Going Against The Grain
Wheat, good food or bad? Let's talk about the problem with wheat gluten, and why that’s bad from the naturopathic medical perspective.
- Undigestible Protein
- Essential Amino Acids
- Stomach Acid
- Who's at Risk
- Chronic Diseases
- Nutritional Therapy
Wheat: A Quick History
We are trying to unlearn what we've learned over decades. The whole cultural grain thing started with the Egyptians. Egyptians figured out during times of plenty they could grow wheat and others grains and they could be stored, then used in times of famine and drought. We've been suffering from it ever since, here's why it's a problem.
Undigestible Protein - Gluten
The problem is with grain, specifically wheat, barley, rye and oats. It's not the grain itself but the protein in the grain. The protein in these grains is mostly referred to as gluten. Gluten is a very difficult protein for the human body to digest. Conservative estimates are that 60% of caucasians and 80% of blacks have a big problem digesting the gluten protein. Any protein - from a fish, chicken, grain or even soy is nothing more than a long chain of amino acids that have been daisy chained together.
Amino Acids Are Essential Nutrients
There are 12 amino acids that are essential nutrients for the human body. The body can’t manufacture these essential nutrients which means they need to be imported into the body. If a nutrient is categorized as essential, it has to go down the hatch, every day. So we get our amino acids from protein. It's the main reason we need to eat protein. Now, regardless of the type, a protein is just a group of amino acids that have been chained together through chemical bonds. It's the stomach’s job to break those chemical bonds, liberating the amino acids. We chew up protein and hopefully the stomach snaps the chemical bonds, liberating the amino acids. The take home message is the source of the protein gives that protein it's structure. Each protein can be vastly different than the other, and here lies the problem. The chemical bond we find in wheat, barley, rye and oat protein is very difficult for the stomach to digest.
Stomach Acid Breaks Bonds to Liberate Amino Acids
Everything has to be just right in the stomach for the stomach to snap those bonds and liberate the free amino acids. We put something into our mouth and our teeth start to mash it up and pound it up, then the salivary glands excrete saliva and then we start to chemically digest the food, then we swallow it. Then the food makes it's way to the stomach where the lions’ share of digestion happens. If it's healthy, the stomach contains acid which is really strong, like battery acid. If your stomach acid is healthy and strong and you took some and dropped it on your skin, it would burn a hole right through. The pH of healthy stomach acid is 1.4.
Immunostainings of epidermal growth
British Society for Immunology © 2007
The stomach has developed a lining impervious to the acid. The wonders of nature, right? We eat food then it goes into the stomach where the lions’ share of digestion happens. The food then passes from the stomach into the small intestines where all the absorption of our nutrients happens. This absorption happens through the agency of an anatomical structure called a villi. In our intestinal tract there are billions of tissues which are designed specifically to absorb the nutrients. It's the job of the villi to reach out, stick onto digested food, suck it in, then release the nutrients it into the bloodstream.
Once something is released into the bloodstream, it's inside the body. When something is in the digestive tract, it's still outside the body. It's not going to be inside the body until your body digests it and absorbs the nutrients, then releases them into the bloodstream.
However when we eat wheat, barley, rye or oats we get nothing but trouble. For some reason those chemical bonds are very difficult for the stomach to break. Everything has to be just right for the stomach to break these bonds and liberate the free amino acids.
Who's At Risk For Wheat Allergy?
With the majority of people, these proteins are undigested and this is a problem. Conservative estimates calculate 60% of caucasians and 80% of blacks cannot break down these proteins.
The prevalence of Celiac Disease (CD) in the United States was 0.71% (1 in 141), similar to that found in several European countries. However, most cases were undiagnosed.1
Electrically Charged Proteins Destroying Stomach Villi
When you get an undigested protein tumbling through the intestinal tract where there should only be individual amino acids, it’s like having an elephant in your living room. An elephant inside your house will start breaking things, and that's exactly what happens as these undigested proteins of wheat, barley, rye and oats tumble through the intestinal tract, They destroy the villi mechanically. They also carry an electrical charge. The bigger the thundercloud, the bigger the electrical charge it holds. It's the same thing with an undigested protein. Because of it's size and complexity, a protein carries an electrical charge. As the undigested protein tumbles through the intestinal tract it's like a live wire. It will also destroy the villi through something akin to contact dermatitis. It gives the villi a little zap.
Stomach Villi Malabsorption
When you destroy the villi, you impair the mechanism the body absorbs nutrients through. With any common sense, when you eat wheat, barley, rye and oats and those undigested proteins tumble through the intestinal tract, and destroy the tissue, all kinds of bad things happen. You get Crohn's Disease, irritable bowel, celiac, which are all the same disease by the way, just different levels of tissue destruction. All this results in malabsorption - which is the genesis of most chronic disease.
Malnutrition Causes Chronic Disease?
Doctor Wallach's seminal research shows the majority of chronic disease is caused or directly affected by lack by malnutrition. Now our supposition is there's not enough nutrition in the food anyway to sustain a person’s body and make it healthy. It is impossible to nitrify the body just by eating food. You cannot do it. Now if on top of that sad fact we're regularly eating wheat, barley, rye and oats that are destroying the villi, we're going to be able to absorb even fewer nutrients than we could the week before. The food doesn't have the nutrients we need anyway and now we can't absorb half of it. So, this is not a good recipe. Its actually is a recipe for disaster and it is, in fact, the genesis of most chronic disease.
You may be in the small percentage of people that are ok with wheat, barley, rye or oats but the odds are against it. The recommendation is go on a gluten free diet as soon as humanly possible. You will benefit from it undoubtedly. Our clinical experience shows us the longer we go on a gluten free diet the better we feel and the healthier we get. At the point our body is more able to absorb things. The good news? When we stop eating wheat, barley, rye, and oats, and the body gets the 91 essential nutrients appropriate for body weight every day, guess what happens? The villi grow back and that’s a good thing.2
1. The prevalence of celiac disease in the United States. American Journal Gastroenterology. 2012 Oct PMID:22850429
2. "Removal of gluten from the diet resulted in a reversion in the expression of 29 of the 30 genes in the small-bowel mucosal biopsy samples." Clinical Experimental Immunology. 2007 November PMC2219351
Author Peter Glidden is a licensed naturopathic physician in the state of California.
Comments by Alessio Fasano, MD
Dr. Fasano, traditional trained and certified medical doctor confirms, "Left undiagnosed and untreated, celiac disease can lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders, as well as osteoporosis, infertility and neurological conditions and, in rare cases, cancer."
“Imagine gluten ingestion on a spectrum. At one end, you have people with celiac disease, who cannot tolerate one crumb of gluten in their diet. At the other end, you have the lucky people who can eat pizza, beer, pasta and cookies—and have no ill effects whatsoever. In the middle, there is this murky area of gluten reactions, including gluten sensitivity. This is where we are looking for answers about how to best diagnose and treat this recently identified group of gluten-sensitive individuals.” - Dr. Alessio Fasano.
The Center for Celiac Research estimates that approximately six percent of the U.S. population, or 18 million people, suffers from gluten sensitivity. This group reacts with some of the same symptoms as people with celiac disease, but gluten-sensitive individuals typically test negative for celiac disease in diagnostic blood tests and show no signs of the damage to the small intestine that defines celiac disease.
As medical director of the Center for Celiac Research Dr. Fasano explains, "unlike celiac disease, gluten sensitivity is not associated with these serious conditions. Common symptoms of gluten sensitivity include abdominal pain similar to irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, headaches, “foggy mind” or tingling of the extremities. There is also evidence that a subgroup of schizophrenic patients and autistic children might be affected by gluten sensitivity.
Alessio Fasano, MD is a world-renowned pediatric gastroenterologist and research scientist who founded the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research in 1996.
Immune Reactions affecting women more than men by Dr. Keith Wilkerson, NMD.