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The trouble with wheat

MagazineAugust 2011 (Vol. 22 Issue 5)The trouble with wheat

Much has been published about wheat: that, as it's a relatively recent addition to our diet, we haven't yet adapted to it; that it's a common food allergen; that it can be addictive; and that, together with sugar, it's a major contributor to obesity (Brostoff J, Gamlin L

Much has been published about wheat: that, as it's a relatively recent addition to our diet, we haven't yet adapted to it; that it's a common food allergen; that it can be addictive; and that, together with sugar, it's a major contributor to obesity (Brostoff J, Gamlin L. The Complete Guide to Food Allergy and Intolerance. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1990).
Yet, what is not widely known is that every grain of wheat contains wheatgerm agglu-tinin (WGA) that, even in small quantities, can have profoundly adverse toxic effects. It can pass through the blood-brain barrier (BBB), and may inhibit nerve growth factor, important for the growth, maintenance and survival of neurons. WGA is also involved in the body's pain pathways (Scand J Gastroenterol, 2010; 45: 1197-202; Biol Psychiatry, 2010; 68: 100-4).
Taken altogether, this means that wheat may contribute considerably to the pain and suffering of arthritis as well as to other significant health problems. It is ironic, therefore, that wheat is one of the few foods for which, in most countries, food producers are permitted to make health claims on labels and packaging. This is particularly true of whole grains and bran, for which we're told that they can reduce heart disease and even certain cancers.
Yet, in truth, phytates (especially phytanic acid)-found in the fibre content of wheat-are known to inhibit calcium, iron, zinc and (almost certainly) magnesium uptakes. Although they're broken down in the leavening process when bread is made and, so, can no longer affect mineral metabolism, the whole grains that are added to 'whole-grain bread' are unaffected by the leavening process and, thus, contribute to the ill effects of wheat.
Iron deficiency is among the most common deficiencies seen in Europeans, and the phytates in wheat fibre reduce iron absorption. This means that unleavened bread, whole grains, bran and bran-based foods should not be consumed by those at risk of iron deficiency. This group includes children under the age of two, menstruating women and those who eat little meat, especially if they also drink tea (Davies S, Stewart A. Nutritional Medicine: The Drug-Free Guide to Better Family Health. London: Pan Books, 1987: 131).
Given the evidence against wheat, it is clear that our overarching reliance on wheat and its related grains (rye and barley) may be one of the primary culprits behind poor health, and why anthropologists only find traces of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, tooth decay, diabetes, cancer, short stature, anaemia, bone disease, infectious diseases and a reduced lifespan after the historical introduction of these grains into the human diet (Bond G. Deadly Harvest: The Intimate Relationship between Our Health and Our Food. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers, 2007: 53).
However, there's even more bad news. WGA disrupts endocrine function, thereby contributing to weight gain and insulin resistance by blocking leptin receptors in the hypothalamus; it also interferes with the production of secretin from the pancreas, thereby leading to digestive problems and an unhealthy enlarged pancreas (J Pharmacol Exp Ther, 2003; 307: 544-54). Wheat, rye, barley and soy all contain exceptionally high levels of glutamic and aspartic acid, making them 'excitotoxins'-in other words, they cause overactivation of nerve-cell receptors that can lead to calcium-induced nerve injury (
WGA is also cytotoxic to cells, capable of halting the cell cycle and causing apoptosis (cell death) (Toxicol In Vitro, 2004; 18: 821-7). What's more, it stimulates the production of proinflammatory cytokines in the intestinal and immune cells that cause a variety of chronic inflammatory conditions (http:// Also, anti-WGA anti-bodies in the blood circulation cross-react with other proteins, thereby suggesting a contribution to autoimmunity (http://forums. Finally, as it crosses the BBB, WGA often pulls other compounds along with it, resulting in neurotoxic effects in the brain (Toxicol Appl Pharmacol, 2011; 251: 79-84).
With such effects, WGA may be described as 'humanity's bane from the wheaten grain'. So, instead of bread, try adding sweet potato, sorghum, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, sago, African yam, rice, Indian corn (maize), gram flour, chickpea flour, tapioca and Indian rice to your diet instead.

Harald Gaier


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