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Eating gluten- and dairy-free has taken the health food industry by storm. Food manufacturers are realizing that unless they offer a gluten-free version of their product, it is increasingly difficult to be competitive. Studies show that within a single year, as many as 100 million Americans consume gluten-free products. (1) Non-dairy foods and milk substitutes have also become increasingly common: in 2015, the U.S. dairy alternatives market was worth 2.09 billion, and growing. (2)
This multi-billion dollar gluten-free industry is fueled by books, blogs, and gluten-free products all suggesting that gluten is the new poison rather than a protein. After 30-plus years of practice dedicated to gaining better understanding of digestive health, I found that solely removing wheat and dairy from the diet offered only a temporary fix for a more complex problem: a suboptimal digestive system. For decades, patients have told me that they initially felt better without wheat, yet within a few weeks or months, the digestive distress, bloat, weight, fatigue and brain fog would all come back.
Combining the wisdom of Ayurveda with volumes of amazing new science, I have been able to help my patients gain the ability to break bread once again and conquer their so-called food intolerances.
I’ve had great results with my patients for years, and there is a plethora of new science that I cite in Eat Wheat (605 studies referenced) which suggests that wheat is actually good for you, and that the wheat is not to blame. Rather, it’s the overwhelming amount of highly processed foods and our habit of overeating wheat which has bogged down our digestive systems.
To Eat or Not To Eat
I recognize that people really do feel bad when they eat wheat, and I am not ignoring that discomfort in any way. I just want to be sure we don’t repeat the same mistake we made 60 years ago when we blamed cholesterol for heart disease. In fact, it turned out to be a sugar industry conspiracy to shift blame to fats and put cholesterol on a nutrient concern list. As a consequence, we have replaced fats with sugars, leading directly to today’s epidemics of diabetes, obesity, depression, and poor digestion. It was only recently that the FDA finally took cholesterol off the nutrient concern list, after years of a devastating misinterpretation of the science and political conniving. (3) I believe it’s more than possible that we’re making similar mistakes with wheat and dairy.
That said, I do not believe anyone will die if they do not eat wheat and dairy. However, if you were once able to eat these foods and have taken them out of our diet because you don’t feel good after eating them, you may be risking more severe health concerns down the road for a different reason. For example, we dump almost 4 billion pounds of toxins into the American environment each year, and 72 million of them are carcinogenic. (4) If you cannot optimally break down wheat or dairy, how are you going to detoxify mercury from coal-fired power plant emissions that have the potential to reach almost anywhere in the United States and contaminate even organically-grown crops and organically-raised animals? (5)
I wrote Eat Wheat because, for 30 years, I have been clinically able to help my patients start eating wheat, dairy and other hard-to-digest foods again, simply by rebooting the strength of their digestive system and helping them navigate around the highly processed versions of these foods.
The Brain-Lymph Connection
The “grain brain” phenomenon – namely, the notion that gluten negatively affects our brains and our health and should thus be avoided (6) – has now been challenged by a recent scientific discovery that explains the reaction many people have to wheat and dairy. Researchers have found lymphatic vessels in the brain and central nervous system (CNS) that drain directly into the body’s main lymphatic system. The discovery is groundbreaking; previously, science did not know these lymphatic vessels even existed. The science shows that numerous toxins are drained from the brain through the brain’s lymphatic channels while we sleep. (7)
This research is so compelling because it suggests that commonly, in the case of “grain brain” and other food intolerance health issues, these brain and CNS lymphatics may be congested, and thus cannot flow or drain toxins our of our systems properly. Let’s follow this to its logical conclusion: Lymphatic congestion can lead to sluggish digestion and difficulty digesting wheat, gluten, dairy, and other complex proteins. (8-22) Therefore, it’s not the “grain,” but the “drains” that may be the real culprit behind this food sensitivity epidemic.
Wheat or Meat?
Our direct human ancestors have been eating wheat and other grains for 3-4 million years (23,24) and early humans have been grinding wheat into flour for 30,000 years! (25) Yes, that is correct. I said millions of years. I realize that many experts claim we have only been eating wheat for 10,000 years, and that this is not enough time to genetically adapt to this “poisonous” grain. The science simply does not support this claim.
Recently, anthropologists performed carbon isotope analysis on the tooth enamel of early-human skeletons that date back 3.4 to 4 million years and found substantial evidence of C3-type grains (such as wheat and barley) suggesting that hominins have been eating wheat for millions, not thousands, of years. (26) That study suggested that the average early human, some 3-4 million years ago, ate 40% of their diet as grasses – most of which had gluten. Further, some early hominins ate as much as 70% of their diet as grasses or grains. (26)
As wheat is loaded with important proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, such easy access to a nutrient-dense food supply may have played an important role in our early human evolution. The addition of meat to the early human diet came much later.
As I cite in Eat Wheat, there is ample evidence that we are well adapted to eat wheat. For example, there are wheat- and gluten-digesting enzymes in the saliva of the mouth esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines – that’s the entire digestive tract! There are also numerous wheat-digesting microbes that support this process at every stage of digestion. Clearly, we are well-equipped to digest wheat.
Treat the Root, Not the Symptoms
Many people spend years adjusting their diets to avoid food-related symptoms to protect themselves from minor digestive issues, but this does not address the root cause. There are major health risks involved with simply treating the symptoms of poor digestion by removing foods from the diet. For example, if you take gluten out of the diet when the cause of the gluten intolerance is actually weak digestion or a congested lymphatic system, dangerous toxins can be allowed to accumulate and can be deposited in fat cells, including the brain, for years to come. (27-31)
While you may receive symptomatic relief, simply eliminating wheat and diary from your diet may give you a false sense of health and well-being. Your inability to digest gluten or dairy – particularly if you were once able to – may mean that you are unnecessarily being exposed to dangerous toxins that are not being fully digested or detoxified.
Let’s stop treating symptoms, which we do oh-so-well in the West, and finally address the urgent need to fix the root cause of our food sensitivities – the state of our digestion. The path to continue eating wheat in our modern times is very clear: Decongest the lymphatic system, reboot digestive strength and shift our food focus away from simple sugars to good, healthy fats, along with foods in their whole, natural state.
*Those with Celiac Disease should avoid gluten, and those with severe and/or life-threatening allergies to dairy should avoid dairy, etc. If you have one of these conditions, please follow the instructions of your primary care physician, as ingesting these foods can be dangerous to your health.