Okay. Now it’s time to fess up.
Did you have a wheat indulgence–intentional or inadvertent–over the Christmas holiday? I’m now hearing about the aftermath of those “Oh, come on, just one gingerbread cookie!” indulgences. Or the wheat flour exposure from the “gluten-free” pie or cake made by your well-intended aunt or daughter-in-law.
People tell me about their cramps, gas, and diarrhea that started within minutes to hours afterwards, gastrointestinal effects that usually last 24-48 hours, occasionally longer. And it’s often a crampy, watery diarrhea, similar to that experienced after tainted chicken or contaminated produce. Yes, the cramps, gas, and diarrhea that result from wheat re-exposure after a period of abstinence resembles food poisoning.
Why would an innocent gingerbread cookie or slice of rhubarb pie cause such gastrointestinal disruption, no E coli or salmonella in sight?
Surprisingly, this exceptionally common situation has not been studied. So I’ll have to speculate. It might be the lectin of wheat, wheat germ agglutinin, that is indigestible. Wheat germ agglutinin enters the small intestine and, in effect, “unlocks” the normal intestinal barriers to foreign substances, causing intestinal “leakiness.” While it allows the entry of foreign substances into the bloodstream (leading to inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis), could there also be increased irritation and fluid loss that results in the food poisoning-like syndrome?
Wheat also disrupts the normal intestinal bacteria that reside in your small intestine and colon. Wheat-consuming people develop different bacteria in their gut, e.g., fewer bifidobacteria and more clostridia species. The wheat-free therefore experience a shift in gut bacteria over time. Does reintroduction of wheat cause abrupt disruption of intestinal bacteria, unleashing a barrage of bacterial breakdown products?
Whatever the cause, the cause-effect association is clear: Have a wheat indulgence after being wheat-free, and be prepared for a couple of days of intestinal turmoil not unlike having a hamburger at the fast food joint handled by the kid who failed to wash his hands after using the toilet. Just picture that in your mind the next time you are contemplating whether the pretzel or cookie is worth it.