your health, is…. …(surprise!) WHEAT.
As I wrote in What’s Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils?, the basic problem is that it contains hundreds of compounds your body never had to deal with before–compounds that interfere with every active process in your body (your metabolism). So I coined the term “metabolic poisons” to describe the harm they do.
But back to wheat….
Wild wheat has 14 chromosomes. The wheat we ate for the last thousand years or so had 42. Today’s wheat strains have thousands, thanks to the cross-breeding with all manner of other plants that has been done to improve yields.
- Originally, wild wheat contained 14 chromomes (p.18)
- A few hundred years ago, the precursor to most modern wheat had 42 chromosomes. (p. 20)
- Today, there are thousands of hybrid strains (p. 21)
- Those strains contain 100’s or even thousands of chromosomes that are different from their parents (p. 22)
- Those strains were created by hybridization rather than controlled genetic engineering. (p. 29)
- None of the genetic changes were ever tested for safety.
To make matters worse, when two plants cross-pollinate, some 5% of the resulting proteins are unique:
- “Analyses of proteins expressed by a wheat hybrid compared to its two parent strains have demonstrated that, while approximately 95 percent of the proteins expressed in the offspring are the same, 5 percent are unique, found in neither parent” (p. 25)
And since crops in adjacent fields can cross-pollinate each other, no one knows WHAT wheat contains, these days.
It’s partial hydrogenation all over again. That process produced things that were harmful to the body’s internal workings, which our bodies were not equipped to filter out, because never before in history was there any need.
And, like the partial hydrogenation process, the resulting products have never been tested to see if they really qualify as “food”. And that is before we even come to the subject of gluten. The words “dangerous experiment” come to mind. In essence, we are the experiment that tests to see if they are safe.
The question, totally unanswered at this time, is whether any of the thousands of strains modern wheat contain components that are intrinsically harmful to the human body. The honest answer is that we just do not know. We know they may be completely unexpected. But we don’t know what they are, exactly, or what effect they have. So it’s a gamble. The question is, how much are you willing to gamble?
Modern wheat also contains a lot more gluten than it used to: “…modern strains…express a higher quantity of genes for gluten proteins that are associated with celiac disease.” (Wheat Belly, p. 26)
A Nobel Prize was actually awarded to scientist Norman Borlaug for his work in the ’50’s, for increasing gluten content to make the wheat stalk stronger (so it doesn’t break when fertilizers increase the size and weight of the head), and to make it and more resistant to pesticides.
His work made it possible to produce more wheat on the same amount of land–but the results have not necessarily been good. In addition to requiring expensive fertilizers and pesticides, which is bad for the farmers, the resulting grain may not be good for you either, as those proteins are associated with leaky gut, autoimmune diseases, and a host of other disorders, all detailed in the remainder of this article.
Worse in America
As bad as modern wheat is, the problem is even worse in America. The reason: yeast. Yeast is a fermentation agent that breaks down molecules like gluten. But the process takes time. In Europe, flour, water, and yeast are combined and kneaded for 12 hours before bread is baked. In that amount of time, yeast can break down a lot of gluten!
But America’s industrial-scale food processing artificially accelerates the process so it takes a mere two hours. The bread comes out quicker, and profits go up, but far less gluten is broken down.
For that reason, wheat and pasta are tolerated much better in Europe, even by people who are otherwise sensitive to gluten–that, despite the fact that people in Europe are consuming the same strains of wheat. So even though gluten content has effectively tripled from 4% in early wheat by dry weight, to 8% during the industrial revolution, to a high of 12% in today’s modern wheat, the fact remains that bread and pasta in Europe are still much safer than they are here in America.
So once again American health is sacrificed on the altar of greed. (You thought you elected members of Congress to represent you? Hah! You’re mostly choosing which corporate donors they represent, and whose lobbyists they listen to.)
Source: Gluten is DESTROYING Your Health (Mark Hyman’s interview of gluten expert Dr. Alessio Fasano, YouTube)
Why Gluten is Bad for You
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-sensitivity 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 fatigue, 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.
What is Gluten, Anyway
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 wreak 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 was 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, constipation, or what have you) one in two were found to be gluten sensitive. And if any blood relative was gluten sensitive, 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 ignorant 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 doesn’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. The 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.”
You can become so used to them, in fact, 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 lactose (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 sensitivities 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:
- Lactase production: The tips of the villi produce the enzyme that digests the lactose in milk. Since they’re the first to go, the very first symptom of gluten intolerance you see may be a “milk allergy” that manifests itself as a stuffy nose and post-nasal drip (also known as sinusitis or rhinitis) that occurs whenever you consume dairy products.
- Sucrase production: The enzyme that digests sugar (sucrose) is lower down. So the next symptoms you experience could manifest themselves as sugar-digestion problems (e.g. hypoglycemia or glucose intolerance).
- Absorption: As the intestinal wall degrades further, it thins, allowing larger proteins to be absorbed that should have been blocked (“leaky gut”). That can cause psoriasis and other skin problems, as well as an addiction-response to gluten.
- Immune Function: The constant load on the immune system, as it fights off foreign proteins in the digestive tract, impairs its ability to do its job elsewhere. Meanwhile, clogged sinuses and unhealthy intestinal walls create a perfect home for harmful bacteria to multiply.
- Adrenal Function: The constant adrenal load created by chronic inflammation of the intestines — a fire that typically has gasoline thrown on it with every meal — eventually leads to adrenal insufficiency or even adrenal exhaustion. As the adrenal become impaired, many other symptoms manifest themselves, including allergies, slow weight gain, and a loss of energy — all of which are discussed at greater length below.
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. Gliadin 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 couscous 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, coconut flour, arrowroot, millet, tapioca, teff, amaranth, and quinoa. Those are the only realistic grains for anyone who is gluten sensitive.
Quinoa is actually a seed. That puts it high up on my dietary-goodness list, because of their terrific nutritional value.
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.
Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
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
- Pot belly
- Obesity, Food Cravings, & “Hunger Attacks”
- “Seasonal Allergies”
- Adrenal Exhaustion
In the section after this one, we will discuss even larger problems like cancer, autoimmune disease, and neurological diseases.
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:
- 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.
- Glutens are opioid-like proteins that resist the digestive process, so they don’t easily break down into amino acids.
- 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.
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.
Note: 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. Update: After writing that bit, I discovered gluten-free breads. Oops. Pot belly is back. (But it is not as intense as it was.)
Obesity, Food Cravings, 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 sensitive 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 vengeance when you finally stop, you should definitely get yourself tested for gluten sensitivity.. You keep adding fat for two reasons:
- The addiction caused by gluten and MSG causes “hunger attacks” that cannot be denied with sheer will sheer power. You can try, but you’re fighting a survival instinct that goes back a lot longer than you do. So you overeat and add fat.
- The adrenals are too busy dealing with inflammation in the intestines (or too exhausted from doing so) to release the hormone that lets you burn fat (progesterone). So what you gain, you keep.
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 suffering 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. 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. So while actual flu viruses really and truly do exist, you can wind up (as I did) getting “the flu”, three or four times a year, at times when no one else is getting sick!
Food-sensitivity reactions can also manifest as “seasonal allergies”. After a while, you begin to notice that you’re getting the “flu” in the middle of summer and in the spring, when 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 such allergens create 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:
- dairy products
- beef, pork, eggs, shellfish
- honey, sugar
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.
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:
- Light sensitivity — especially at night, because the pupils stay dilated instead of narrowing
- Noise sensitivity
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chronic fatigue, where you can’t make it through the day, or you get through it only to crash the moment you get home
- Lowered immune response
- Inflammation, when it can no longer produce the body’s natural anti-inflammatory (cortisone)
- Fast weight gain, no matter how much you exercise
- Soreness that lasts for a couple of days after you exercise. (Your body can’t burn fat for energy, so it has to catabolize muscle. That’s why you can’t burn fat, and why you’re so sore from exercising.)
- You get cold and sleepy a couple of hours after rising and after meals..,
I count myself lucky. This condition, consists of intensely itchy, blistering hives, is the one that alerted me to my gluten intolerance.
I say, “lucky”, because this condition is probably the least harmful of all the problems that gluten intolerance can cause. And because it was such an obvious symptom, it became my “early warning radar”. It turns out that many foods contain wheat and flour. The flour is used as a thickening agent, or to hold things together. So many things you might not suspect cause gluten reactions! Every time I had itchy hives, I was able to trace the problem back to something I had eaten several hours before, and eliminate it from my diet. (I list the ones I have identified in the upcoming Hidden Sources section.)
The hives result from an elevated level of “inflammation” in the body. That inflammation comes from a myriad of white blood cells that are traveling through the body to attack the perceived invaders.
Those bodily defenders live in the lymph system. Molecules that are too large to enter the bloodstream get to the liver by way of the lymph system. (Fats and any other large molecules that are absorbed by the intestines begin their journey in the lymph ducts that lie just behind the intestinal wall.)
On the way to the liver, molecules in the lymph system pass through lymph nodes, where the immune system detects invaders and sensitizes the body to create antibodies—the defenders that protect against those invaders. The more invaders there are, the more the body becomes sensitized, which causes defenders to be produced in ever greater numbers when an invader is seen. (The body operates on the theory that if the invader is seen again, then an insufficient number of defenders were created.)
Now, the lymph system surrounds every cell in the body. In addition to carrying digested molecules to the liver, it carries away the by-products of cellular metabolism. (The lymph is therefore a critical system has two important functions: Moving fats to the liver and acting as the garbage disposal system to carry away “metabolic waste”. Both functions are vital to health, and are stimulated by muscular activity and massage.)
As gluten-induced antibodies travel through the lymph, it seems they “inflame” the tissues they encounter. Where the skin is thick, it doesn’t cause any sensations we experience. (It is still causing problems—we just don’t feel them.) But where the skin is thin, and where the inflammation is severe enough, we get a rash that is so intense, we just cannot keep from scratching it.
The “medical” solution to the problem, naturally, is to prescribe a cortico-steroid cream, cortisol pills, or possibly even cortisol injections! Those prescriptions do stop the sensation of itching, but they have undesirable side effects. And since the underlying problem isn’t even diagnosed, much less treated, the problem persists and grows ever larger over time.
The article Gluten Intolerance (which includes Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity), lists many of the more than 300 diseases and symptoms are caused by gluten intolerance. It includes a nice checklist you can use to help determine if gluten reactions are a problem for you.
The litany of diseases that gluten intolerance can induce is extensive. It includes:
- Celiac Disease
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Neurological Diseases
The last three of those are discussed here. The first two are awaiting a better understanding of the mechanism of action. (When I know more, I’ll explain the connections more precisely.)
After listing the known manifestations, I present a detailed outline of the mechanism of action—the causal connections that cause one underlying problem to produce a multitude of other observable conditions.
Many references describe the remedies that more enlightened medical practitioners have taken to resolve these problems, starting with a gluten-free diet. At some point, the books and articles published by those practitioners need to be listed here! In the meantime, thankfully, in today’s world we can do a search on “<a-given-disease> and gluten” to dive into the etiology of and remedies for any specific disease of interest.
When the intestinal problems reach critical levels, the diagnosis is Celiac Disease, which just means “disease of the abdominal cavity”. (Informative, huh?)
In a healthy human body, the intestinal tract has so many folds and wrinkles that, when fully stretched out, it has the surface area of a tennis court! But by the time that “Celiac Disease” is diagnosed, it has been reduced, in effect, to a straight tube, with barely any wrinkles or folds at all.
In that extreme case, the body is incapable of digesting much of anything, and it literally “wastes away”. But long before that stage of serious intestinal atrophy is reached (or diagnosed as “Celiac Disease”), many other conditions may occur, including auto-immune diseases and neurological diseases—conditions that are likely to have gluten reactions as their underlying cause.
Autoimmune diseases are described as the body’s immune system attacking itself (auto-self + immune). But why on earth would a healthy body attack itself? Well, most autoimmune diseases are known to have dietary triggers that cause the condition to flare up. And that is our first clue that such diseases begin in the digestive tract.
Autoimmune diseases that can be produced by gluten intolerance include:
- Multiple Sclerosis
Neurological Diseases are “diseases of the brain”. But who knew that such diseases can originate in the gut!?
Neurological diseases that can result from gluten intolerance include:
- Manic Depression
- Migraine headaches
I am indebted to the Gluten Free Society for an excellent article by Dr. Osborne that alerted me to the effect of gluten intolerance on the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB). That article led me to trace the connection between gluten intolerance and neurological disorders.
How Such Diseases are Produced
Dr. Osborne’s article makes several salient points:
- We know that gluten sensitivity can cause seizure disorders.
- We know that gluten sensitivity can contribute to blood brain barrier (BBB) permeability (leaky brain),
- (We now know) that a leaky brain will contribute to seizures and epilepsy.
- Because epilepsy is for the most part diagnosed by doctors who don’t recognize the important role of food in health and disease, medication is the first line of treatment.
While that succinct article traces the connection, it does not describe exactly how gluten intolerance causes a variety of autoimmune and “neurological” disorders. This article provides a detailed outline of the process, to supplement and expand on that one.
To understand the process, this background information is worth keeping in mind:
- Gluten intolerance is produced by a strong, healthy immune system.
- Because it is hyper-vigilant, it reacts to any gluten molecules in the gut.
- The gluten molecule is strong enough to resist breaking down in the stomach, so foods that contain wheat, rye, or barley put plenty of gluten molecules into the gut.
- The problem has been exacerbated since the 1950’s, when a hybrid strain of wheat was created that is better able to resist pesticides. (Its creator got a Nobel Prize, no less. But the unintended side effects have been vast—including the fact that fewer and fewer people are eating wheat!)
- That strain was created by doubling the gluten molecules.
- Virtually all of the wheat grown and sold today is of that variety.
- So normal bakery products (those that aren’t labeled “gluten-free”) contain a ton of gluten.
- In addition, many other foods use flour as a thickening or congealing agent, including soups, gravy, soy sauce, meatballs, and frozen french fries, among others. (In frozen french fries, a coating of flour prevents the fries from sticking to one another.)
Fortunately, these days there are many good-tasting breads, muffins, doughnuts, and even pizza-crusts that are gluten-free. (Well, not so good for the waistline, but great for the taste buds. And my kingdom for a gluten-free croissant! So far, there are none of those.) So these days, its fairly easy to avoid gluten and continue eating like we are used to. (And after a while, it even becomes possible to consider having a meal without bread—hard as that may be to imagine, at present, for anyone who is currently addicted to gluten.)
Getting back to the process:
- When the immune system reacts to the gluten molecule, it sends in defenders that literally “spew electrons” at the molecule, to break it down. (Or it may steal electrons–an inverse action that creates “free radicals”–atoms missing an electron that steal them from anything they are near, disturbing their neighbors in the process.)
- That action occurs just behind the cell well, in the gut.
- Although the gluten molecule is destroyed by that process, a few extra electrons (or free radicals) are always left over.
- Those actors create a small amount of damage to the lining of the gut.
- Under normal circumstances the damage is minor, and easily healed.
- But, if you are gluten intolerant and you poison yourself with gluten-laden foods—every day, three or more times a day—then the damage accumulates over time, until eventually small “holes” or “windows” are created in the intestinal wall, producing a condition called “leaky gut”.
- Those holes are large enough to let molecules into the body that would normally be broken down into their constitute parts before being absorbed, or passed through the intestinal tract because they weren’t broken down, and therefore could not be absorbed.
- When those molecules are similar to the body’s own tissues, and the immune system reacts to them, the immune system becomes sensitized to tissues that are supposed to be in the body, producing auto-immune disease. (Literally, the immune system attacking its own body.)
- The research reported in Dr. Osborne’s article suggests that some of the molecules that make their way into the blood stream can wind up causing damage to the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB), and that damage can lead to seizures.
Basically, the entire process is nothing less that “Russian Roulette” in the digestive tract. Where does the damage accumulate? When and where do the holes occur? Which molecules are allowed to pass? The answers to those questions determines which conditions manifest themselves, and when.
Since damage to the BBB can induce neurological problems, we now know that gluten intolerance can lead to neurological, as well as autoimmune, “disease”.
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:
- psoriasis (dandruff)
- lactose intolerance (“milk allergy”)
- ringing in the ears
- red, itchy hives (Dermatitis Herpetiformis—the condition that alerted me to my gluten intolerance)
- slow, constant weight gain
- daily “hunger attacks”
- body chill and drowsiness a couple of hours after arising, and/or a couple of hours after lunch
- light-sensitivity (bright lights hurt your eyes)
- noise sensitivity
- massive fatigue and soreness one or two days after vigorous exercise
- chronic, low-level fatigue all the time
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-sensitivity is the most prevalent food reaction on the planet, it is absolutely astonishing that this test isn’t part of the everyone’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…
- You have a large belly, or you have a problem losing weight.
- You almost never eat a meal without bread.
- When you go to a restaurant, the bread they serve at the start of the meal is like, the best thing ever!
- When the noise level goes up in a restaurant, it sets you on edge. And the sudden silences make you especially nervous.
- 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.
- When you come home after eating out, you immediately start eating something else.
- 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.
- 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).
- You almost never eat a meal without bread. That’s addiction, pure and simple.
- The bread at the restaurant is the best! That is the adrenaline response, as your immune system gears up to fight the gluten.
- Noisy restaurants and sudden silences set you on edge. Adrenaline response.
- The first beer makes you nervous. Adrenaline response.
- 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 “withdrawal” symptoms, as the endorphin high created by the immune-system induced adrenaline-spike abates. Or both.
- Walking outside after eating makes you nervous. Adrenaline response.
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: “Yuck. 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 intolerance, that’s a good thing to do. But the most important thing is to avoid gluten in all its forms.
- Wheat, rye, barley These are the major gluten grains, responsible for much dietary mischief.
- Beer, pasta, bread Unless made from rice, nuts, coconut, or a gluten-free grain. (They do exist, and they taste great. My favorite is a gluten-free raisin bread.)
- Gluten-based Additives
- Fu — dried wheat gluten
- HPP — hydrolyzed plant protein
- HVP — hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- MSG — monosodium glutamate
- TPP — textured plant protein
- TVP — textured vegetable protein
- Ingredients of Unknown Origin Manufacturers make these from whatever is cheap. Most often, that’s wheat.
- Vegetable starch
- Food starch
- Modified food starch
- Natural flavors
Hidden Sources of Gluten
Also avoid these additional sources of gluten:
- Soy Sauce (wheat is used as a filler)
- Some versions of Tamari sauce — which is supposed to be soy only, but sometimes isn’t.
- Some versions of Worcestershire sauce
- Gravy (flour is a thickener)
- Stew (flour, generally)
- Creamy soups (flour often used as a thickener)
- Noodle soups (unless they’re rice noodles)
- Licorice candy (almost all are made with wheat)
- French Fries
- The French Fries served in the large fast food chains are shipped in frozen packages.
- They’re dusted with a thin coating of wheat before they’re frozen, so they don’t stick together, and so they’re crisp when fried
- If you’re in a local restaurant that makes their own fries from fresh potatoes, those particular fries may be gluten-free –but they are still being fried in partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which is further adulterated by high heat.
- Partial hydrogenation and high heat of a liquid, unsaturated oil creates metabolic poisons known as trans fats, and soybean oil depresses the thyroid. To fatten cows for market, coconut oil, flax seed oil, and olive oil don’t work. They use corn oil and soybean oil.
- Oddly enough, in the old days they used pig lard and beef tallow to fry things. That wasn’t so bad, because it’s hard to do much damage to a fully-saturated oil. Then the soybean industry started advertising the benefits of vegetable oils — which are beneficial, but only when they haven’t been hammered by hydrogenation and other high-heat processing.
- Oats (If you haven’t become gluten sensitive, or have desensitized yourself over a period of time by avoiding gluten-based ingredients, you may find that you can tolerate oats fairly well. They haven’t proven to be completely safe, however, so tread lightly. They don’t contain gliadin, but they do contain glutenen and other gluten proteins.)
- “Mimic” Grains These grains do not contain gluten. But the reactions they cause haven’t been studied as much, either. The folks at Root Cause Medical Clinics feel that these grains mimic gluten’s effects, and should be avoided. Since it was they who alerted me to the problem, I’m listing them here. Once you have been gluten-free for a week or two, try them and see how you react for the next 3 days. If there are any problems, you can try again in 6 months:
- Quinoa (“keen-wa”)
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:
- Coconut is very good for you. For more, see Coconut Oil, Miracle Medicine and Diet Pill.
- Virtually all corn, soy, and wheat grown in the United States is genetically modified. Eat at your own risk.
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:
- Avoid gluten like the plague it is. That means avoiding wheat, rye, and barley. Eat grain-based foods made from rice, breads made with nut flours (pecan and almond are my favorite), and Indian foods made with chickpea and lentil flour.
- Be alert for food sensitivity reactions. Once intestinal function is impaired, a variety of things can cause food reactions, including acidic foods and dairy products. Eliminate foods that cause problems until your intestinal tract has healed enough to deal with them.
- Grains like amaranth, quinoa, and teff may work for you, or may cause problems. Test them to see.
- See how well you tolerate oats. If it causes problems, avoid it for a six months and try again. If it still causes problems, consider it a “gluten grain”, as far as you’re concerned.
Once gluten has been removed from your diet, there are a variety of ways to promote intestinal healing:
- Drink Aloe Vera juice.
- Take glutamine — an amino acid supplement that helps to repair intestinal damage.
- Consider urine therapy. (It sounds distasteful, I know. And it can be, quite literally, distasteful. But it has an ancient tradition behind it, and there is a reasonable scientific basis for its effects. See Healing the Skin.)
(For a complete program designed to overcome damage to the intestines caused by gluten, see Healing the Intestines.) While your intestines heal, take supplements to offset the damage and give your body the extra ammunition it needs to function effectively:
- Natural Antihistamines (nettle, vitamin C, Quercitin, N-acetyl cysteine, MSM)
- Adrenal Support (B-vitamins, zinc, copper, hesperidin) There are also adrenal hormones you can take, like DHEA and pregnenolone. But they should be taken under the guidance of a qualified practitioner. The idea is that you start with a dose that’s as large as you need to compensate for impaired adrenal function, and you taper it off gradually during the 3 months or so it takes for healing to occur, so that the adrenals take over the load as they grow stronger.Note, too, that healthy intestinal flora create all the B-vitamins you’ll ever need — way more than you can take in supplements — so find a dairy-free acidolpholus, practice intestinal cleansing, and eat fermented foods like Kimchi.
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 overall 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 okay, 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:
- “Today’s wheat is a far cry from what it was 50 years ago.
- “Back in the 1950s, scientists began cross-breeding wheat to make it hardier, shorter, and better-growing. This work, which won U.S. plant scientist Norman Borlaug the Nobel Prize, introduced some compounds to wheat that aren’t entirely human friendly.
- “As cardiologist Dr. William Davis noted in his book, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health, today’s hybridized wheat contains sodium azide, a known toxin.
- “It also goes through a gamma irradiation process during manufacturing. (Which can produce nasty effects of its own. According to this eHow article, “Gamma rays change the molecular structure of the food, which can produce mutagens such as formaldehyde and benzene, chemicals suspected of causing cancer. Food irradiation also causes nutrients in the food to be destroyed. Vitamins A, C, E, K, the entire B group, amino acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids are all affected by irradiation.”)
IN OTHER WORDS:
- In the 1950’s, someone got a Nobel Prize for poisoning our wheat. But corporations made a ton of money, so it’s ok, by the standards of the American legislature.
AND (more from the article)
- “According to Alessio Fasano, the Medical Director for The University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, no one can properly digest gluten
- “We do not have the enzymes to break it down,” he said in a recent interview with TenderFoodie. “It all depends upon how well our intestinal walls close after we ingest it and how our immune system reacts to it.” His concern is that the gluten protein, which is abundant in the endosperm of barley, rye, and wheat kernels, is setting off an aberrant immune response.
- “Grains…create an immunogenic response which increases intestinal permeability, thus triggering systemic inflammation by the immune system, what can lead to any number of autoimmune diseases, including celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and so on. And this holds true for people who don’t have celiac disease.
- “Davis also believes that gliadin degrades to a morphine-like compound after eating, what creates an appetite for more wheat; his claim, therefore, is that wheat actually has an addictive quality to it.
AND (even more)
- “Wheat also raises blood sugar. Two slices of whole wheat bread increases blood sugar levels higher than a single candy bar.
- “Lectins are a class of molecules, can be found in beans, cereal grains, nuts, and potatoes. When consumed in excess, or when not cooked properly, they can be harmful.
- “The problem with the lectins found in whole grains, is that they bind to our insulin receptors and intestinal lining. This increases inflammation and contributes to autoimmune disease and insulin resistance. It also facilitates the symptoms of metabolic syndrome outside of obesity.
- “A common argument in favor of continuing to eat whole grains is that they provide necessary fiber. This is actually a bit of a myth…” (My favorite sources of fiber are peas, lentils, and chickpeas — three ingredients that featured frequently in dishes from India.)
Gluten is a problem for most — especially those of European descent. Modern hybridized wheat is a problem for everyone.
Articles at this site:
- What’s Wrong with American Foods? (Obesity and Disease)
- Gluten-Recovery Supplements
- Aloe Vera: Ancient Healer
- Coconut Oil: Miracle Medicine and Diet Pill
- Conquering Allergies
- Healing the Intestines
- The Importance of Fermentation
- What Makes Kimchi so Healthy?
- The Incredibly Healthy Foods of India
- The Nutritional Power of Seeds
Articles from other sites:
- Gluten Intolerance—Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity
- Leaky Brain, Seizures (epilepsy), & Gluten
- Brain Res. 2010 Sep 24;1353:176-86. Epub 2010 Jun 27.
- Mov Disord. 2009 Oct 30;24(14):2162-3.
Books and Web Sites:
- Root Cause Medical Clinics A consortium of doctors, chiropractors, and clinical nutritionists who first alerted me to the dangers of gluten. Their focus on identifying root causes, rather than treating symptoms, provided the key that exposed the hidden cause of a variety of non-optimal symptoms I was experiencing.
- Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health A recent book that reveals the toxic nature of modern wheat.
- Dangerous Grains: Why Gluten Cereal Grains May Be Hazardous to Your Health Good introduction to the subject. Contains a long list of scientific studies and peer-reviewed medical reports in support of its assertions. Much of the information in this report comes from its pages.
- Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic The first two chapters are particularly helpful for understanding the mechanics of the problem. Chapter 1 shows how a healthy digestive system works. Chapter 2 shows the effect of gluten. Both chapters are well-illustrated, so you can see what’s happening.
- Why You Should Probably Stop Eating Wheat A Discovery News article that revealed the toxic compound contained in modern, hybridized wheat.
- Negative Effects of Gamma Rays An eHow article that nicely summarizes the problems associated with irradiating foods. (It improves profits. It’s just not good for people!)
- Wheat Belly, by Dr. William Davis. The beginning of the book is especially well-researched and persuasive.
- Unlocking the Mystery of Wheat and Gluten Intolerance Unbelievably informative and authoritative exposition of the problems that gluten can cause, most especially with respect to autoimmune diseases.
- Super Size Me An expose that highlights the addictive nature of American fast foods — an addiction that is most likely the result of MSG and wheat.
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