By Tara Lambert,
Certified Nutritional Consultant
In our practice we see a lot of people with hidden food intolerances. One of the most common food culprits is wheat. Why is this? Most of our clients are dismayed and surprised that wheat is one of the main causes of their stiff, painful joints, aching muscles, fatigue, brain fog and digestive complaints. After all, humans have been eating wheat for thousands of years and our clients have been eating wheat their entire lives. How could this delicious and, supposedly, nutritious food be causing so many health problems?
The answer is complicated. First of all, it can be difficult to discover hidden food intolerances. Obvious food intolerances are easy to notice and cause symptoms including headaches, hives and rashes and digestive problems such as gas, bloating and painful bowel movements after eating an offending food. But often, less obvious complaints such as generalized inflammation, generalized aches and pains, chronic low energy, brain fog, malaise, irritability, chronic digestive complaints and a lack of well-being are also the result of food intolerances of which a person is not aware. These symptoms are nearly always chronic and there appears to be no obvious cause and effect. People with these types of unresolved complaints have either accepted them as “normal” or have seen many doctors and have tried various health care modalities with little success. They are nearly always frustrated and feel they have “tried everything” to improve their health, but they still feel crummy. The good news is that when food intolerances are discovered these cases can resolve quickly. There are various ways to identify food intolerances, and in our practice we use the non-invasive method of muscle testing known as applied kinesiology.
Back to the question about wheat. Wheat is the number one food intolerance we see in our practice. We believe the reason is because the wheat we eat today is a highly modernized and industrialized version of the wheat our ancestors ate, even if it is organic. Gluten is the main protein component of wheat. Today’s strains of wheat and other grains have been hybridized to contain more gluten protein than the wheat and grains existing hundreds of years ago. The closer a grain is related to wheat, the greater its ability to cause gluten-related health problems. Barley, spelt and rye also contain gluten. It is also found in malt extract, vegetable starch, soy sauce, pasta, beer, whole-meal flour, bran, etc. For those sensitive to gluten, it has a direct destructive effect on the epithelial cells lining the small intestine, which can lead to serious health concerns. The resultant damage to the lining of the small intestine is sometimes diagnosed as celiac disease but anyone sensitive to gluten can suffer its harmful effects. This damage results in a decreased ability to absorb food (minerals, vitamins and fats in particular), irritable bowel syndrome, inflammation and lactose intolerance. Additionally, the irritation and damage suffered by the intestines leads to their increased permeability. Because of the increased damage to the intestines caused by gluten, partially-digested wheat gluten is more likely to enter into the blood stream. Multiple food allergies are usually the result and this condition can be referred to as “leaky gut syndrome.” Conditions such as thyroid abnormalities, diabetes, psychiatric disturbances, autoimmune issues and hives have all been linked to gluten intolerance. There is an association between gluten and an increased risk for malignant cancers in those with celiac disease. Partially-digested wheat gluten is associated with schizophrenia due to its ability to interfere with normal brain activity. Gluten sensitivity may vary from mild to severe and may never be diagnosed as celiac disease. It is not necessary to have celiac disease in order to suffer from the negative effects of gluten’s irritation and damage to the intestinal lining.
For most people with wheat intolerance the best advice is to avoid wheat and related grains as much as possible. Some may have to remove wheat from their diet entirely. Avoiding wheat can eliminate many allergies and can clear up “leaky gut syndrome” by eliminating the damaging effects of gluten on your digestive and immune systems. You will have to become an avid label reader as wheat is found in many prepared foods, including organic. If you do eat wheat it is best eaten as a sprouted grain, such as in Ezekiel brand bread. For those who love bread and grains, try moving to other types of grains such as rye and spelt (if tolerated), pumpernickel, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, amaranth or sprouted-grain breads. As always, these breads must be as unprocessed as possible. Bavarian brand bread is a fantastic choice. Pick up the package and you can feel the “weight” of the nutrients contained in the bread. (Just for fun, pick up any other standard loaf of bread. It is extremely light in comparison. What did the manufacturers do with all the nutrients?)
It is a joy to watch our clients recovering their full health and energy by simply avoiding food intolerances and eating a whole foods diet. If you are gluten- or wheat-intolerant it may seem overwhelming at first, but with time and support you will find yourself easily following a wheat-free diet and enjoying your newfound health and abundant well-being!
Sources: “Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine” by Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno, “Textbook of Medical Physiology” by Arthur Guyton and John Hall, and the Weston A. Price Foundation.