The dark side of wheat The jigsaw comes together By Jacqueline Steincamp who wrote a book on M.E./CFS in the mid-eighties and has been involved in this contentious area ever since Bread … the staff of life … the principal grain of the western world. It is so respected, so loved … that to question its benefits for human beings is like shafting Mother, God and Country – not to mention Western medicine (so inclined to treat symptoms rather than attack causes). The result? Government-recommended nutritional plans give bread prominent status and health professionals urge us to have Our Daily Bread. Through twenty years of advising people with M.E,(Myalgic Encephalopathy)/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and finding that nearly all these chronically ill people with varying ill-defined symptoms who went on wheat-free (and dairy-free) diets, did rather better, I began to wonder. Was this intolerance to foods yet another peculiarity of this type of illness … was there indeed, something flawed about the make-up of these poor suffering souls? Often they seemed over-attached to their daily bread – and saw no connection between it and any indigestive or neurological problems. “It’s good for us and the doctor told me to have it.” This year has been my year of a new awareness of why wheat can cause problems for some people. A friendly GP emailed me a mind-blowing article “The Dark Side of Wheat”1. The leading British Medical journal “The Lancet” came out with a major crossdisciplinary study on the effects of wheat on human health: “Gluten sensitivity: from gut to brain”2; and my son sent me an equally remarkable book “Pandora’s Seed: the unforeseen cost of civilization”3 by genetic scientist Spencer Wells;. It seems that we are now paying the price for eating a diet unnaturally high in both bread (and dairy products). Both are foods for which the human race was never designed. In fact, those tiresome M.E. intolerances may reflect the body’s innate intelligence when faced with something inherently toxic. Note the subject is not just Gluten. It is Wheat. Our favourite grain … with its lectins, its dangerous and sometimes addictive proteins (23,000 of them so far and still counting), its indigestible fructans, its excitotoxins and – there’s its gluten, a particularly nasty one. It’s hard to believe. Yet many specialist nutritionists and gastroenterologists are taking notice of the growing evidence against wheat. Dr Rodney Ford1, former associate professor of pediatrics, Otago University, has been investigating the harmful effects of gluten in his patients over the last 20 years. With his PhD thesis on the diagnosis of food allergy and sensitivity, he was one of the first clinicians to recognise that coeliac disease accounts for only a small portion of gluten-related disease. He asserts that gluten-harm is primarily mediated through neuronal damage2. His findings are documented in his ground-breaking book “The Gluten Syndrome: is wheat causing you harm?” “Gluten can directly and indirectly injure the nervous networks that control gut functions. This leads to the primary neurological symptoms found in gluten sensitivity 1 2 www.drrodneyford.com Ford R.P.K., “The gluten syndrome: A neurological disease”. Medical Hypotheses 73 (2009) 438–440 and coeliac disease. The smooth uninterrupted function of the body relies upon the autonomic nervous system. The regulation of the cardiovascular system, gut, bladder, uterus and glands all depends on this vast autonomic nerve network.” Clarice Hebblethwaite, dietary specialist with Digestive Health Services in Christchurch, is another who is convinced of it. Gastroenterologists and dietitians in this specialist private clinic see many people with symptoms of tiredness and irritable bowel syndrome who are sensitive to eating certain grains. She reports that many people with M.E, endometriosis and IBS are intolerant to wheat in particular. “Our clinical experience mirrors the evidence which says up to 70% of people with these symptoms are intolerant to wheat. Some wheat intolerance will be caused by the gluten, some caused by the fructans and in some cases people are sensitive to both gluten and fructans in the grains.” Fructans? Apparently modern varieties of wheat, rye and barley contain a carbohydrate (fructans)3 that is responsible for symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Fructans are one of a group of carbohydrates called FODMAPs found in wheat, onion, garlic, leeks, cabbage and brussels sprouts. . The acronym stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. “When FODMAPs are eaten, they are incompletely digested and poorly absorbed from the intestine. They travel on through the small intestine and into the colon, where they are fermented by the gut bacteria. The fermentation causes the colon to distend and triggers abdominal cramps, bloating, wind and sometimes diarrhoea, all of which are common symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome.” Hebblethwaite admits that teasing out the problems is not easy. “We see improvements in symptoms in about 70% of all those who trial an elimination diet and the degree of improvement can vary from 20% to up to 100% for some symptoms. It is very variable and difficult to predict. Also people have different levels of tolerance.” Our biologically inappropriate diet For hundreds of thousands of years our early ancestors were hunter-gatherers … a leaf here, a bird or fish there, seaweed, fruit, nuts and herbs – and deer or a mammoth for feast days. Human remains show well-built people with healthy bones and structure. Then about 12,000 years ago, a mini-ice age caused far-reaching climate changes and drought - especially throughout the African continent. Ever-resourceful human beings turned to agriculture and began to cultivate grain crops and to domesticate animals. So early farming began, with land ownership, and the development of settlements in fertile areas. It was the beginning of capitalism, and saw the rise of chronic human ill health. As humans struggled to adapt themselves to the new foods their remains show they became smaller and that disease became more common. At the same time, unusual genetic mutations began to appear. All of these were related to the new foods to which humans were exposed in quantity.4 Evolutionary geneticists have found a whole host of changes in the human genome, nearly all occurring around or shortly after this time. Such discoveries are possible now because of the mapping of the Gibson, P.R. and Shepherd, S.J. Monash U, “Evidence-based Dietary Management of Functional Gastrointestinal Symptoms: The FODMAP Approach”. J. Gasterentol. Hepatol. 2010; 25(2) 252-258 4 Wells, S. ibid. Many references. 3 human genome, and extra-sensitive technology that can detect DNA and RNA in ancient remains. This has gigantic implications for understanding the causes of many diseases. Coeliac disease – the tip of the iceberg Gluten sensitivity has been compared to an iceberg with coeliac disease (CD) representing its tip. That tip represents a relatively small but growing percentage of people whose gut symptoms and immune symptoms are relatively easy to diagnose. The middle portion of the iceberg is composed of undetected coeliac disease. “At the base of this massive iceberg sits approximately 20-30% of the world’s population – those who have been found to carry … genetic susceptibility to coeliac disease on chromosome 6.”4 CD is a clear cut disease, and its treatment is also clear cut: no gluten from whatever source. Other more neurologically involved illnesses are not so clearly delineated. . The symptoms of gluten sensitivity often mimic those of other illnesses. Sometimes even the laboratory tests are confusing. For instance, the Lancet article on gluten sensitivity notes that brain lesions found in multiple sclerosis are similar to those associated with gluten sensitivity.5 The Lancet authors list the type of neurological illnesses that are particularly associated with gluten sensitivity. These include various encephalopathies (including gluten encephalopathy), ganglionopathy, myopathy, myelopathy, multiple sclerosis, and ataxia. All glutens are not the same Various types of gluten are found in a number of grains: corn, rye, oats and barley in particular. Gliadin, the type of gluten found in wheat, has some especially unwholesome properties. It can trigger an adverse immune response which directly damages the intestines, flattening the villi and actually breaking down tissues. Researchers in a small Spanish study concluded that the data they obtained supports the hypothesis that gluten elicits its harmful effect through an IL (interleukin) innate immune response on all individuals.6 When gliadin is partially digested, it can form a peptide, gliadomorphin, which has a very similar structure to BCM7, the protein in A1 milk studied by Dr Keith Woodford, in his eye-popping study of our daily milk: “Devil in the Milk”.7 The morphine fraction is thought to be responsible for the addictive nature of both foods. Conclusion. Rodney Ford says that the implication of gluten causing neurologic network damage is immense. “With estimates that at least 1 in 10 is affected by gluten, the health impact is enormous. Understanding gluten’s effect on the body is important for the health of the global community.” 5 Hadjivassilliou, M. et al. p. 324 Is gliadin really safe for non-coeliac individuals, Gut 2007:56:889-890. 7 Woodford, K., “Devil in the Milk: Illness, health and politics – A1 and A2 milk”, Craig Potton Publishing, 2007. Many references. 6 1 Sayer, Ji, GreenMedinfo.com. Also on Signs of the Times, www.sott.net/articles/show/205172 Hadjivassiliou, M.. Sanders, D.S., Grunewald, R.A., Woodroofe.S., Boscolo, S., Aeschlimann, D. Gluten Sensitivity from Gut to Brain. Lancet Neurology, 9, Mar 2010, 308-330. 3 Wells, Spencer, Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilisation:, Random House, U.S. 2010. 4 Sayer Ji. Reference he uses is Frontiers in Coeliac Disease by Fasano, Troncone, Branski. Karger Switzerland, 2008 2 .