Have a bad piece of chicken and you can suffer with abdominal pain, cramps, and diarrhea for hours to days. Consume a salad prepared by a kid who failed to wash his hands after using the toilet and you can spend several days, even weeks, sitting on the toilet, maybe even having to submit to a course of antibiotics to eradicate Salmonella or Giardia.
The holiday season is coming and, with it, the temptations and urgings from friends and relatives who say things like “Oh, come on, just a couple bites of apple pie can’t hurt!”
Once you are comfortably wheat- and grain-free on the Wheat Belly lifestyle, re-exposures to wheat and related grains typically result in cramps, gas, and diarrhea that start within minutes to hours after consumption, 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 looking gingerbread cookie or slice of chocolate cake cause such gastrointestinal disruption if Escherichia coli or Salmonella enteritidis are not to blame?
There are several culprit components in wheat and related grains that could account for such reactions, all non-infectious, including:
- Gliadin—Gliadin is the most toxic component of gluten, the factor that disrupts the normal “tight junction” barrier between intestinal cells, expanding them enough to allow foreign substances such as bacterial lipopolysaccharide, LPS, entry into the bloodstream. We now know that the prying opening of tight junctions by gliadin is the process that initiates type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune conditions. But gliadin is also a direct bowel toxin.
- Wheat germ agglutinin—This indigestible component of wheat, rye, barley, and rice is also a direct bowel toxin. Fed in small quantities in purified form to lab animals, it essentially destroys the intestinal lining, removing all the villi, or hair-like projectiles, that are responsible for absorption of nutrients. (For obvious reasons, this experiment has not been recreated in humans.) The denuded intestinal lining that develops after exposure to purified wheat germ agglutinin resembles the damage associated with celiac disease, even though there is no immune-mediated process involved.
- Alpha amylase inhibitors, thioreductases, serpins, etc.—Wheat and other grains are filled with a long list of proteins that have been associated with human allergic responses expressed as skin rashes, asthma, sinus congestion, or gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea. These effects have been amplified by the wide range of genetic changes introduced into the proteins of modern strains of wheat.
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. People who banish all wheat and grains 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? This effect may be especially harmful as toxic bacterial components such as LPS are also allowed entry via the gliadin protein opening of intestinal tight junctions.
Whatever the mix of causes, the cause-effect association is clear: Have a wheat or related grain indulgence after being wheat- and grain-free, and be prepared for some unpleasant intestinal turmoil. And, if you had, say, seborrhea, joint pain, leg edema, migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis or other condition recede or disappear with wheat/grain elimination, any of these issues can come back with a vengeance on re-exposure. Just picture that in your mind the next time you are contemplating whether the pretzel or cookie is worth it.