Many people have heard of gluten or have noticed new products popping up in grocery store aisles labeled “gluten free.” But, what is gluten? Gluten is the glue-like protein found in wheat that allows foods to maintain its shape (Celiac). Gluten is most commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye. These ingredients can be found in bread, pasta, crackers, beer, tortillas, sauces, soups, cereals, and food colorings. However, gluten can also be found in less obvious products such as medications, cosmetics, supplements, play-dough, and communion wafers (Celiac). The confusion over gluten stems from the fact that some health experts are instructing patients to avoid gluten due to the health risk; while other experts are encouraging gluten consumption and citing its health benefits.
If gluten is found in wheat, and wheat has been around for ages and suggested for use by all religions and world populations: why is it a concern? Due to the large global consumption of wheat; there was concern among scientists that the wheat supply would not sustain the growing world population. Consequently, hybridization experiments were launched in the 1960’s in an effort to increase wheat production (Scott, Stephen). By 1970, Norman Borlaug was given the Nobel Peace Prize for his high yield dwarf wheat that contained increased gluten content (Edmunds, Theresa). The new species was never tested and the difference between earlier grains and modern grains is stark.
When carefully evaluating the new species that has been created, one must be careful not to confuse hybridization with GMO (genetically modified organism). According to Dr. William Davis, leading gluten expert and author of Wheat Belly:
Modern wheat has been hybridized (crossing different strains to generate new characteristics; 5% of proteins generated in the offspring, for instance, are not present in either parent), backcrossed (repeated crossing to winnow out a specific trait, e.g., short stature), and hybridized with non-wheat plants (to introduce entirely unique genes). (Davis, William)
Additionally, during the hybridization process, the wheat is exposed to chemicals and radiation. Dr. Davis even goes as far as to say that due to all the contrived changes in the genetic structure, the product is no longer wheat at all, but rather “Frankengrain” (Davis, William). To most people, a piece of bread seems harmless. However, we need to realize that piece of bread is made from a mutant grain that has never been tested and has been irradiated and exposed to numerous chemicals.
All of this talk about genetics can be overwhelming. So, let’s look at unadulterated numbers:
Wheat presents a special case insofar as wild and selective breeding has produced variations which include up to six sets of chromosomes (3x the human genome worth!), capable of generating a massive number of proteins each with a distinct potentiality for antigenicity. Common bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), for instance, has over 23,788 proteins cataloged thus far. In fact, the genome for common bread wheat is actually 6.5 times larger than that of the human genome! (Ji, Sayer)
However, scientists have gone even farther and created wheat that is herbicide resistant (Davis, William). A plant with perverted abilities of being able to withstand a potent chemical like Round-Up (which people have been warned not to touch, inhale, or consume due to its lethal potential) is certainly not something that I want to feed my family!
There exists global concern over this wheat invention with up to 50% more gluten (Ji, Sayer). Japan and South Korea have banned U.S. wheat and the European Union has encouraged its 27 unions to do further testing out of concern for what theses altered products could do to their citizens (Shannon, Victoria). There is little tolerance globally for this dangerous transformed wheat and other altered food products.
In the US, 10% of the population is thought to be afflicted with a gluten-associated disorder (Sapone, et al.). These conditions range from gut dysfunction to nervous system afflictions. Gluten is composed of two proteins gliadin and glutenin (Leonard and Vasagar). The gliadin protein cannot be digested by intestinal enzymes and creates an immune reaction in genetically susceptible individuals. However, experts agree that the global rise of gluten-associated diseases cannot be explained simply by genetics or increased recognition. Rather, there is an environmental component in the development of these diseases (Leonard and Vasagar).
The diseases that have been implicated with gluten exposure are numerous. We will touch on a few of the most preeminent. The first is Celiac Disease: a condition defined as an intestinal pathology created by the consumption of gluten in patients with specific genes. The most common symptoms of this disorder are diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and poor growth (Gujral et al.). There are numerous other gut-related disorders associated with gluten that cause symptoms ranging from discomfort to internal bleeding. Many doctors are recognizing the gut compromising potential of gluten, but there are a nominal number of doctors who are also recognizing the effects of gluten on the skin and nervous system. There is an association with gluten and dermatitis herpetiformis, a chronic blistering rash that presents on the backs of elbows, knees, buttocks, and hair line (Leonard and Vasagar). Gluten has also been implicated with the movement disorder gluten ataxia, which is the inability to control body movements concurrent with the consumption of gluten, and Autism Spectrum Disorders (Leonard and Vasagar).
The gluten proponents will often cite that gluten has been around for centuries and this recent rise in the disorder is simply due to other factors. Another common criticism of gluten free lifestyle is that it would cause a drastic change in our American diet that would prove far too arduous for most people. The final concern is that the dietary elimination of foods containing gluten could create a deficiency in the vitamins and minerals contained in wheat products (Jaret, Peter).
The American diet has long been called S.A.D. (Standard American Diet). Considering the estimates that per capita, each US citizen eats 132.5 pounds of wheat flour a year (usda.gov) it is no wonder we are on the bottom of the global health index. We were never designed to consume grains, much less at this absurd rate – no wonder we say that gluten is toxic! Our Paleolithic ancestors only ate meat, vegetables, and fruits. Most of the bias against gluten free lifestyles is entrenched in traditions and unawareness to the many changes wheat has undergone. The research and science is clear: we are being sold heavily altered products that our body does not recognize. This alien “wheat” will consequentially instigate destructive diseases. Although it may be difficult at first to remove gluten from your diet, the benefit to your health will certainly prove promising.