Wheat’s Links to Health Epidemics - dummies

Wheat’s Links to Health Epidemics

By Rusty Gregory, Alan Chasen

Here are the alarming statistics resulting from the increased consumption of wheat and how it has contributed to the health problems of the U.S. population.

All foods are made up of carbohydrates, proteins, and/or fats. Cutting back on one type means making up the difference with the other two. So when the push came in the 1970s to reduce fat intake, carbs or protein had to pick up the slack.

Inevitably, carbs — often unhealthy ones in the form of modified wheat — were the next choice. These changes have resulted in significant health declines across the population.

Wheat and the rise of diabetes

The accelerated rates of obesity are causing a rise in the rates of diabetes. Not every person who is obese will get diabetes, but carrying too much weight is a major contributor. Thin Type 2 diabetics exist, but they are far more the exception than the norm.

More than 8 percent of the general U.S. population has Type 2 diabetes. And because diabetes doesn’t occur overnight, another 89 million people are on the path to diabetes, also known as prediabetes. The highest rates occur in the oldest populations; in the over-65 age group, the known diabetes rate is 27 percent.

Worldwide, the diabetes rate is 8 percent and growing rapidly. In 2013, nearly 382 million people around the world are diabetic, and that’s just the number who’ve been diagnosed; an estimated 175 million cases of diabetes are undiagnosed. Of those who are diagnosed, 50 percent die before age 60. These statistics are meaningful, and they’re preventable.

Wheat and digestive ailments

Two digestive conditions are made worse by gluten, a protein found in wheat. The first, which most people have heard of, is celiac disease. Celiac is an autoimmune disorder that occurs in genetically predisposed people.

When someone with celiac disease is exposed to the gluten protein, enzymes in the body modify the protein to the point of resembling intestinal tissue; inflammation follows. Celiac disease can be diagnosed with medical tests and a biopsy of the intestines.

Celiac disease affects about 1 percent of the population. That’s four times the rate from the 1960s. Beyond the 1 percent, estimates say that about six times that number go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. It can take up to 20 years to be properly diagnosed with celiac disease.

The second condition affected by gluten is non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Like celiac disease, NCGS is caused by the body’s reaction to gluten, but the reaction isn’t autoimmune or an allergy. Unlike celiac disease, no diagnostic test is available for NCGS.

NCGS can affect almost every tissue in the body, including the brain, stomach, skin, liver, muscles, and thyroid. It’s also associated with a variety of diseases, including epilepsy, Type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis, conditions of the nervous system, thyroid, and schizophrenia.

Because NCGS is fairly new, many doctors don’t acknowledge it. For them, it’s a cut-and-dried measure: you either test positive for celiac, or you don’t; if you don’t, gluten isn’t a problem for you. The symptoms for celiac disease and NCGS are nearly identical, which complicates diagnosis of NCGS. Symptoms of both diseases include

  • Abdominal cramping and gas

  • Achy joints

  • Depression

  • Diarrhea

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Weight loss

Doctors and patients don’t always make the link between these symptoms and gluten because the symptoms are so diverse and can appear so random. Often, a condition unrelated to gluten is given as the diagnosis without regard to the root cause.

However, with so many diseases like diabetes, osteoporosis, and thyroid conditions on the rise since the advent of modern wheat, thinking about how the changes to wheat play a role is only logical. The only true way to confirm these symptoms as a wheat-related problem is to remove the wheat from your diet (under a doctor’s supervision) and monitor how you feel.