When people think about the dangers of wheat, people generally don’t think about the less than 1% of those who are actually allergic to gluten and have life-threatening celiac disease. Most think about GI issues and all of the other symptoms regularly experienced by those who are “gluten intolerant.”
Although no one knows for certain how many people are affected, various national health care leaders have reported that 5% to 35% of Americans are gluten intolerant and that upwards to 80% have the genetic tendency toward non-celiac gluten sensitivities (NCGS). (1, 2, 3) Where this data comes from, however, no one knows. Case in point, according to a study in the journal Nutrients, “NCGS frequency is still unclear.” (4)
Additionally, the team of researchers who made this statement report that recent studies have raised the possibility that other substances, other than gluten, could be contributing to GI symptoms and irritable bowel syndrome; namely, Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and PolyolSfermentable, which are poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates or FODMAPs. Having thrown the lid off of the gluten scare, Monash University in Australia has now created an entire protocol based off of low-FODMAPs for irritable bowel syndrome and other GI complaints. (5)
This is important for three different reasons.
- It sheds doubt on the information that we have received the past 30 years that has all but bastardized wheat gluten-containing grains.
- It offers a possible explanation as to why people, after going gluten-free, still suffer from GI complaints.
- There are now a growing number of scientists who deny the fact that gluten sensitivity even exists.
And you can’t blame them. In the absence of definite biomarkers proving the presence of NCGS, basing a clinical diagnosis off of patient symptoms after eating multi-ingredient meals is nebulous at best!
Can I Eat Gluten Now?!?
Let’s, for the sake of argument, believe that this new FODMAP theory is true. Does this mean that it is ok to eat gluten? No, it doesn’t!
Even if you’re not “gluten sensitive,” are there health benefits to cutting out gluten? The answer is a resounding YES!
Because of a wildly controversial chemical named as glyphosate, and an uncommonly known farming technique referred to as crop desiccation.
The Italian Paradox
When you hear “Italian cuisine,” what are the first things that come to mind? Pizza, pasta and bread, right? Why, then, don’t we hear about NCGS running rampant in Italy?
At most, research has shown that less than 1% of the general Italian population suffer from gluten-related disorders. (6) Compare that to the 5% – 35% prevalence that has been reported in America and it makes you wonder why.
One possible explanation is hidden in the many stories describing how American Celiacs and those suffering from gluten intolerance regularly experience no side effects from eating wheat and gluten-containing foods while travelling in Italy. Taken from Celiac.com Forum, How Come Gluten Didn’t Bother Me In Italy?, this is a perfect example: (7)
I recently traveled to Italy, and although I’ve read they have many gluten-free options, I decided that I was going to eat whatever I wanted, even if it had gluten. When I mentioned this to my doctor, he said it actually may not bother me since the wheat outside of the US is typically less genetically modified and more “natural”. So after 2 weeks in Italy eating pasta daily, pizza, and all kinds of baked goods, I felt great. No headaches, upset stomach or any symptoms of gluten digestion. Has anyone else had a similar experience outside of the US? If that’s the case, could I buy imported flours and pasta made in Italy that aren’t “gluten-free” and be okay eating them at home?
Does this mean that Italian wheat is different than American wheat? Not necessarily. Currently, GMO wheat is not grown commercially anywhere on the planet. (8) At least, not publicly. However, the wheat harvesting practices could be (and actually are) quite different in Italy than in the U.S. and this is the reason why people regularly suffer from eating wheat in North America.
Roundup Desiccation of Wheat
Known as “desiccation,” conventional non-organic wheat fields are literally soaked in Monsanto’s signature Roundup just days before harvest. This serves two main purposes:
- It causes the wheat to prematurely die and go “to seed,” which slightly increases production.
- It kills competing rye grass and other weeds, which makes it easier/quicker to harvest.
In the words of wheat farmer, Keith Lewis, pre-harvest desiccation looks something like this (9)
I have been a wheat farmer for 50 years and one wheat production practice that is very common is applying the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) just prior to harvest. Roundup is licensed for pre-harvest weed control. Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup claims that application to plants at over 30% kernel moisture result in roundup uptake by the plant into the kernels. Farmers like this practice because Roundup kills the wheat plant allowing an earlier harvest.
A wheat field often ripens unevenly, thus applying Roundup pre-harvest evens up the greener parts of the field with the more mature. The result is on the less mature areas Roundup is trans located into the kernels and eventually harvested as such.
This practice is not licensed. Farmers mistakenly call it “desiccation.” Consumers eating products made from wheat flour are undoubtedly consuming minute amounts of Roundup. An interesting aside, malt barley, which is made into beer, is not acceptable in the marketplace if it has been sprayed with pre-harvest Roundup. Lentils and peas are not accepted in the market place if it was sprayed with pre-harvest roundup … but wheat is ok. This farming practice greatly concerns me and it should further concern consumers of wheat products.
Glyphosate Health Concerns
The concern that Farmer Keith has centers on glyphosate, which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
Is a non-selective herbicide registered for use on many food and non-food crops as well as non-crop areas where total vegetation control is desired. When applied at lower rates, it serves as a plant growth regulator. The most common uses include control of broadleaf weeds and grasses in: hay/pasture, soybeans, field corn; ornamentals, lawns, turf, forest plantings, greenhouses, rights-of-way. (10)
In other words, glyphosate is an extremely dangerous chemical that is virtually everywhere, and is completely unavoidable if you live in the United States.”
Primarily known as the active ingredient in Monsanto’s signature Roundup, glyphosate is among the most widely used pesticides in the world. Approximately 6,300,000 pounds of glyphosate was used in the U.S. in 1986. It quickly rose to ~ 11,600,000 pounds in 1990. It ranked eleventh among conventional pesticides in the US during 1990-91. Today, nearly 20 million lbs. are used annually. (11)
Unfortunately, the widespread use of glyphosate has caused hundreds of millions of people to needlessly be at risk of developing a slew of health issues. For instance, according to Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the use of glyphosates to desiccate wheat fields is most likely the reason why so many people are gluten intolerant; and are developing celiac disease, not because people eat too much gluten. Connecting glyphosates to chronic inflammation, which is arguably the #1 cause of disease today, Seneff’s explains that,
[G]ut dysbiosis, brought on by exposure to glyphosate, plays a crucial role in the development of celiac disease. Many CYP enzymes are impaired in association with celiac disease, and we show that glyphosate’s known suppression of CYP enzyme activity in plants and animals plausibly explains this effect in humans. (12)
At the end of the day, there is nothing good about conventional wheat and gluten-containing foods because of how they are farmed. Thankfully, according to Reuters, “The EPA is conducting a standard registration review of glyphosate and has set a deadline of 2015 for determining if glyphosate use should be limited.” In the meantime, refrain from eating all non-organic grains and, unless you can grow them yourself, I’d recommend cutting them out of your diet completely.
How about you? Have you experienced gluten-sensitivity in North America, but not in other countries?