Wheat allergies and celiac disease, as well as obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and chronic disease, are not simply the product of wheat, as Dr. Davis in Wheat Belly might like us to think. Our modern health problems are largely the result of government subsidies that create surpluses of GMO wheat, corn, and soy and the food industry that converts these surpluses into irritants in the form of cheap, new-fangled products that can survive long periods on grocery store shelves. In his book, Dr. Davis fails to mention inflammatory high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or refined vegetable oils, the consumption of which, through soft drinks and convenience foods, has mushroomed in the last 50 years in parallel fashion with dwarf wheat. Mutant dwarf wheat is only a piece of the obesity/diabetes puzzle.
Other ingredients of our modern lifestyle that underlie wheat allergies and celiac disease include a constellation of factors that weaken the immune system and gut health. Beyond HFCS and refined oils, we can point to our modern-day reliance upon antibiotics that play havoc with good intestinal flora.
And, in terms of diet, while we have added denatured oils and HFCS, mostly through prepared/snack foods and soft drinks, we have crowded out many traditional gut-healing/health-promoting foods like cod liver oil; fermented foods;1 and whole foods that are rich in natural fiber and pre-and probiotics. Urban living can also be a factor since it decreases our exposure to healthy bacteria from the soil, while our modern screen-based living habits often rob us of a good night’s sleep, a major restorer and safeguard of immunity. Compared to today, our great-grandparents ate 40% more wheat largely prepared at home and had little problem with wheat. Understanding the role played by elements of our modern lifestyle, discussed below, and adjusting habits accordingly could help more of us better assimilate and enjoy traditional wheat, artisan breads, and other gluten grains, when properly prepared.
- Antibiotics make us more susceptible to wheat allergies. The gift of antibiotics has brought with it more people to feed. The widespread use of antibiotics is a factor creating the “need” for cheap GMO plant foods such as mutant dwarf wheat. Antibiotics have also created a population of antibiotics users with compromised gut health who are less able to digest and absorb the very wheat that was bred and designed to meet their energy needs. While addressing acute conditions to save lives, antibiotics can foster chronic health issues. This is because antibiotics weaken gut health by killing off good gut bacteria, thus upsetting the delicate balance of intestinal flora nature designed as an important sentry of our immune system. Weakened intestinal flora can lead to “leaky gut syndrome,” a condition when undigested proteins (as in wheat proteins) enter the blood stream and cause allergic reactions.
- Inflammatory,2 refined vegetable oils interfere with intestinal flora and metabolism. Per capita consumption of refined vegetable oils has increased more than five-fold in the last half-century! Like refined flour products, denatured, omega-6 oils feed inflammation, including inflammation of the digestive tract/gut. Omega-6 oils also depress thyroid/ endocrine function and metabolism, linking them to obesity.
- Inflammatory high fructose corn syrup. HFCS takes more energy to be absorbed in the intestine, thereby depleting reserves needed to preserve the integrity of intestinal lining. According to Mark Hyman, “High doses of free fructose have been proven to literally punch holes in the intestinal lining, allowing nasty byproducts of toxic gut bacteria and partially digested food proteins to enter the bloodstream and trigger the inflammation that is at the root of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, dementia and accelerated aging.”
- Cod liver oil; fermented foods; and rural living—traditional links to immune/gut health. Cod liver oil, which was relied upon by former generations, is a good source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils, as well as a rich source of vitamins A and D. Active vitamins A and vitamin D help fight inflammation while they work to soothe and heal the digestive/immune system. Fermented foods provide digestive enzymes and fiber to help feed good intestinal flora. And, “healthy” bacteria from outdoor living and contact with the soil also support gut health.3
- Sleep, the victim of our modern screen-based lifestyle. I think of sleep as nature’s “super antibiotic.” Nothing restores the mind/spirit and immune system better than a good night of sleep. For many people, a healthy gut, a healthy immune system, and the ability to enjoy traditional wheat and other grains cooked in traditional ways may be as simple as making a habit of a good night of sleep.
- See http://pathways4health.org/2009/07/01/julyaugust-2009-fermenting/ and http://pathways4health.org/2011/12/20/janfeb-2012-vitamin-d-in-winter-and-throughout-the-year/ [↩]
- See http://pathways4health.org/2011/07/23/managing-inflammation/ [↩]
- Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, Gut and Psychology Syndrome. [↩]