The wheat you eat today bears little resemblance to the wheat mankind has eaten for thousands of years. Not surprisingly, many of us do badly on this food, with varying degrees of intolerance.
COELIAC DISEASE – A GROWING PROBLEM
It is now clear that coeliac disease, which can be fatal, is much more common than previously thought, and is on the increase, affecting as many as one in 100 people.
Coeliac disease leads to severe malabsorption of nutrients, which can result in serious complications in later life, such as infertility, psychiatric disorders, osteoporosis and cancer. The condition does not always present with classic symptoms, which leaves many sufferers undiagnosed.
SYMPTOMS OF WHEAT GLUTEN SENSITIVITY
You don’t have to have coeliac disease to be sensitive to wheat. The most common symptoms of wheat sensitivity are constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal bloating or pain; however, many other symptoms have also been reported in those found to be sensitive to wheat. These include: acne and boils; anxiety and paranoia; apathy and confusion; cramps; depression; fatigue; flatulence; migraine; nausea; skin rashes; sweating; throat trouble.
If you suffer from any of the above, you should take the possibility of wheat intolerance seriously. This might affect between one in five and one in 10 people (10 to 20%).
Recent research has found distinct evidence that non-coeliacs with wheat sensitivity actually do have immune reactions to wheat, with increased antibodies against wheat in their gut and bloodstream.
One very likely reason for this ever-growing problem, which I estimate affects at least one in 10 people, is that the wheat we eat today, which in some products has a higher glycaemic index (GI) than white sugar, bears little resemblance to the wheat mankind has eaten for thousands of years. Modern wheat has a higher concentration of gluten. This is because a high level of gluten makes a lighter loaf. Baked products then look bigger and sell better. This kind of baking increases the amount of gluten available to react with the gut wall. So, although high-gluten wheat might be good for the baking industry, it’s bad for your digestion.
THE HISTORY OF WHEAT
One of the first wheat varieties our ancestors ate, going back to 3300 BC, was called einkorn. It’s in a very simple category of wheat, genetically speaking. Shortly after it began to be cultivated, it crossed with goat grass, giving rise to a more complex wheat category called tetraploid. In this category we find durum (normally used for pasta) and the ancient grains, known as emmer and khorasan (Triticum turgidum) wheat, now sold under the trademark Kamut Khorosan®. That is what mankind basically ate for the next few thousand years; for example, einkorn has been found in pharaohs’ tombs whereas emmer and khorasan were eaten by ancient civilisations in Mesopotamia.
The ancient Kamut khorasan is the only wheat I like to eat and it comes down to us unchanged from ancient times.
Modern wheat has undergone thousands of hybridisations to increase yield (making the wheat plentiful and cheap), and also to increase and change the quality of gluten content, which enables the loaf size to rise to a larger size.
Imagine the chemical differences between modern and ancient wheat now. It has been extremely modified or changed for reasons of profit rather than health. This madness continues at a new level as biotech companies strive to create and then produce strains of GMO wheat that can be patented and is compatible with specific pesticides and chemical treatments. The net result, even before GMO wheat is perfected and introduced, is that the gluten proteins in today’s wheat are substantially different from the gluten proteins, as well as other compounds, found in the earliest forms of wheat, such as Kamut khorasan.
THE PROBLEMS WITH GLIADINS AND GLUTENINS
The two main families of gluten proteins are called ‘gliadins’ and ‘glutenins’. Oats, for example, contain no gliadins and, probably consequently, are a much less allergenic food. Gliadin is now recognised as the offending gluten, so oats are now considered gluten-free, unless contaminated with wheat in storage or production. Old wheats tend to have fewer, and different, gliadins.1 A particular form of gliadin, called alpha-gliadin, inflames the intestine, causing abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. Gliadin is particularly tricky because it has a unique ability to get through the intestinal wall. It triggers the release of a protein called zonulin, which literally opens up gaps between the intestinal cells, increasing gastrointestinal permeability. This, in turn, means that whole food proteins can cross the gut barrier, triggering the immune system to react, which is the basis for developing food intolerances. It also damages the villi in the gut wall.
Durum wheat (at least the original form, now itself hybridised beyond recognition) is used to make pasta. It is also a genetically simpler form of wheat (tetraploid), although I prefer to eat Kamut pasta.
WHEAT MESSES WITH YOUR MIND – AND YOUR MIDDLE
Wheat intolerance can be the cause of schizophrenia symptoms.
Wheat can also exacerbate symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and autism.
Modern wheat, during its digestion, generates peptides (combinations of amino acids) that mimic opioids (heroin and morphine are opioids) called gluteomorphins, which occupy the same receptors in the brain as heroin.2 Gluteomorphins are commonly found in the urine of children diagnosed with autism.
The effect of these gluteomorphins, created when you digest modern wheat, is that you want more. Wheat literally becomes addictive. Combined with the sugar load created by yeast-activated bakery products, and the subsequent blood sugar low, which stimulates appetite, modern wheat is literally an appetite stimulant. This is, of course, great news for the food industry and one of the reasons why wheat-eating nations have a big problem with ever-increasing belly fat.
I have had so many clients who have reported massive weight loss, and a cessation of abdominal bloating, by excluding modern wheat.
WHEAT PROMOTES INFLAMMATION
When you gain abdominal fat, visceral fat, it triggers part of the body’s inflammatory response mechanism. This, in turn, makes you both more likely to become intolerant or allergic and to develop inflammatory symptoms, the classics being headaches, eczema or dermatitis, asthma, irritable bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, rhinitis, arthritis – and just about any other ‘-itis’.
Although the general view is that gluten is the culprit, I am beginning to revise this simplistic opinion after a series of experiments that have been carried out on Kamut khorasan wheat.3 Technically, Kamut does contain gluten proteins and, as such, should promote inflammation; however, it doesn’t.
A series of well-conducted studies have shown that Kamut grain is not only anti-inflammatory but it also has a powerful antioxidant effect. In addition, although regular wheat causes atrophy (damage) to the villi in the digestive tract, the Kamut does not.
ANCIENT KAMUT BRAND WHEAT IS ANTIINFLAMMATORY
I am starting to think that the main problem with wheat is not gluten or gliadin per se, but the fact that we are eating a food that is considerably different genetically and chemically to that which we may have become adapted to eat in reasonable quantities. The solution for wheat-intolerant people might not always be strict avoidance of wheat or other gluten or gliadin grains, but rather the avoidance of modern wheat.
Gluten is present in wheat, rye, barley and oats, although, as we have seen, oats contain no gliadin. Spelt is probably a less adulterated form of modern wheat, but it is quite different and genetically much more complex than the original ancient grain, such as Kamut. Spelt is a hexaploid wheat, as is modern wheat.
Kamut is higher than modern wheat in antioxidants and polyphenols, which are generally anti-inflammatory, as well as magnesium, potassium, selenium, iron, zinc and other important minerals. Kamut is only grown organically.
Although it is clear that many people react differently to ancient wheat than to modern wheat, for those with coeliac disease it is wise to avoid all gluten-containing grains and choose gluten-free grains instead, as shown below:
- Corn (maize)
- Gram (chickpea flour)
Often, as part of the digestive healing programme, it is wise to go on a no-wheat, low-gluten diet for a month. Fortunately, there are many wheat-free and gluten-free options to choose from in health-food shops and supermarkets these days:
- Breads: Cornbread, rice cakes, oatcakes
- Pasta: Buckwheat spaghetti, soba noodles (buckwheat), rice noodles, quinoa pasta, corn pasta, polenta (cornmeal)
- Cereals: Cornflakes, oatmeal, rice cereal, millet flakes.
If you do not have coeliac disease, however, it is well worth experimenting with Kamut khorasan breads, pastas and bulgar.
Generally speaking, to avoid the problems discussed:
- Don’t eat wheat every day; choose glutenfree, Kamut khorasan or low-gluten grains instead. Also choose wholegrain.
- When you eat breads, choose heavier, lower-gluten breads.
- Vary the grains you eat – have rye, oats, rice, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, corn.
- Limit grains to no more than a quarter of your total dietary intake.
- If you have a digestive problem or inflammatory bowel problem, investigate whether you are wheat- or gluten-sensitive with an IgG food intolerance test and a coeliac test to measure IgATT.
- Van den Broeck H, et al. Presence of celiac disease epitopes in modern and old hexaploid wheat varieties: Wheat breeding may have contributed to increased prevalence of celiac disease. Theor Appl Genet. 2010 Nov; 121(8):1527-39.
- Zioudrou C, et al. Opioid peptides derived from food proteins: The exorphins. J Biol Chem. 1979, Apr 10; 254(7):2446-9.
- Whittaker A, et al. A khorasan wheat-based replacement diet improves risk profile of patients with type-2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM): A randomized crossover trial. Eur J Nutr. 2016, Feb 8.
Source Holford P. Improve Your Digestion. Piatkus Books, 2017.