This continues a series of basic posts each focusing on a single key topic that, in modern society on an average diet, has gone badly awry with negative consequences. As I am not by any stretch of the imagination the first to discuss these topics, the majority of these posts will simply be referring you to excellent background resources.
Western civilization was very literally built on wheat. It powered the Egyptians that built the pyramids. It was grown by European peasants during the middle ages and paid as taxes to their feudal lords. Wheat has played a major role in human history and we owe it a debt of gratitude.
This gratitude, however, does not extend to endorsing eating wheat in the modern era when other options are available. Some people seem to be able to consume abundant quantities of wheat without consequence. Others have clear, obvious medically significant responses to eating wheat (e.g. celiac disease). What is less obvious, however, are the myriad, seemingly unrelated health problems that in many people can clear up on wheat elimination diets.
Most of these reactions seem to share a common cause in the effect of gliadin, a gluten protein found in wheat. Per the usual, Wikipedia has an excellent summary of these effects:
Upon exposure to gliadin, and certain other prolamins, the enzyme tissue transglutaminase modifies the protein, and the immune system cross-reacts with the small-bowel tissue, causing an inflammatory reaction. That leads to a truncating of the villi lining the small intestine (called villous atrophy). This interferes with the absorption of nutrients, because the intestinal villi are responsible for absorption.
It can also lead to ‘leaky gut’ in which the inflamed intestinal tissue is no longer able to provide a seal to keep the contents of the intestines from seeping through into the body cavity. This seepage of all manner of compounds and organisms can itself be an additional, powerful inflammatory stimulator.
While I grew up loving all manner of pizza, pasta and their delicious, wheat-based brethren (wheat beer, how I miss thee!), the evidence is remarkably clear that, for most people, wheat consumption is a bad idea. And for those who believe themselves just fine, thank you, keep in mind it is nearly impossible to determine that you suffer no ill effects given the disconnect in most people between their diet and their various chronic health problems and irritations. Have you always “just had oily skin” or “just had acne”? Or have you always just eaten wheat? There’s an easy way to find out: eliminate wheat from your diet for 30 days and see what happens!
Five chunks of related blogosphere wisdom:
- This is your brain on wheat
(summarizes 30 years of studies on human wheat consumption!)
- Wheat Belly
- A wheat-free 2010
- Celiac Disease and Osteoporosis
- The Thing with Grains