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As the war against gluten rages on, I continue my attempt to be a voice of logic. I want to present a case based on logic, modern science and ancient wisdom that, just maybe, the anti-gluten movement may have jumped the gun.
After 10,000 years of eating gluten-filled wheat grains, is it possible that the anti-gluten research is only telling us part of the story or, maybe like the plethora of anti-cholesterol pundits that I wrote about late last year, they just got it wrong?
I am not ignoring the many studies showing that gluten is a toxin, but we did just end 60 years of “indisputable research” that told us incorrectly that high cholesterol causes heart disease.
Gluten is a very hard-to-digest protein and it is by no means a dietary requirement to be healthy. That said, maintaining a good, strong, healthy digestive system is a requirement for optimal health. Your ability to properly digest hard-to-digest foods like gluten can also indicate whether or not your ability to detoxify hard-to-process toxins is functional.
The point is that if you were once able to digest gluten, but today you cannot, it is possible that your digestive strength, thus your ability to detoxify, may be compromised. Without gluten you may feel better, but you may be unaware that unprocessed toxins like mercury, which we cannot avoid, are building up in your fat cells and maybe even your brain! Avoiding gluten is really not the issue. I am more concerned that by avoiding gluten we are ignoring the bigger problem, which brings me to my litany of science and logic.
11 Ayurvedic, Scientifically-Backed, Logical Gluten Facts to Consider:
1. Wheat Was Never Meant To Be Eaten Year-Round
Before gluten was hybridized and harvested 3 times per year, it was harvested only once a year – in the fall. Grains, like wheat, that were only harvested in the fall had a short shelf life, so the window of gluten consumption was traditionally limited to fall and winter, never year-round.
Wheat has become the grain of choice and has been eaten by most Americans 3 times a day, 12 months a year for an entire lifetime. Is it possible we just overate the stuff?
2. Gluten Requires a Team Digestive Effort
Gluten is a very large and complex protein and requires multiple enzymes to break it down. Studies suggest that optimal gluten digestion requires a coordinated effort of numerous enzymes, acids and peptidases to be completely digested. (1,2)
In nature, wheat is harvested at the beginning of winter when, according to Ayurveda, the digestive strength is much stronger. A strong digestive fire is required to break down all the hard-to-digest winter proteins found in grains, nuts, seeds and meats. It makes logical sense that winter would be the best time to eat wheat in order to have a fighting chance to digest it. Again, it was simply never meant to be eaten all year long!
3. Wheat is a Warming Winter Grain
One of the reasons wheat was one of the first grains to be domesticated throughout Europe was because it was very hardy and grew well in colder climates. Wheat’s harvest provided great benefit in the cold winter climates. Gluten is a warm, heavy, insulating, wet and sticky protein that helps insulate the body from the cold and dryness of winter. Squirrels begin to store nuts in the fall for a similar reason. This is just another example of how nature antidotes the extremes of the season with its harvest.
4. Wheat Helps Store Some Extra Winter Weight
Recent research has confirmed the utility of an abundant fall fruit harvest. When fructose is eaten in excess, which tends to happen when an apple tree ripens, the fructose that is not used for energy will turn into fat. Fall is the perfect time to put on a little more natural insulation for an upcoming cold winter. (3) Remember, the Paleo folks have plenty of research telling us that fruits are toxic, and yet there is ample evidence that says fruits are healthy – confused yet?
Similar to the fall fruit harvest, wheat, when eaten in excess, will result in lipogenesis (fat formation) for the building of fat reserves needed for winter insulation. (4) I believe there is always a reason and purpose for the existence of every plant we eat on this planet; each of them serves a purpose and few, if any, are designed to be eaten every day of the year for a lifetime. Again, maybe the problem is that we have eaten too much wheat and have overwhelmed our ability to digest it.
5. Not All Wheat Is Created Equal
I’m sure, by now, we have all read about how today’s wheat differs from ancient wheat. Modern wheat has been hybridized, enabling it to be harvested multiple times per year rather than only once, and it has a much higher glycemic index. This hybridized wheat is much more likely to contribute to blood sugar issues if eaten in excess. (5) This is a real problem and another reason why wheat should only be eaten seasonally and not daily.
Interestingly, according to a 2013 study, the original wild wheat, which we all might agree had to be a healthier grain, had gluten levels that reached two to three times the amount of gluten in today’s wheat! This would make the original wild wheat a much harder grain to digest than today’s wheat. (6)
In the study, researchers concluded that though there has been an increase in celiac-based gluten intolerance in the second half of the 20th century, there is no evidence that this rise is due to an increase of the gluten content in wheat. In fact, according to this study, the gluten content in wheat during the 20th and 21st century has been relatively stable. (6) Maybe gluten is not the only enemy!
6. Fermented Foods and Certain Microbes Help Digest Gluten
It is common knowledge that our ancestors figured out how to ferment their vegetables to help preserve them through the winter, but little did they know about the digestive strength-boosting microbes they were delivering to their intestinal tracts!
Fermented vegetables are very acidic and thus heat the body, which helped our ancestors endure some long, cold winters. In addition to heating up the body, the process for fermenting veggies is called lactic acid fermentation, which releases a host of lactobacillus bacteria that have been shown to break down the hard-to-digest portions of the gluten protein molecule – called the proline-rich epitopes. (7,8)
One such microbe called lactobacillus plantarum, a colonizing probiotic found in LifeSpa’s Flora Restore, was shown to play a particularly important role in digesting gluten. In fact, many of these lactobacilli bacteria, like lactobacillus plantarum, which are found in select sourdough breads, have also been shown to digest the proline-rich epitopes in gluten. (7,8) I guess our ancestors were pretty smart! They figured out a long time ago, most likely by trial and error and passing down this ancient wisdom, that wheat was easier to digest if eaten with fermented veggies or made into sourdough bread.
7. Probiotics and a Healthy Microbiome Play a Role in Protecting the Gut
New studies show that certain probiotic supplements not only help break down and digest the hard-to-digest proline-rich epitopes of the gluten molecule, they also have been shown to protect the intestinal wall by disallowing the undigested gluten molecule to penetrate the gut wall and protect against Leaky Gut Syndrome. (9)
So, before we blame gluten for all that ails us, we might want to begin by assessing our ability to digest these hard-to-digest proteins in the first place, and get to work strengthening our digestion.
8. Toxins Destroy the Gluten-Digesting Enzyme
I have written many articles on the relationship of digestive strength to gluten/dairy digestion to our ability to detoxify. But I want to share with you some recent research which has shown that the major gluten-digesting enzyme, Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP4), produced both in the pancreas and small intestine is denatured, or destroyed, by toxins like mercury and pesticides. (10) This suggests that if we have weak digestion, these toxins will block our ability to digest the hard-to-digest proteins like gluten and will then certainly cause a host of health concerns.
9. Processed Foods Contribute to Weak Digestion
Processed foods are typically loaded with cooked oils that are very difficult for the liver to digest. Once the liver gets congested, the coordinated effort of stomach acids, bile flow, pancreatic enzymes and enzymes from the small intestine will be altered, making gluten digestion a formidable challenge. The modern day diet is loaded with processed foods containing cooked oils, so I wasn’t surprised to find that many of my patients have congested bile, therefore compromised bile flow, congested livers and weakened digestive enzymes, all of which need to be functioning strong and efficiently in order to digest gluten.
10. Sugar Compromises Digestion
Please read my free eBook, Blood Sugar Secrets for Health and Longevity, which discusses the risks of sugar in the diet. Similar to processed foods, sugar compromises the ability for the digestive system to coordinate the breakdown of something like gluten.
11. Digestive Reset is Possible
The goal is to increase the production of HCl in your stomach and thin your bile so you can digest your food better. As you may know, I’ve written extensively on the digestive reset process, please refer to the many articles and videos on the topic of Digestive Strength and Elimination.