Dear Doc: Wheat, gluten, inflammation — baffling!
Dear Dr. K: I’ve had a blood test for gluten sensitivity, allergy tests for wheat and even an intestinal biopsy for celiac. All the tests are negative, but I still feel better when I avoid wheat. What gives?
What gives is that wheat is not good for you. No medical test is perfect. Even “gold standard” tests such as chest X-ray for pneumonia or cardiac catheterization for coronary blockage sometimes fail to demonstrate an existing abnormality. The bottom line is to listen to your body – it almost always gives reliable feedback.
I suspect you feel better wheat-free for one of two reasons: 1.) You are wheat-allergic or gluten sensitive, despite negative tests or, 2.) You are feeling metabolic and inflammatory buffeting from wheat.
Regarding the first possibility, the Mayo Clinic published research data from their GI department. They found that 15 percent of their patients with chronic GI problems improved on a wheat-free diet, despite negative tests for gluten sensitivity. They posited that perhaps a better test for gluten sensitivity needs to be invented.
With respect to the second possibility of metabolic and/or inflammatory problems, this case was probably best summed up by Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard social anthropologist, in his book, The Story of the Human Body. He maintains that the cultivation of wheat, starting 10,000 years ago, was both the best and worst step for humans. He contends the ability to farm allowed humans to move from sparsely populated hunter-gatherers to the burgeoning population of civilized humans who have covered the globe.
The trade-off, he says, is a dramatic increase in the “civilized” diseases of metabolism and inflammation. Ghrelin, leptin, adiponectin and insulin are crucial to proper metabolism and weight management, and all four are adversely affected by wheat. He points out the phytic acid (phytate) in wheat severely reduces absorption of essential micronutrients and vitamins.
With respect to inflammation, gluten is pro-inflammation; in addition, wheat contains the lectin WGA (wheat germ antibody). Lectins are proteins that bind to the glycoproteins and glycolipids found in many cells in the body. These include: skin, respiratory system, GI tract, nerves, cartilage, connective tissues, prostate, kidneys, pancreas, liver, uterus and thyroid. This binding serves as a promoter of inflammation in these tissues. Lieberman draws a direct parallel between the increased consumption of wheat and the appearance of “modern” diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, allergy and cancer.