Is This "Healthy" Plant Wrecking Your Health?

Doctors explain exactly how modern wheat could be making you ill.

September 11, 2013

Ditching wheat could improve your health, some doctors say.

Is wheat bad for you? You wouldn't think so, given the advice you hear to load up on whole grains. In today's world, whole-wheat spaghetti is heralded as a healthy alternative to white pasta, with organic, sprouted wheat bread the choice for health-conscious sandwiches. But the truth is, modern wheat—all of it—could be eating away at your health, according to a growing number of doctors.

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In a recent opinion piece in the Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal, the editor-in-chief of the publication, Joseph Pizzorno, ND, outlines some of the groundbreaking research on the detrimental health effects of wheat. Much of this research is a credit to an award-winning doctor, pioneering wheat and celiac disease researcher Alessio Fasano, MD, clinical professor of medicine and founder of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research.

Through his work, Dr. Fasano has demonstrated that most—perhaps all—people develop increased intestinal permeability when exposed to the gliadin protein of wheat, explains cardiologist William Davis, MD, author of the New York Times best seller Wheat Belly. "This is the first step towards experiencing autoimmune diseases, the 75 conditions unique to humans, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, polymyalgia rheumatica, and many others—many, perhaps all, getting their start with wheat consumption," Dr. Davis says. "Consumption of wheat underlies an astounding amount of autoimmune disease."

Humans have been eating wheat for about 10,000 years. But the situation became much worse in the 1980s when the new high-yield, semi-dwarf strains created by geneticists were introduced into the food supply, says Dr. Davis. (They aren't genetically modified, just intensely crossbred using methods that wouldn't normally occur in nature.) That, Dr. Davis says, is when we saw an increase in calorie intake due to the appetite-stimulating effects of the new forms of gliadin protein in wheat, increased intestinal permeability due to this same gliadin protein, along with increases in autoimmune conditions, increased intestinal toxicity from changed forms of the wheat germ agglutinin protein, and increased allergies due to new proteins changed by these genetics efforts. "This highlights a fundamental problem in agribusiness: A crop can be changed—dramatically, even using extreme or bizarre techniques—but questions regarding continued safety for human consumption are never raised," Dr. Davis notes. "These crops are just sold, no questions asked."

And wheat is everywhere—hiding out in the majority of processed foods, including taco seasoning, frozen dinners, salad dressings, roasted nuts, sauces, and even licorice. Today, many Americans consume wheat as the source for 50, 60, or even 70 percent of their calories, an extremely "unnatural and perverse situation," Dr. Davis notes. "I would argue that the incorporation of wheat in virtually all processed foods is no mistake," Dr. Davis says. "I believe that smart food scientists figured this out years ago, understanding that the new gliadin proteins of wheat stimulated appetite. Rather than warn us, they put it in everything. You eat more, they sell more."

More Than a Gluten Thing
Asked if he could bust one wheat myth, Dr. Davis says he wants people to know that even if they are not gluten sensitive or living with celiac disease, consuming wheat is still not a health-conscious move. Why? Even people living free of these conditions are still susceptible to the gliadin-induced effects on intestinal permeability, the increased appetite gliadin sparks, the bowel toxicity from wheat germ agglutinin, and the sky-high blood sugars from the amylopectin A of wheat, among other issues. "It is misleading to view wheat as nothing more than a vehicle for gluten; as you can see, wheat is much more than just gluten.

Eating Wheat: A Modern Experiment
When you look at the time humans spent on Earth and break it into percentages, it's pretty easy to see we're in uncharted waters when it comes to eating wheat. "Wheat was not part of the diet for the first 99.6 percent of the time we have inhabited this earth; in terms of evolutionary time, wheat was added only 0.4 percent of the time ago," Dr. Davis explains. "And it was bad enough when we first added it, as humans developed rampant tooth decay, facial deformities, iron deficiency, and other health problems. The situation was simply magnified with the modern habit of allowing wheat to dominate the diet and the changes introduced into the wheat plant by geneticists who thought they were doing the world some good."

For more reasons to ditch your wheat habit, read The Dark Side of "Healthy" Wheat.