The happy wheat-free intestine

Happy bowels are central to overall health, aren’t they?

Eliminate the gliadin protein of wheat and it can no longer trigger activation of inflammatory T-lymphocytes in the intestinal lining. Eliminate the lectin of wheat, wheat germ agglutinin, and this direct intestinal toxin can no longer destroy intestinal villi, increase intestinal permeability to foreign substances, and enter the bloodstream itself (and generate wheat germ agglutinin antibodies). (Interestingly, in experimental models, administration of wheat lectin alone is sufficient to generate celiac disease-like destructive changes.)

The majority of people who eliminate wheat therefore experience relief from symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn, relief from the gas, cramps, and diarrhea of irritable bowel syndrome, and marked reduction–occasionally cure–of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

But not everybody.

What about the relatively smaller number of people who eliminate wheat and feel a bit better . . . but don’t return to normal, happy intestinal health? Putting aside the odd possibility that an entirely separate condition is simultaneously present, such as gallstones or duodenal ulcer, why would someone experience, say, 70% relief from acid reflux or irritable bowel symptoms, but not 100%?

Here are some possibilities:

–Wheat-eaters have different bowel flora (bacteria) compared to non-wheat consumers. When a wheat-consuming individual does away with all wheat, there is a necessary shift in the numbers and species of bowel bacteria. (Dysbiosis, or bacterial overgrowth, i.e., marked increases in the numbers of bacteria, a shift in composition away from normal and favoring some uncommon species, and greater numbers ascending higher in the intestinal tract into the ileum, jejunum, and duodenum, is common in wheat-eating individuals.) But, for unclear reasons, some people struggle with the shift back to a more normal bacterial profile. After eliminating wheat, they may be left (most typically) with constipation or excessive gas.

Some people therefore experience a smoother transition in bowel habits by supplementing with a probiotic preparation, e.g., 50 billion CFUs, preferably containing species of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. Most people experience relief within days to weeks to initiating a probiotic regimen. (Incidentally, yogurt preparations do not work for this purpose, no matter how long you consume them.)

–Impaired pancreatic enzyme release–The pancreas produces enzymes required for digestion. Also for unclear reasons, some people develop less than optimal release of pancreatic enzymes and, while enjoying partial relief with wheat elimination, are left with some residual cramping, gas, and diarrhea. Some people describe (and this can be assessed formally) remnants of partially-digested food in their bowel movements (e.g., meat fragments, oil droplets). Perhaps it’s from low-grade repetitive pancreatic injury/inflammation from gliadin/lectin. Or maybe it’s from glucotoxicity and lipotoxicity from the metabolic derangements so common in the wheat-eating individual (e.g., high blood sugar, high triglycerides, postprandial lipoproteins). Or maybe it’s from the small intestinal lymphocytic infiltration or villous atrophy (destruction of the intestinal lining) of the wheat-eater.

While this is an undoubted oversimplification, some of these people simply respond to a several month course of pancreatic enzymes, especially one that contains the fat-digesting enzyme, lipase.

The wheat eliminating experience for us non-celiac people is growing rapidly and widely. Should you be among those who struggle with full recovery of bowel health after elimination of all things wheat, please speak up and report your experience!

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162 Responses to The happy wheat-free intestine

  1. Trina Guggerty says:

    I literally stumbled across your book, Wheat Belly, about a month ago and I found the information fascinating. I had no idea how bad wheat was….the only people I know who are gluten-free have celliac disease. I decided to experiment and go wheat free for a couple of weeks to see if I could tell a difference in the way I felt…energy levels, etc. Well, the surprising thing for me was how the pounds fell off. I had been trying to lose 5/6 lbs for several years and when I cut out all sugars I thought I’d lose the lbs. Not. So I figured it was my age…64….and the theory that your brain holds on to a weight-set number. Boy, have I ever disproved that theory. What started as an experiment is now my permanent lifestyle….I will never go back to eating Frankenwheat again.

    My husband watched the pounds dropping off and decided he would try it also. Unfortunately he has not lost any weight but after only 3 weeks I’m telling him to be patient. What has changed – drastically – is his bowel movements. From having one every other day or so he now has to eliminate 3-4 times a day. Sometimes the urge is accompanied by stomach cramps. He eats a Greek yogurt everyday and adds a teaspoon of Benefiber. He is eating more fruit (but not overmuch), eating more salads and continues to eat meat and veggies. Can you tell me why his frequency has changed so much? And will it slow down as he continues on?

    Thank you for your help.

  2. Debora Sadler says:

    Hi,could someone explain to me Pancreatic Enzymes are they available through health food or chemists or is it a prescription medication. Also in what quantities should it be taken. I am sugar/wheat/gluten sensitive i also suffer from Fibromyalgia and chronic constipation. I have the Wheat Belly Book have found it to be a great tool in discovering all the hidden Wheat that i didn’t know about. Love this site Thank you so much for a wonderful tool.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      I am going to refer your question to my friend and nutrition educator, Kathy Howitt.

      You can buy them at health food stores, but Kathy will know more about dosing.

  3. M Goodspeed says:

    Does anyone know if there’s a connection between lymphocytic colitis and wheat consumption? I have had on and off bouts with diarrea over the past few years but did not know until today what was the cause. I am wondering if a wheat free/gluten free diet would help with this condition? I have been prescribed a two month dose of steroids, but think that somehow my diet must be partially to blame. Does anyone have any info on this?

  4. Gilgia says:

    Hello you all,
    I have stopped eating gluten 7 months ago and felt a real turnaround for a short while. No more diarrhea!
    Then it started up again and now I go between bouts of diarrhea and constipation. I have been taking a quality probiotic for years and yet no improvement. I cannot figure out is it what I eat or what I don’t eat, is it my gut bacteria or the lack thereof, is it stress, is it an autoimmune problem, an ulcer? I am so tired of it all. I have had this for years.
    Thanks for any insight.

  5. Deborah says:

    Is there a connection between Leaky Gut Syndrome and Wheat?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Yes: Wheat is the most powerful cause for increased small intestinal permeability through its gliadin protein.

  6. Dorothy says:

    Does wheat free living help with gastroparesis?