The earliest known cultivation of wheat and its relatives dates back 12,000 years, with the first records of settled human civilisation coming out of Abu Hureyra, a settlement between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in ancient Mesopotamia (now Syria). These grass species were the first to be domesticated and the ability to save seeds as food meant that people could drop their nomadic lifestyle and settle for the first time in human history.

Domesticating grasses therefore was a seminal moment for our species. But does that necessarily mean the food we became so reliant on was appropriate for us?
Twelve thousand years may seem a very long time ago. But it’s really just a few ticks of the clock in time for our species — 36 minutes to be precise if we turn the span of human evolution into a 24-hour clock!  However, because of the slow adaptation of our genome, it is thought we need around 40,000 years – or about 2 hours using our analogy of the 24-hour human clock — to adapt to a changed environment. 

Food for thought, especially when one of the main staples in our society now is a ‘new’ food.  And one that was has only become so because of agricultural convenience rather than being chosen because of its specific health benefit.  A stark fact of which we’re reminded in a new paper just published in May 2013 entitled, "The Dietary Intake of Wheat and Other Grains and their Role in Inflammation".

Fire in the hole!

Why is it that we have such a healthy respect for fire in all other aspects of our life, but not when the fire is alight in our body?  Clearly when the eye can’t see, it can turn a blind eye.  Inflammation is the natural response of our innate immune system to challenges from noxious stimuli, microbial pathogens and injury.  But the response varies in intensity and therefore symptoms.  An acute infection raises an acute response, but it’s the constant activation of immune cells through continuous exposure to triggers that causes chronic low-grade inflammation (LGI). 

Chronic LGI is associated with many diseases and disorders such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, cancer, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and depression to name a few.  If you take away nothing else from this article let it be that acute fire in the body in response to infection is necessary and healing, but a constant low-level burn is not only very energy consumptive, but also leading you towards chronic disease.

Wheat: a noxious trigger of inflammation

The paper, by Karin de Punder and senior author and renowned clinical psychoneuroimmunologist, Leo Pruimboom, is open access so you can download it for free.  The authors’ conclusion from the available published evidence on the ‘anti-nutrients’ in wheat and other grains is as follows:

  • Several proteins in wheat, notably gluten, have been shown to be responsible for IgE-mediated allergic reactions.  Other less recognised allergic responses related to wheat include baker’s asthma, rhinitis and contact urticaria
  • Wheat intolerance includes coeliac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis and there appears to also be a close association with other autoimmune conditions, including type 1 diabetes
  • Gluten is the main structural protein complex of wheat and consists of glutenins and gliadins.  Gluten makes up about 80% of the total protein of the seed in our modern-day wheat
  • Gliadin epitopes can trigger coeliac disease in genetically susceptible people, leading to inflammation of the gut mucosa, atropy of the villi in the small intestine and increased permeability and malabsorption of nutrients
  • Gluten-sensitivity doesn’t always show up on the functional tests to diagnose coeliac disease so many people can be missed
  • At least 50 gliadin epitopes exert immunomodulatory, cytotoxic and gut-permeating activities.  Meaning they are able to mess with your immune system, kill your cells and open your gut, allowing larger particles into your blood stream where they then create an immune reaction of their own!
  • Gut permeability leads to the movement of bacteria and dietary antigens (both should remain in the gut) out of the gut and into your blood stream.  Increased intestinal permeability is associated with a host of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and diseases related to chronic inflammation e.g. inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis), asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.
  • Dietary molecules moving out of the gut interact with cells of the immune system setting up an inflammatory reaction of their own as they become ‘recognised’ as antigens
  • Gluten initiates intestinal permeability through triggering the release of zonulin – a protein involved in opening the tight junctions of the gut.  High levels of zonulin are observed in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.
  • Wheatgerm agglutinin (WGA) is a lectin present in wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn and rice, but by far the highest concentrations are found in wheat germ.  Unprocessed wheat germ e.g. muesli, contains far higher amounts than processed wheat.  Lectins can bind to almost all cell types and cause damage to tissues and organs. They are also resistant to heat and the effects of digestive enzymes.
  • WGA binds to the outer coating of human cells (the glycocalyx) and under certain conditions can allow pathogens past the usual barriers and into the cell
  • WGA has been shown in a rat model to induce an inflammatory response by triggering histamine secretion, neutrophils (white blood cells that are mobilised during an immune challenge) and the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines (immune cells).  High WGA antibody levels have been measured in coeliac patients.
  • Whilst there is human epidemiological data showing a reduction in risk of certain conditions such as type II diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease with the inclusion of whole grain in the diet, it’s worth noting that whole grains do contain anti-inflammatory elements such as polyphenols.  However, insulin sensitivity and markers for lipid peroxidation and inflammation were unaffected showing that persistent LGI still existed.  These studies invariably included another factor – caloric restriction – which is of itself a disease-risk reducing intervention making it difficult to identify the exact results.

[All the above points are fully referenced in the journal article.]

The paper provides evidence for what scores of practitioners around the world have been saying for years – that the daily consumption of wheat and wheat products, as well as other cereal grains, can contribute to the manifestation of chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease.  Whilst coeliacs and gluten-sensitive patients have clear adverse reactions, could it be that their immune systems are actually giving a more ‘intelligent’ early warning than those with no obvious symptoms?  Isn’t it worth 8 weeks of exclusion to see how you feel without the anti-nutrients from grains?  Especially when you can derive even more health benefits by substituting the starchy, cereal-containing carbs with a wide selection of vegetables, along with all their valuable phytonutrients and energy quota!  

As many converts will tell you – there is life beyond wheat…!


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  1. Of course, it is nonsense to say that wheat has only be around for some 12000 years. Wheat – and other grains – were created by the Atlanteans, who actually “invented” agriculture. Consequently, wheat goes back hundreds of thousands of years. Wheat may well be harmful, but not because it is a relatively “new” food item. The wheat that is being fed to the masses is exposed to toxins from start to finish and, consequently, may have developed very nasty attributes. Before condemning wheat altogether comparative tests should be performed on fully organic wheat and non-organic wheat in order to produce more informed results.

  2. How is it that with all the talk on wheat it is never mentioned that almost ALL wheat is gentically modified? GMOD – genetically modified organism disease alone is host to these inflammatory issues that manifests as dis-eased states. It would be common sense to mention this vital fact.

  3. Going wheat free has cured my gall stone attacks and inflammatory problem with a salivary gland in my face which swelled up so badly when eating that I could only manage half a meal before my face seized up! I don’t think I’m allergic to gluten per se, because I can still eat porridge and rye bread, it’s just the wheat…

  4. What no hot buttered toast, no bread, no pies, no cake, no breakfast cereal, no pizza!
    It seems to get on board with some of the info on this site you need the philosophy of a stoic and the life style of a spartan. Still I will take the experiment. 8 weeks is the time it takes for inflammation to subside I assume.

    For those interested, the link below discusses the problems with the conventional theory of plant domestication and elsewhere on the site the identity of the ‘domesticators’ is revealed from the historical records ( or myths if you are that way inclined )

  5. I saw firsthand who was making money and who wasn’t, what worked
    and what didn’t, what people wanted that wasn’t available and what was
    to easy to find but wasn’t wanted. Anytime you are considering changing your landscape,
    you must also thing about the structures that already stand on your property.
    Consequently, individuals have two choices: They can bite the bullet and pay whatever it takes to get their front yard up to snuff, or
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  6. Hi Alisa, thanks for your comment. You are correct in that modern wheat has been tinkered with through selective breeding to the extent that it is now largely unrecognisable compared with ancient wheat, or even the wheat eaten by our grandparents: However, it’s important to point out that these changes were brought about by conventional plant breeding methods, not through genetic modification (GM) technology. As yet, there are no GM varieties of wheat in widespread use, but that’s not to say the biotech companies aren’t trying:

  7. Hi Wotan, thanks for your comment. It’s difficult for us to comment about Atlantis given that we’ve not seen any definitive scientific records. Atlantis aside, we agree that wheat is exposed to many toxins that also have their fair share of adverse effects. But whether organic or non-organic, wheat still contains gluten and wheatgerm agglutinin. So whilst you may escape the effects of additional pesticides and genetic modification by eating organic wheat, you will still be exposed to the entire suite of adverse effects detailed in the paper. One thing we didn’t repeat in this article is that gliadin breaks down to gliadomorphin, which, being a morphine derivative, is addictive and one of the main reasons why people find it so hard to give up eating wheat!

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