“Gluten” is basically a buzzword at this point, but even if you’re avoiding it, do you really know what it is? And did you know that there’s other stuff in wheat that’s also worth avoiding: wheat is bad news for reasons that have nothing to do with gluten. Here’s a look at 11 reasons why.
First of all, a refresher: wheat is a grain. The calories in wheat come mostly from carbohydrates, but wheat also contains a few problem proteins.
- Wheat Germ Agglutinin
- Amylase Trypsin Inhibitors
Problems caused by these proteins are not the same thing as blood sugar problems caused by the carbohydrates in wheat. It’s true that getting a majority of calories from wheat (especially refined wheat) can cause metabolic problems like large amount of wheat: something like a spoonful of soy sauce wouldn’t be a problem.
This post is not about metabolic issues like blood sugar and carbohydrates. It’s about a totally different list of problems caused specifically by wheat and the proteins it contains. These problems are relevant even for people eating a small amount of wheat, and even for people who do fine eating carbs.
So what’s so bad about wheat?
1. Wheat Problems Aren’t Restricted to People with Celiac Disease
The most famous problem with wheat is
Most people know that celiac disease requires absolutely strict avoidance of all gluten. But a lot of people also think that if you don’t have celiac disease, you’re completely in the clear.
That’s not true. Recently there’s been an increased amount of interest in
Wheat isn’t just a problem for people with celiac disease, and there’s more to wheat than gluten.
2. Gut Inflammation
Inflammation is the natural response of your immune system to injury
surrounding area gets all red and tender. The proteins in wheat are
The most famous case is the inflammation caused by gluten in people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. But inflammation from wheat is also a problem even for people who aren’t sensitive to gluten specifically.
That inflammation is dangerous because…
3. Increased Intestinal Permeability
Inflammation in the gut contributes to a problem called
Inflammation in the gut messes up that system of border control. It loosens the junctions between cells in the gut wall so too much stuff can pass through. This is often described as making the gut “leaky” (hence the popular name of “leaky gut”).
On top of inflammation leading to increased permeability, gluten accelerates this process by stimulating the release of a protein called zonulin.
Intestinal permeability is a big problem – most notably because it’s
4. Double Trouble: Wheat Germ Agglutinin
Another one for the non-Celiac crowd:
Again, this is totally separate from the problem of gluten. Obviously, gluten and WGA usually come as a package deal, because they’re both found in wheat, but you can have trouble with WGA even if you had no reaction to a gluten elimination challenge.
70% of woman who used obsession phrases said it worked.
5. Increased Vulnerability to Gut Autoimmunity
Items #1-4 on this list discussed how wheat makes the gut more permeable, so all kinds of stuff can get into the bloodstream even though it shouldn’t be there. Included in that stuff is…gluten! Specifically, gliadin, which is a component of gluten. Once it’s inside your bloodstream, gliadin runs into your immune system, and that’s where the problems really start, in the form of molecular mimicry.
And gut cells aren’t the only cells affected by gluten-related autoimmunity…
6. Increased Vulnerability to non-Celiac Autoimmune Diseases
If you go digging into the research on celiac disease and gluten, you’ll find a bunch of studies linking it to all kinds of other autoimmune diseases, including
The common factor here might be the gluten. Wheat gluten is
Hey, by the way, guess what other common health problems have an autoimmune component?
7. Autoimmune Reactions in People Without Celiac Disease.
Point #6 above gave a lot of reasons why celiac disease is associated with other autoimmune diseases, but it’s not limited to people with celiac disease. If you thought non-celiac gluten sensitivity was unrelated to autoimmune disease, you thought wrong! This study found that
One interesting aspect of this is that patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity
8. Damage to the Gut Biome
Not the all-important gut biome! The
your gut. They help regulate your immune system, control intestinal permeability, digest your food, synthesize nutrients like vitamin K2, send hunger/fullness signals to your brain, and do all kinds of other stuff.
But they really don’t like gluten, and gluten really doesn’t like them. People with celiac disease often have very bad problems with the gut flora, but
Even in people who aren’t sensitive to gluten at all, inflammation caused by other components of wheat can also rebound on the gut biome. And independently of any of that,
9. Gastrointestinal Symptoms (Even for People who Don’t have Celiac Disease)
All this stuff about gut bacteria and intestinal permeability might seem totally abstract and disconnected from the real world, so let’s bring it back down to earth: this stuff has actual, noticeable consequences. Most of the direct damage involves the gut, so it makes sense to start there:
- In people with celiac disease, gluten causes immediate and severe symptoms (diarrhea and/or constipation,
- In people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, symptoms are typically similar to celiac disease.
- Even in people who aren’t sensitive to gluten specifically, the inflammatory action of other components of wheat (wheat germ agglutinin and amylase trypsin inhibitors)
Of course, there are non-wheat-related reasons why a person might have GI problems (stress is a biggie, and stress is certifiably gluten-free). But gluten can contribute to the problem, even if it’s “only” a low-level inflammatory response that you’ve gotten used to. Sure, constipation and feeling bloated after meals might be your “normal,” but what if it didn’t have to be?
10. Brain Symptoms
Think of gluten or wheat issues, and you probably think of the gut first. The typical symptoms are all gut-related. But actually, there’s another important organ at stake: your brain.
This doesn’t mean that gluten is the cause of all mental health problems or that eliminating gluten will cure them. Nobody is saying that. Mental health is complicated and there are all kinds of factors to consider. The point is that in some people, gluten may be one of them.
11. Skin Symptoms
The most famous cause of gluten-related skin problems is celiac disease, which can cause a skin disease called
And once again, this isn’t limited to celiac disease.
The upshot: wheat is pretty bad news even for people who don’t have celiac disease. And the symptoms don’t necessarily show up as dramatic episodes of vomiting and diarrhea. Why not try giving it up for a few weeks just to see how your body reacts – you might be surprised!
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