Gluten Intolerance: Is It Just a Fad or Is Today’s Wheat Really Toxic?

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If you shop in the health food section of the grocery store or read the foodie blogs, you may have noticed a trend over the past couple of years: gluten intolerance seems to be on the rise.

Kristen Michaelis explains this intolerance very clearly on the website Food Renegade:

First, let’s be clear about what gluten intolerance is. It isn’t a food allergy. It’s a physical condition in your gut. Basically, undigested gluten proteins (prevalent in wheat and other grains) hang out in your intestines and are treated by your body like a foreign invader, irritating your gut and flattening the microvilli along the small intestine wall. Without those microvilli, you have considerably less surface area with which to absorb the nutrients from your food. This leads sufferers to experience symptoms of malabsorption, including chronic fatigue, neurological disorders, nutrient deficiencies, anemia, nausea, skin rashes, depression, and more.

If you remove gluten from the diet, the gut heals and the myriad of symptoms disappears.  (source)

You can’t throw a shoe in the air at Whole Foods or Trader Joes without it landing on someone looking at “gluten free” products. But the question many nutrition professionals are asking is this:

Is gluten intolerance just the next fad diet or is wheat really toxic?

Several articles found on the mainstream scoff at gluten intolerance. Bloomberg.com refers to it as a “fad diet“. MacLeans.com suggests that people are just replacing gluten-containing items with highly processed less nutritious items, making a gluten free diet harmful.

An article posted on Salon.com writes it off as a silly trend. A columnist suggests since there is no laboratory test for gluten intolerance, that the condition is “nebulous.”  He scoffs:

Since there’s no way to “prove” a case of gluten-intolerance in the lab, the diagnostic criteria are rather lax. To qualify for the condition, you need only discover (with or without medical supervision) that going “G-free” makes you feel better—in body or mind or spirit.

I’m all for people eating what they want, but lately I’ve started to wonder how gluten intolerance might relate to a more general anxiety about food. The mere fact that someone who cuts out gluten feels better doesn’t mean that he has an autoimmune disease or a wheat allergy or some other medical condition. Any kind of restrictive diet can help alleviate gastrointestinal distress. If you’re paying more attention to what you eat, there’s a good chance your symptoms will lessen. That’s not because gluten or red meat or another food is damaging your small intestine; it’s because eating less makes it easier for your gut to recover. Then there’s the placebo effect of starting any treatment, which might well address some of the more abstract symptoms of gluten intolerance, like fatigue, mood swings, and depression. (source)

An article on the Time Magazine website claims that people are wasting billions of dollars purchasing high-priced gluten-free foods. In 2012, the magazine ranked “gluten-free everything” as the #2 food trend in America, second only to posting pictures of everything you eat on Instagram and other social media networks. According to the magazine, the benefits of a gluten-free diet may all be in your head.

Avoiding certain ingredients goes in cycles: Back in the 70s, it was sugar. Then it was fat, then saturated fat. Then fat was in but carbs were out. Gluten is the pariah ingredient du jour, and there are a lot of healthy people shelling out big bucks for gluten-free food they probably don’t need.

“Most people must be doing this because they think they feel better, or they do feel better but they’re not diagnosed with gluten issues,” says Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group. As TIME Healthland pointed out:

People who have bad reactions to common gluten-containing foods — pasta, breads, baked goods and breakfast cereal — may actually be sensitive to something else… It’s also possible that some people develop gastrointestinal or other symptoms simply because they believe they’re food-sensitive. (source)

So the question arises: Is going wheat-free merely the latest in a series of dietary trends? The most recent quick fix?

Not at all, according to Dr. William Davis, renowned cardiologist and author of the bestselling book Wheat Belly. The synopsis of his book states:

Every day, over 200 million Americans consume food products made of wheat. As a result, over 100 million of them experience some form of adverse health effect, ranging from minor rashes and high blood sugar to the unattractive stomach bulges that preventive cardiologist William Davis calls “wheat bellies.” According to Davis, that excess fat has nothing to do with gluttony, sloth, or too much butter: It’s due to the whole grain wraps we eat for lunch.

After witnessing over 2,000 patients regain their health after giving up wheat, Davis reached the disturbing conclusion that wheat is the single largest contributor to the nationwide obesity epidemic—and its elimination is key to dramatic weight loss and optimal health. In Wheat Belly, Davis exposes the harmful effects of what is actually a product of genetic tinkering and agribusiness being sold to the American public as “wheat”.

The issue, according to Davis, is that what is sold as “wheat” today is far different than the grains consumed by our ancestors. It has been changed until it bears little resemblance to wheat grown a century ago. The closest wheat available to the heritage wheat is called Einkorn wheat.

Why is today’s wheat causing such problems? It’s probably no surprise that we can thank Big Biotech for this harmful genetic modification, even though they’d like for you to believe they are nothing but benevolent. Melissa Melton of Truthstream Media recently wrote about the epidemic of gut inflammation:

 One in 133.org figures suggest upwards of three million Americans suffer from Celiac and another 18 million from non-Celiac gluten sensitivity. (It’s also worth noting thatautism rates have skyrocketed in that same time as well.)

The number could quite possibly be much higher, considering symptoms do not present as glaringly in some people as they do in others, and due to the wide range of possible indications that can lead to misdiagnosis. While some have posited this increase is just an increase in people being tested for it, recent research suggests this is not the case.

A measly decade is not long enough for wide-scale genetic changes to take place, leaving the problem’s cause likely environmental. So what’s been going on in our environment?

Here are a few things to ponder:

In 2002, Monsanto provided its own safety evaluation to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that its genetically modified (GM) glyphosate-tolerant wheat is safe and as nutritious as conventional wheat. The FDA, in turn, accepted this conclusion, using the apparently logic that billion-dollar companies out to make big bucks on their own science experiments that claim their products are safe because they said so is somehow a perfectly legitimate way to determine true product safety. The United States and Columbia are the only two countries that allow Monsanto’s transgenic wheat.

Aside from that, it’s worth mentioning that in just the period between 1997 to 2002 (the years GM food was really beginning to crowd our grocery store shelves), food allergies began to skyrocket. The number of people hospitalized due to allergic food reactions rose 265 percent in that time. And food allergy figures continue to rise.

One doctor has also noted that the wheat we are eating today is actually a genetically modified creation of the ’60s/’70s, and it contains another protein called gliadin that he refers to as the “perfect chronic poison”. Why? It binds to the brain’s opiate receptors and stimulates our appetites, causing us to eat more of it.

See how those two proteins together could form a very dangerous combination? (source)

The “new and improved wheat” is so genetically different that it is causing health problems.  Many people who go gluten-free initially feel very ill, causing them to believe that the absence of wheat means they are missing a vital nutrient. Dr Davis says that is the opposite of the truth. He writes about the chemical issues that cause the withdrawal symptoms:

Forcing the conversion from a constant flow of carbs from “healthy whole grains” and sugars to increasing the enzymatic capacity to oxidize fats does indeed cause several weeks of low energy–but how do we explain the depression, nausea, headaches, lightheadedness, dehydration, emotional outbursts, intensive wheat cravings, bloating, constipation, even intensification of joint pain, effects that are not likely attributable to hypoglycemia or poor mobilization of energy? Delayed ramp-up of fatty acid oxidation is indeed part of the reason for the phenomena of wheat withdrawal, but does not explain all of it.

Most of these phenomena are caused by withdrawal from the gliadin-derived opiates in wheat, the 4- to 5-amino acid long polypeptides that increase appetite and cause addictive eating behaviors. You can actually trigger the syndrome abruptly in someone who is not wheat-free by giving them naloxone or naltrexone, opiate-blocking drugs. Because it is a form of opiate withdrawal, it cannot be entirely avoided with known strategies. In other words, an alcoholic (not an opiate, of course, but the situation is very similar) who wishes to rid her life of alcohol can only do so by stopping the flow of alcohol and suffering the withdrawal consequences–there’s no way around it. (source)

So basically, not only do people who consume wheat have to be concerned about the effects on their digestive systems, but the opioid effects of wheat consumption cause actual chemical addiction, adding to the list of reasons that many consider this to be a harmful ingredient that everyone should eliminate from their diets.

Gluten sensitivity can cause terrible issues in sufferers.  One report links gluten to a reduction of blood flow to the brain, causing issues with mental clarity and the executive functions of the brain. Melton writes of other issues from undiagnosed gluten intolerance:

Eating wheat can manifest in myriad painful ways, so most people are misdiagnosed for years with other disorders and given medications that only help them mask symptoms without ever solving the real problem.

According to Gluten Free Network, these negative symptoms include:

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Nutritional deficiencies due to malabsorption (e.g. low iron levels)
  • Gastrointestinal problems (bloating, pain, gas, constipation, diarrhea)
  • Fat in stools (due to poor digestion)
  • Aching joints
  • Depression
  • Eczema
  • Headaches
  • Exhaustion
  • Irritability and behavioural changes
  • Infertility, irregular menstrual cycle and miscarriage
  • Cramps, tingling and numbness
  • Slow infant and child growth
  • Dental health decline

It’s also easy to see how people with gluten issues get misdiagnosed with everything from depression and anxiety to irritable bowel syndrome and are likely just prescribed medicines that mask part of the symptoms, and all the while their eating habits are contributing to the slow destruction of their intestinal lining and their inability to absorb nutrients properly, thus ultimately making them sicker and sicker over time. (source)

Learn more about some surprising symptoms HERE .

Check out this video to see an excerpt from a 1960 U.S. Department of Agriculture short film “Miracles from Agriculture” to see how gluten was “fixed”.

The answer to this quandary? Should you jump on the gluten-free bandwagon and encourage your kids to do the same? Or is this just a marketing ploy, the next fad diet?

It’s certainly not going to hurt you to try it out. If you or a family member suffers from one or more of the issues listed above, go gluten-free for a month. Track your results and only then can you make an informed decision whether this lifestyle will be beneficial for your family.

One caveat:

Don’t rely on the high priced gluten free products at the health food store.  Many of these are highly processed and nutritionally bereft.  Instead, change your eating habits. Instead of toast of breakfast, have oatmeal. Instead of a wrap at lunch, have a salad. At dinner, instead of pasta under that delicious sauce, try rice or quinoa. Instead of trying to eat exactly the same way, just minus the gluten, replace the wheat with totally different options. This is far healthier as well as more budget-friendly.

Check out this link to gluten free substitutes that you can easily make in your own kitchen: Using Your Food Pantry to Make 5 Alternative Flours.

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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15 Responses

  1. Hi,
    my wife is gluten intolerant – has Celiak Disease. She was born in 1970’s and when they started to feed her with gluten based diet (when she was about one year old) she was trowing out food, had diarrhea and was loosing weight. She was about to die. Doctors didn’t know what was with her, until their parrents took her to doctor in main city, There was one doctor who new what was Celiak Disease and he told them to feed here with food without gluten. After many years, she thought that she was cured and that she can eat everything (nobody was mentioning Celiak anymore). When she was in College, she started to notice problems, had constant diarrhea, had low iron in blood. She went to doctor to do some test and then her doctor told her that she still has Celiak Disease and this is incurable and she should stick with gluten free diet. Again, when she started with new diet she become better.
    So, Celiak disease is not a new “Fame Diet”, it is a real disease. I am not sure that in 1970’s used more chemicals in wheat production, so…
    Fortunately, our child didn’t inherit this condition.

    Dejan

  2. It is a very valid point to avoid many of the gluten free processed products in the stores. These items are not healthy, they can be full of GMO, heavy metals, sugar and junk. It is much better to substitute with Quinoa, Amaranth, Hemp, Buckwheat and sprouted non GMO grains. Spaghetti squash is a nice pasta alternative. Bake homemade bread from coconut flour, gluten free/non GMO corn grits or a nice sourdough using rice flour.

  3. What really made me depressed was finding out after 20 years of making rock hard loaves of whole wheat bread, that vital wheat gluten could help make fluffy loaves. 2 months later I heard how toxic wheat gluten is supposed to be. Unbelievable.

    1. Sadly, yes. Organic wheat is still hybridized. One exception for many people is Einkorn wheat – which is a heritage breed that is closer to what our ancestors consumed.

  4. The problem is not gluten. The problem is a weakened digestive system. Gluten intolerance is a symptom of a larger problem. Avoiding food with glutens only masks the real issue. What causes a weakened digestive system?

    Essentially, GMO and salt-restricted diets, are the primary cause of gluten intolerance. GMO, by design, with all the pesticides weakens the digestive capability. By restricting salt intake (low sodium diets), people are deliberately removing from their diets that which the digestive acids need to maintain their strength.

    The digestion of the more tough items requires a strong digestive system. Absent from virtually all gluten conversations is this aspect.

    The solution to gluten intolerance is to put the salt back in and on the food. Stop eating non-organic (pesticide/herbicide) and GMO food. Restore the health to your digestive system. The next thing a person needs to consider is a rehabilitation program which includes probiotics and enzymes. One of my favorites is raw organic dairy.

    Also, consider this. If a person is having digestive problems, they are also suffering from the inability to gain nutrition. Various vitamins and minerals require a functioning digestive system for processing. If a person can’t digest food or nutritional supplements, they are going to be lagging behind in overall health and immunity. Again, therefore, the solution to nip this in the bud is to regain the strength and health of the digestive system.

    I regularly eat all kinds of bread and completely ignore the gluten issue. Of course, the bread I consume is non-GMO and organic. And for those concerned about salt and blood pressure? That’s a medical myth. Salt has almost zero effect on blood pressure. Your body will tell you when to back off the salt and if you feel you’ve consumed too much, dilute it by drinking water. It’s that easy.

    The PTB are well aware of this and that’s why they promote GMO consumption and reduced salt intake. Their long terms population objectives are facilitated by this Orwellian health program.

    Summarizing: Gluten issues are a symptom of a weakened digestive system. Resolve gluten intolerance by addressing overall digestive health. Eliminate GMO and non-organic food from your diet. Salt intake helps to maintain digestive acids. Salt your food to taste. Don’t hold back.

    1. Everything you stated is wrong, especially about the salt. I hope people don’t follow your ‘advice’ because it could kill someone.

  5. My children were experiencing neurological & digestive problems, due to not just gluten, but all complex carbs. We were told about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) as written by Elaine Gottschall, and it has worked wonders. She relates in her book, how true Celiac Disease, was described by doctors as far back as ancient Rome. It is a matter of not being able to digest double sugars, i.e. lactose, and those found in grains. Obviously when any member of my family does eat grains, we make sure they are non-GMO, organic ones.

  6. Oops – Gottschall’s book is called, “Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet”. In it, she describes the SCD.

  7. You can prove gluten intolerance through blood tests. You can also “prove” it if you are deficient in nutrients (I struggled with anemia, splitting fingernails, and other low nutrient levels) and those things improve by eliminating gluten. My blood tests showed I was gluten intolerant, but when I went from daily migraines to not any for 10 days immediately, and from 30 a month to 6 or 7, that was proof enough for me even if I hadn’t done the blood tests. Nothing tastes good enough to have a migraine every day. Eating processed GF foods is the same as eating processed regular foods – bad. It’s easy enough to eat real food, and by GF pasta that only has simple ingredients.

    1. I haven’t had the blood test, but have had similar results especially with migraines. I’ve been logging the migraines I get for years, and I found I spent 8 entire days (192hrs) each month in excruciating pain. Since I went GF 3 months ago, I’ve only had 3 headaches that were not nearly as extreme, that correspond with my female cycle.

      I’ve also had many other symptoms ‘disappear’ since I went GF; including severe skin sensitivity, hives and other skin issues; sinus and eye allergies (this is my first year in 20+ that I haven’t had to take allergy pills for ‘hey-fever’); and intestinal issues like bloating and diarrhea disappeared too.

      The ironic thing is, that before I discovered ‘leaky gut’ and gluten intolerance; I was trying to do what the expert dietitians instruct and eat whole grains. My symptoms reached a climax while eating that way. In the quest to be healthy, and follow the experts advice, I was poisoning myself.
      The MD’s were not helpful at all, they just wanted to prescribe pills or creams to mask the symptom rather than testing to find out what the problem is (hence not having the blood test for GI).

      The conversations with the MD typically went like this:
      Me, “Doc, I have these symptoms, what’s wrong with me?”
      Doc, “Oh you have hives/headache(whatever), here’s a cream/pill.”
      Me, “No doc, I have a shit-load of problems, there has to be a primary cause! I want tests to find out what’s wrong.”
      Doc, “It’s just allergies, no need for tests, here’s a cream/pill.” …Then I hear a Doc tell the nurse in the hallway, that it’s all in my head, and to refer me to a psychologist.

      I guess I just imagined having extremely sensitive skin with blistering hives for months, that were so bad I wanted to peel my skin off. Magically they disappeared within 48 hours of eliminating gluten from my diet. I wish I had a sarcastic comment about the migraines being ‘all in my head’… but I guess they truly were!

  8. Thanks for the article, is there any way I can receive an email whenever you publish a new update? gkadgeekkded

  9. While I most certainly agree with the notion of watching what we eat and trying to eliminate processed foods, one thing left out of many of these articles is the amount of physical activity in these statistics. We are all aware of the increasingly sedentary lifestyles most lead coupled with limited and poor food choices is a cocktail for disaster. we need to stop looking to one aspect of our existence to make us happy. Wellness encompasses so much more and we need to remember that.

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