Lyons Optimal Wellness, Cliff Colgan, Nutrition Therapist
Wheat, rye, and barley derived products have been a food staple of many cultures for thousands of years. Why are these grains now being scrutinized for causing health problems in certain people?
Wheat has been used as food by humans since grain was first milled around 6700 BC. Hard wheat flour was first used in bread and later in pastries, cakes and doughnuts. Italy is famous for its durum wheat pasta in spaghetti and ravioli and other memorable dishes. Societies used wheat, barley, and rye as a stored food source to insure against starvation. Modern day processed food manufacturers now use the gluten in wheat as a component of soy sauce, food starches, emulsifiers, stabilizers, flavorings, and coloring agents. It is hard to find a product in today’s supermarket in a box, carton, or bottle, which doesn’t have wheat derived products in it. Though convenient and tasty to consume, is wheat impacting our health in unforeseen bad outcomes?
Americans young and old are being found to have delayed onset food allergies to gluten and other substances in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten, the protein complex that gives dough its gluey, spongy structure, can irritate the intestinal lining of many people. Celiac disease is the gluten-induced result of the inflamed intestinal lining losing its ability to absorb the nutrients in food. When a person with Celiac strictly abstains from eating gluten-containing products, they often start to regain the function of their intestines and start to feel better. In related ways, wheat sensitivity is being looked at as a culprit in attention deficit syndromes and autism in our babies and young people.
Many people go through life with undiagnosed Celiac disease and the prevalence is increasing. A recent large study compared blood samples from 1950’s military personnel and 2008 era young adults. This study showed that undiagnosed Celiac disease has increased seven fold in 50 years. During 45 years of follow up, undiagnosed Celiac disease represented a 400% increase in the risk of death.
The health impacts of gluten sensitivity include autoimmune attacks on the GI tract, the hormone and nervous systems. Research has discovered antibodies to many different organs and cell tissues due to gluten reactions by the immune system.
When a food as entrenched as wheat is suddenly accused of causing health problems in certain people, the reaction can range from disbelief to denial. “I love wheat, how can it be bad for me?” is a typical reaction. How can a food, which has tastily kept millions from dying of starvation be a menace to the vitality and longevity of certain people of a population?
Although people can have a reaction to whole wheat bread and pasta, they tend to have much more of a problem with what food processors do to wheat and its gluten. Gluten isn’t very water soluble, so “food” manufacturers treat it with acid and enzymes to make it dissolve in water. The results are wheat isolates that make gravies and sauces creamy smooth but highly inflammatory to the guts of certain people. What food processors are unwittingly doing to wheat to make it tasty and palatable in their products is contributing to the autoimmune conditions we are now experiencing earlier and earlier in life.
Wheat is experiencing quite a role reversal in perception from being the hallowed feeder of the masses, to a wary harbinger of health complications to the susceptible. More about this topic in future issues.