Thursday, September 8, 2011

Are You a Wheat Head with a Wheat Belly?

Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to HealthIt's been over a year since I first wrote about wheat, and, regrettably, I still am a "wheat head" with a "wheat belly."  Still haven't completely kicked the habit, but the newly published book by cardiologist, Dr. William Davis has inspired me to once again repent of wheat. The good Doc has become even more confident in his anti-wheat crusade. Wheat Belly makes a great case against demonic wheat ... and it's a fun read.

If you doubt that the "staff of life" is the origin of every malady in your life, this will definitely be an engaging read.  I still struggle with the realization that today's hybrid wheat has been transformed into a Frankenfood with the potential to reek havoc with my health.  Mom's fresh baked wholegrain bread right out of the oven ... how could it be bad?

Let's start where we can all agree. The whole world has not turned Celiac. Celiac is an extreme allergic reaction to the gluten in wheat. A friend who was recently diagnosed with Celiac explains that the smallest amounts of gluten can result in severe gut pain, high blood sugar and bad diarrhea if you are truly Celiac. The intestine is lined with fine hair-like protusions called villi which work with the diverse gut flora to extract nutrients from food passing through the intestine. In a Celiac, gluten can completely destroy the gut ecology and flatten the villi like slash and burn agriculture in a delicate Amazonian rain forest. When the lining of your intestine becomes damaged, you develop leaky gut and the inflammation spreads throughout your body creating a state of permanent chronic inflammation which, among other things, will greatly worsen insulin resistance.

Dr. Dawn Motyka explains in her NPR talk show that Celiac is an end-stage gluten sensitivity disease that does not inflict that many people. Not everybody with some degree of gluten sensitivity is Celiac. It can only be conclusively diagnosed by biopsying the small instestine where you will see structural damage. The presence of the antigens associated with gluten sensitivity can only suggest the possibility of Celiac or less serious gluten sensitivity. But even if you are negative for the gluten antigens, you can still have wheat intolerance issues as wheat contains many other allergens.

By the time full-blown Celiac is diagnosed, people have already suffered irreparable intestinal damage. Dr. Kenneth Fine has pioneered new more sensitive tests to detect early stage wheat intolerance.  Initial testing has revealed how shockingly widespread the problem is.  According to Dr. Fine, "Recent research in our laboratory indicates that immune sensitivity to gluten is exceedingly common, present in 30-40% of all Americans. Although these reactions can cause malnutrition, growth failure in children, osteoporosis, many autoimmune diseases (including colitis, diabetes, arthritis, and many others), most of the affected individuals are unaware they have it because there have been no sensitive tests capable of diagnosis."

How do you know if wheat is an issue for you? Like Dr. Davis, I am a Type II Diabetic who can see wheat register on my glucometer every time I consume it.  Nonetheless, Dr. Davis concedes in his Heart Scan Blog that "not everybody needs to go wheat-free. 20-30% of people can include wheat in their diet and suffer little more than weight gain, some not at all."  If any of the following are an issue for you, however, consider wheat as a possible culprit.
  • High blood glucose spike after eating any wheat product
  • Elevated triglycerides
  • Low HDL
  • High C-reactive protein
  • Abdominal obesity (wheat belly?)
  • Alternate bouts of diarrhea and constipation
  • Chronic fatigue, depression and/or mood swings
  • Any other inflammatory disease like rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, lupus, fibromyalgia, pancreatic destruction, etc.
    The elimination diet is the best way to assess a possible wheat intolerance. Don't eat any wheat for 2-3 weeks and see how you feel. There is a problem with doing this. If you have wheat intolerance, the smallest amounts may affect you ... and wheat is everywhere. I remember one Celiac friend trying so hard and finding that his Celiac flared up when he took his wife out for a healthy steak and salad. The cook had dusted the steak with flour before grilling it.

    Wheat products can be very seductive. Dr. B. Gan of the Animal Pharm blog suggests wheat is as addictive as crack cocaine. She claims it actually contains some opioid peptides. Now, I have never smoked wheat or injected it into my veins, but I did find myself sneaking a piece of my three year-old son's pretzel the other day. Then, obviously in a wheat induced delirium, I stole a couple of slices of my wife's bread and made a sandwich. Ahhhhh!

    It's hard to give up wheat for most of us on the 'spectrum'... kinda like giving up narcotics (opioids). The withdrawal won't kill you like alcohol (seizures, DTs) or benzo withdrawal (seizures), but opioid, tobacco, and caffeine cessation share similar characterics with that of wheat cessation. For one, wheat digestion releases several feel-good chemicals called opioid peptides which provide a temporary sensation of satisfaction and satiation (basically a carb dose-dependent 'high'). Studies demonstrate that wheat can actually deliver equivalent doses of morphine. The wheat chemicals are extremely short-lived and their quick drop in the blood concentrations leads to cravings for more wheat/carbs that can be difficult to control.... in fact they can be downright all-consuming and overwhelming for some (even those who work out like mad creatures).   Dr. B. Gan,

    Sadly, Dr. Gan's hyperbole characterizes my own wheat addiction far too accurately.  Should someone ever form a Wheataholics Anonymous, it may be a tougher discipline than AA.  Wheat is insidious.  It's everywhere.  The perfect croissant that seduces you with its Sirens' song as  you order your morning latte.  Or, how about that stealth wheat that lurks in the soy sauce at your favorite Chinese restaurant.  Sure I can eat a salad instead of a sandwich. No brainer.  But my low-wheat lifestyle keeps falling short of 100% wheat-free.  Save me, Dr. Davis!

    In my current struggle to be 100% wheat free, I'm feeling great, but my practice is still too tenuous for me to be to be canonized as a wheat-free saint.  Don't believe me.  Read the Doc's book.