We’ve talked about how grains in general are a poor choice for your health, but gluten containing grains like wheat, barley and rye require special attention because they can be particularly damaging to your health. All grains, including other non-gluten containing grains like oats and corn, are bad because they contain gut irritating lectins and mineral binding phytates, but you’ll learn here why gluten-containing grains and wheat especially can not only cause the same problems as other grains, but also cause much more trouble down the road.
Three main constituents are of interest here: gluten, WGA (wheat germ agglutinin) and opioid peptides found in wheat. Gluten is a compound protein that composes about 80% of the protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and WGA is a lectin found in wheat that can be particularly damaging. Opioid peptides are psychoactive chemicals and those found in wheat are similar to those found in other well known psychoactive drugs like opium or morphine.
Contrary to what is believed by many, wheat is not to be avoided only by those who suffer Celiac disease, the autoimmune disease caused by a reaction of the immune system against gliadin, a gluten protein. Those with Celiac disease only react more strongly to wheat and gluten than those without the disease, but most people have a reaction in some way or another to wheat consumption, often in insidious ways.
Here are 11 reasons why consuming wheat or any of the gluten containing grains may be detrimental to one’s health. Note that in many cases more research is needed and conclusions cannot be drawn with certainty:
11 reasons why gluten and wheat should be avoided
- Gluten causes gut inflammation in at least 80% of the population and another 30% of the population develops antibodies against gluten proteins in the gut. Furthermore, 99% of the population has the genetic potential to develop antibodies against gluten. Antibodies acting in the gut can actually be good news, because when the body doesn’t react against gluten right away, gluten proteins can enter the blood stream more easily, especially if the gut is already leaky, and trigger immune reaction elsewhere in the body.
- Since gliadin, the main problem-causing gluten protein, can be similar in structure to other proteins found in tissues of organs such as the thyroid or the pancreas, antibodies against gliadin can end up attacking those organs and ultimately cause autoimmune diseases like hypothyroidism and type 1 diabetes.
- Gluten’s inflammatory effect in the gut causes intestinal cells to die prematurely and causes oxidation of those cells. This effect creates a leaky gut and a leaky gut can allow bacterial proteins and other toxic compounds to get in the blood stream, which can also lead to autoimmune attacks on the body. A leaky gut also means that food has not digested properly and nutrients are not absorbed fully, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
- Antibodies against gluten have also been shown to attack heart tissues and cause heart disease.
- Gluten may be associated with some cancers. It is potentially cancer causing, and likely cancer promoting in some cases. (1,2)
WGA (wheat germ agglutinin)
- WGA, like gluten, irritates and causes premature cell death in the gut and leads to a leaky gut condition, with all the detrimental effects that are known to follow.
- WGA also disrupts the mucus membrane in the gut, which can cause bacterial overgrowth and lead to a host of digestive issues like GERD and ulcers.
- The lectin also often ends up circulating in the body and in the brain, where it can cause leptin resistance and cause effects similar to insulin. Those two factors could be a cause or promoter of obesity as leptin and insulin are the two most important hormones to properly regulate in order to maintain a normal weight and energy balance.
- WGA and another unknown factor in wheat cause vitamin D stores to deplete abnormally fast and can therefore lead to vitamin D deficiency, with all its accompanying issues like weakening of the bones, a weakened immune system and a vulnerability to infectious diseases and bacterial attacks.
- The opioid peptides found in wheat may cause addiction to wheat in some people and withdrawal symptoms can happen upon the removal of wheat from the diet (1, 2).
- They may also be associated with some cases of Schizophrenia (1, 2) as a possible cause or at least as a promoter of the disease. Furthermore, Schizophrenics often see their symptoms reduced when removing wheat from their diet.
When it comes to things that we, humans, are not adapted to eat and digest, wheat and its gluten protein are probably at the top of the list. It’s very sad that wheat is so omnipresent in our society though and many health conditions would probably not even exist if it were not for our high consumption of wheat. Positive changes are often noticed immediately after removing wheat and other gluten containing grains from the diet.
Even though most people can indulge in less healthy choices from time to time without negative consequences, wheat and other gluten containing grains should, in my opinion and the opinion of many others in Paleo blogosphere, be completely avoided, especially for those who suffer any kind of autoimmune disease or inflammatory condition.