The Health Effects of Wheat and Gluten
“Healthy whole grains” are everywhere, but is it true? Manufacturers are quick to slap that label across the front of a box regardless of what else is in the product in hopes of convincing consumers that that food choice is healthy. But that conclusion couldn’t be further from the truth.
Another buzzword: gluten-free. Wheat and gluten currently are in the public eye more than they’ve ever been before. Science has revealed that they’re responsible for maladies ranging from simple annoying allergies to more-severe conditions such as autoimmune diseases. Knowing the difference between wheat and gluten and where your sensitivities lie is critical as you change your diet.
Here is a quick overview the true health cost of eating wheat and take a quick look at the wheat/gluten issue.
What wheat does to the body
You hear about the nutrients in grains and the all-important fiber content, but if you look closely, you can see these claims are a bit skewed. Milling and processing reduces many of the nutrients, and the plant’s own defenses limit your body’s ability to access the remaining nutrients.
And grains’ insoluble fiber speeds things along the intestinal tract, making the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins more challenging. This scenario is especially important in low-fat, high-fiber diets.
Wheat’s impact on blood sugar is shockingly huge. Many people think that to become diabetic, a person must overindulge in sweets and be overweight. It’s simply not true. The food recommended by health experts has more of an impact on blood sugar than the candy at the checkout line. Sometimes people wonder whether doctors are even aware of wheat’s blood glucose impact.
If they were, there would be more of a pushback against conventional wisdom. Researchers are discovering blood sugar to be a major long term indicator of all sorts of disease. The consequences of chronically elevated blood glucose lead to gut and brain dysfunction.
Eating wheat may lead to a condition known as leaky gut syndrome and what can be called leaky brain syndrome. Both of these situations result from staples in many people’s lives. Stress, wheat and grains, refined carbs, processed foods, antibiotics, NSAIDS, and lack of sleep all contribute to foreign items entering the bloodstream through the gut.
When the foreign invaders go where they shouldn’t, conditions such as asthma, migraines, arthritis, and depression can follow. These same causes lead to unwanted intruders crossing the blood-brain barrier, which can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Until recently, science didn’t know the mechanism or testing procedures to determine the extent of this kind of invasion. The picture is quickly unfolding and opening up a whole new understanding of inflammation and its role in autoimmune disease.
With a wheat-free lifestyle, you’ll be on your way to healing these possible breaches in your system. In addition, one of the many byproducts of these changes is a reduction in risk for metabolic syndrome, a leading indicator of heart disease.
When you choose to go completely grain-free, you not only improve your health but also realize how poorly you felt when you were eating a grain-filled diet. Yes, going just wheat-free can help relieve any conditions associated with your past diet.
But consider the recommendation to eliminate all grains with this analogy: Someone who has an alcohol problem would never be advised to eliminate only hard liquor but to continue drinking beer. This plan of attack doesn’t fix the whole problem.
Testimonial: Cutting out wheat to cope with chronic disease
The idea of giving up something as fundamental as wheat would’ve never crossed my mind until my doctor recommended it in 2009. After months of feeling sluggish and experiencing muscle pain, joint aches, and a host of other symptoms, my doctor looked at my most recent blood work and said, “I want you to go three months gluten-free.”
Having followed her advice, I walked into that three-month follow-up appointment feeling noticeably better. Although I still had symptoms, they weren’t as severe. I never expected that she’d tell me I had Sjogren’s syndrome and give me prescriptions for six different medications.
After the diagnosis, I fell off the gluten-free wagon. I was too focused on trying to remember to take all my pills at all the right times. Like most patients who receive a diagnosis they’re unfamiliar with, I spent a lot of time on the Internet, and I came across some recommendations about a completely wheat-free diet, which were further reinforced by a friend.
I decided to try again, simply removing all gluten-containing products at first and later most refined carbohydrates, sugars, and processed vegetable oils.
It took about three months before I really started to feel the change. My rheumatologist told me that I was in remission; he was amazed at the progress I was making in such a short time. I finally convinced him to lower my medication dosages; within the span of a year, I was able to go from six medications to two, one of which I take only as-needed.
I’m feeling better than I’ve ever felt; I’m not just surviving with Sjogren’s but thriving with it. I never thought I’d see the day where wheat wasn’t part of my life, but I can’t argue with the way I feel. This has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I only wish I’d made it sooner.
Differentiate between wheat and gluten
Wheat and other grains contain a protein called gluten, which contributes flavor and binding qualities to food, household products, and even toys. One important sub-protein of gluten is gliadin. Gliadin causes inflammation and is the initiator of leaky gut in the small intestine. Many people have some sort of sensitivity to gluten, whether it’s a little bloating after meals or a complete intolerance (celiac disease).
The only known cure for gluten-related illnesses is eliminating gluten from the diet, which means eliminating wheat. So going gluten-free means you’re automatically wheat-free, but you can be wheat-free without giving up all gluten if you choose.