There are many long-term health consequences of wheat and grain consumption. The list of long-term consequences of wheat/grain consumption includes initiation of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes, weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, dental decay, deterioration of joint cartilage and osteoarthritis, and cataracts.
There are also short-term, or immediate, consequences of wheat and grain consumption, effects that require only minutes to hours to develop, some effects even developing within seconds. Such immediate effects include:
- Rise in blood sugar–The amylopectin A carbohydrate of wheat and grains is rapidly broken down into glucose that raises blood sugar considerably. A blood sugar of 150-200 mg/dl is common after, say, a bagel or bowl of (unsweetened) breakfast cereal, higher if there is any degree of insulin resistance present.
- Rise in blood insulin–The rise in blood sugar triggers a rise in insulin. If experienced repeatedly, this leads to insulin resistance, i..e, poor responsiveness of muscle, liver, brain, and other organs to insulin that causes the pancreas to increase its production of insulin 10- to 100-fold. A desirable fasting insulin level is 4 mIU/L or less; people with insulin resistance have fasting insulin levels of 30,60, or 100 mIU/L. Recall that insulin triggers weight gain and blocks weight loss.
- Liver de novo lipogenesis–Glucose that results from digestion of amylopectin A is converted to triglycerides in the liver, the process called “lipogenesis.” Triglycerides are released into the blood stream as very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), rich in triglycerides. There is therefore a flood of VLDL particles entering the bloodstream several hours after a wheat/grain-containing meal. VLDL particles have the ability to gain entry into the walls of arteries, contributing to atherosclerosis that, over time, leads to events like heart attack. Lipogenesis is magnified in the presence of insulin resistance.
- Formation of small LDL particles–VLDL particles interact in the bloodstream with LDL particles, enriching them in triglycerides. Triglyceride-enriched LDL particles then go through a series of enzymatic “remodeling” reactions that lead to formation of small LDL particles that are potent contributors to heart disease, especially since they persist in the bloodstream 5-7 times longer than more benign large LDL particles.
- Triglyceride deposition in the liver–For unclear reasons, some triglycerides resulting from lipogenesis remain in the liver and accumulate over time. Combined with inflammation (such as that resulting from bacterial endotoxemia from dysbiosis), this process leads to fatty liver.
- Blocking of cholecystokinin (CCK)–CCK is the hormone responsible for causing the gallbladder to contract to release bile into the duodenum, thereby starting the process of fat digestion. But if anything containing wheat germ agglutinin (wheat, rye, barley, rice) crosses your lips, CCK is blocked and the gallbladder does not receive the full-strength signal to contract. Over time, this leads to bile stasis that, in turn, leads to crystal formation and gallstones.
- Changes in bowel flora–Improvements observed in microbiome composition when wheat and grains are eliminated suggest that wheat/grain consumption is associated with reduced species diversity and reductions in important species such as Akkermansia and Collinsella. Changes in bowel flora are surprisingly rapid. An increase in carb and sugar consumption, for example, causes some species to bloom within hours.
- Reduced absorption of minerals–The phytates of wheat and grains avidly bind minerals in the gut, blocking their absorption. This substantially reduces absorption of magnesium, manganese, iron, zinc, and calcium, each with their own implications for health. Iron deficiency anemia can be an especially vexing problem, leading to fatigue, breathlessness, feeling cold, not to mention medical procedures such as bone marrow biopsy and iron injections.
I hope you appreciate that these are not benign or meaningless processes. The immediate consequences of consuming wheat and grains are profound.
Not all these effects reach conscious awareness. The development of insulin resistance, for example, that over time leads to type 2 diabetes, infertility in ladies with PCOS, or fatty liver, yields no outward symptoms in early stages. But these processes are smoldering beneath the surface, triggering atherosclerosis in coronary and carotid arteries, interfering with ovulation, exposing the liver to inflammation and accumulating fibrous tissue. It is not uncommon, for instance, to feel normal while insulin resistance rages beneath the surface until you experience a heart attack. Or to feel fine until you are diagnosed with cirrhosis, wondering why your abdomen is beginning to swell and your legs are edematous.
What makes this all the more remarkable, of course, is that wheat and grains are the darlings of dietitians, doctors, and national dietary guidelines, yet they are crippling to both near-term and long-term health. If all of this is new to you, you can catch up by starting with the Wheat Belly Revised & Expanded edition of the book that brought all these issues to light, updated with all new Wheat Belly strategies.