The dark side of wheat - CyberPlace Canterbury

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
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
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
Wells, S. ibid. Many references.
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
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.
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.”
Hadjivassilliou, M. et al. p. 324
Is gliadin really safe for non-coeliac individuals, Gut 2007:56:889-890.
Woodford, K., “Devil in the Milk: Illness, health and politics – A1 and A2 milk”, Craig Potton
Publishing, 2007. Many references.
Sayer, Ji, Also on Signs of the Times,
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.
Wells, Spencer, Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilisation:, Random House, U.S. 2010.
Sayer Ji. Reference he uses is Frontiers in Coeliac Disease by Fasano, Troncone, Branski. Karger
Switzerland, 2008