A recent study from Monash University in Australia has the media declaring that gluten is good for everybody, harmful only to those with celiac disease.
Is this true? Has gluten from wheat, rye, and barley been exonerated? Should we go back to the supermarket and resume buying bread, rolls, bagels, and pasta?
In this small study, 37 people with presumed “non-celiac gluten sensitivity,” NCGS, or celiac disease-like symptoms in the absence of the intestinal destruction or antibody abnormalities (e.g., transglutaminase antibodies), demonstrated no unique response to purified gluten protein. The investigators, followed by various hand clapping media, declared that NCGS was non-existent, a placebo effect and that gluten avoidance was therefore of no benefit.
Oh, boy. Remember my low-tar cigarette analogy? Because tar in cigarettes, the brown residue left over after burning tobacco, has been associated with cancers, cigarette manufacturers developed both filters and low-tar varieties of cigarettes. Well, by George, if tar is removed, this must mean that cigarettes are now healthy to smoke!
This is absurd, of course.
Reducing or removing tar has virtually no effect on the carcinogenicity or heart disease causing potential of smoking. Remove tar, but mercury, cadmium, arsenic, formaldehyde and a multitude of other harmful compounds remain.
Likewise, wheat is far more than just the gluten protein. Among the most important of the tens of thousands of other components in wheat:
- Phytates–that disrupt digestion and block iron and zinc absorption by 90%. Grain consuming societies thereby experience excess iron deficiency anemia, along with impaired immunity, skin rashes, and other health effects from zinc deficiency. No gluten is required for these effects.
- Lectins–Wheat germ agglutinin, the lectin of wheat, rye, barley, and rice, is indigestible. It is thereby free to exert disruptive effects in the gastrointesinal tract and gain access to the bloodstream, where it yields potent inflammatory effects. It also underlies bile stasis and gallstone formation and blocks pancreatic enzyme release. No gluten is required for these effects.
- D-amino acids–Mammals, Homo sapiens included, have the digestive apparatus to break proteins down into L-amino acids, the “left-handed” versions. But many amino acids in grains are the mirror image D-versions, the “right-handed” versions. This means that proteins with grain-sourced D-amino acids yield a “stop” signal to digestive enzymes, causing incomplete protein digestion. Undigested protein fragments are toxic to intestinal tissue and exert other adverse effects, such as dysbiosis. The full impact of this peculiar clash between incompatible species-–non-ruminant humans and the seeds of grasses — are just starting to be appreciated. No gluten is required for these effects.
- Amylopectin A–The carbohydrate of grains that is responsible for its extravagant potential to raise blood sugar, explaining why 2 slices of whole wheat bread raise blood sugar higher than 6 teaspoons of table sugar. No gluten is required for this effect.
- Allergens–Modern wheat, essentially created in a laboratory, possesses an array of proteins that are changed from that in traditional wheat: alpha amylase inhibitors, trypsin inhibitors, serpins, thioreductases, etc. The altered sequence of amino acids in these proteins are responsible for allergic reactions such as asthma, eczema and other skin rashes, and gastrointestinal distress. No gluten is required.
That’s only a sampling — there’s more.
In other words, wheat and related grains are still quite terrible for health, with or without gluten.
Viewing wheat as nothing more than a vehicle for gluten is hazardous. Conducting a small study in which purified gluten is administered but elicits abdominal distress no different than whey or placebo possibly tells us that this group of 37 people do not have a specific intolerance to gluten–period. It does not exonerate wheat, any more than any apparent reduction in adverse health effects of smoking filtered, low-tar cigarettes exonerates smoking.
Let’s not also forget that there is more to the effects of the gliadin protein within gluten than gastrointestinal distress, such as appetite stimulation via exorphin opiate effects on the brain, mind “fog,” impaired learning and attention in children, anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations in people with schizophrenia, mania in bipolar illness, and food obsessions in people with binge eating disorder and bulimia. By the way, the same Monash University group recently demonstrated that purified gluten, but not whey protein, induced depressive symptoms in people with NCGS.
A breath of fresh air was provided in an editorial to the Monash study entitled Non-celiac wheat sensitivity is a more appropriate label than non-celiac gluten sensitivity highlighting the fact that wheat is a whole lot more than just gluten.
Unfortunately, gluten-on-the-brain has even caused otherwise intelligent people like Michael Pollan to put the bagel in his mouth with awful statements such as the one he made in this interview, calling the gluten-free movement “a social contagion.”
Yes: Some people have problems with gluten. But EVERYBODY has problems with wheat.
The healthcare system, nutritionists, dietitians, physicians, and the media need to get deglutenized: get rid of the notion that the only problem with modern wheat is gluten. It ain’t so.