Wheat is on the Attack (Part 1)
(I'm not even going to mention gluten… ok, maybe once or twice)
Wheat and grains are some of the foods that primal enthusiasts understand should be largely avoided. However, the mainstream public still seems to be missing the point. When the topic of avoiding wheat comes up in conversation with the average person, "well, I don't have Celiac Disease" somehow always sneaks its way into the conversation. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine upon consumption of gluten (a protein structure found in wheat and other grains). However, there are other protein compounds besides gluten that are in wheat that are highly problematic for most people whether they know it or not. While yes it's true, gluten can be problematic for many (or most) people and it is not a topic to be ignored. However, due to the fact that the whole gluten thing is commonly (somewhat) understood, I'm going to talk about a specific gluten compound (gliadin) that is the root cause for many of the health problems that people are experiencing instead of just focusing on the overarching term "gluten".
I think primal enthusiasts get the picture by now about wheat. However, even as a primal enthusiast, it's good to have a solid, go to method of explaining the wheat = auto immune response equation. I've been there. You are trying to explain the whole wheat/autoimmunity thing to a family member or friend who is generally interested and then you draw a blank and forget everything you've read about the topic. For that reason, I'm going to break this article up into a series of different articles that I will release separately, with each article focusing on a different compound in wheat, in an attempt to make the information less overwhelming. My goal throughout the article series is to provide you with a few quick arguments against wheat and try to explain them in a way that makes sense, is easy to remember (not too science-y), and with information that is backed by clinical research. By no means will this article series detail EVERY problem that arises from wheat consumption. The focus is to take a few of the complex pages from the wheat = auto immune response story and break them down into easily understood material.
The Gliadin/Autoimmunity Link
Gliadin is protein structure that is found in wheat. Research titled “Effect of Gliadin on Permeability of Intestinal Biopsy Explants from Celiac Disease Patients and Patients with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity” that was published in the Nutrients journal in 2015 concluded that gliadin exposure increased intestinal permeability in all individuals of the study. Intestinal permeability is necessary to an extent in order to allow nutrients to pass through the gut and to create a barrier that prohibits antigens from gaining entry into the bloodstream and causing auto immune conditions.
The results of the study show that the increased permeability caused by gliadin exposure allows antigens to gain entry into the bloodstream. An antigen is a toxin that is foreign to the body and causes an immune response. When an antigen gains entry into the bloodstream, your body is programmed to “attack” the antigen and protect itself from possible danger. However, the antigen that has gained entry into the bloodstream may undergo a process known as molecular mimicry.
Molecular mimicry is a process that refers to the foreign antigen that has gained access into the bloodstream mimicking another structure in your body (perhaps) in an attempt to go unnoticed by your immune system and avoid being attacked. But when molecular mimicry occurs, your body’s immune system “attacks” the foreign invader as well as whatever structure that foreign invader may have mimicked. While wheat was once thought to be harmless to most of the population (those without CD), perhaps it is time to take a deeper look at the wheat/gliadin consumption and whether it is damaging the health to all who consume it.
To Sum that Up
- Wheat contains gliadin
- Gliadin increases intestinal permeability
- The increased intestinal permeability allows antigens to gain entry in to the bloodstream.
- Your body reacts with an immune response to fight the antigen
- The antigen undergoes molecular mimicry (mimics a structure in your body) to avoid being attacked
- Your immune system attacks the antigen and whatever structure the antigen has mimicked.
- If the antigen has mimicked a knee or wrist …. Congratulations, you are on the fast track to arthritis
- If the antigen mimics the thyroid…. Wohooo you get hashimotos thyroiditis
A Few Other Notes about Gliadin
While I wanted to focus mostly in the gliadin/autoimmunity link in this article, there are a few other "side effects" that gliadin consumption influences. For one, gliadin is said to attach to the opiate receptors in the brain (that’s right, that means you might be truly addicted to wheat!). When gliadin attaches to these opiate receptors, it gives you that quick fix that you have been craving. The problem is that "quick fix" only causes more cravings for another "fix" which leads to a vicious cycle/addiction. Additionally, gliadin interferes with hormone signaling, which results in your satiety hormones being out of balance. When your satiety hormones are out of balance, you may have even more cravings for wheat, and seemingly uncontrollable hunger. Dr. William Davis (author of Wheat Belly) states that those who consume wheat end up eating more throughout the day due to the interruption of hormone signaling.
To Sum that up
- Gliadin is addictive because attaches to the opiate receptors in the brain.
- Therefore, a vicious cycle of eating more wheat/craving more wheat takes place.
- Gliadin interferes with satiety hormone signaling
- The hormone interference causes you to eat more throughout the day and feel constantly hungry.
See, that was quick and painless … but …
Just for kicks, below is a list of autoimmune conditions that can result from the process described above.
This list of autoimmune conditions was posted on Dr. William Davis' blog wheatbellyblog.com. If you suffer from any of the conditions listed below, it may be time to take a closer look at your wheat/grain consumption, and possibly take the leap into the wheat/grain free eating world.
Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS)
Autoimmune aplastic anemia
Autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED)
Autoimmune thrombocytopenic purpura (ATP)
Autoimmune thyroid disease
Axonal & neuronal neuropathies
Cafe au lait
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)
Giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis)
Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)
Mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD)
Paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration
Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH)
Primary biliary cirrhosis
Primary sclerosing cholangitis
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
Restless legs syndrome
Sperm & testicular autoimmunity
Type 1 diabetes
Let me know what you think of the article and if you think the article series can benefit you!
Hollon, J., Puppa, E., Greenwald, B., Goldberg, E., Guerrerio, A., & Fasano, A. (2015). Effect of Gliadin on Permeability of Intestinal Biopsy Explants from Celiac Disease Patients and Patients with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. Nutrients, 7(3), 1565-1576. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/nu7031565
Catassi C, Bai J, Bonaz B et al. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: The New Frontier of Gluten Related Disorders. Nutrients. 2013;5(10):3839-3853. doi:10.3390/nu5103839.