It’s Complicated: Exploring “Gluten Free” Part Two

It’s Complicated: Exploring “Gluten Free” Part Two

by Dr. Charny August 21, 2021

Part Two of my four-part series on gluten.

The Properties of Wheat and What They Do

In my last post, we talked about the three different medical problems my patients face with wheat. But what is it about wheat that can wreak havoc on our bodies? Let’s dig into the science.

There are many compounds in wheat that create negative reactions in the digestive tract, causing us discomfort and health issues. Here are the main culprits:

Gluten is a storage protein exclusively found in wheat. It’s a large molecule composed of two smaller ones: glutenin and gliadin. Intolerant immune systems perceive these proteins as a foreign invader. They trigger an immune response in the small intestine, creating the inflammation, malabsorption and digestive upset that characterizes gluten intolerance.

What about rye and barley, those other grains that can cause symptoms?

Gluten is specific to wheat, but each grain has its own particular storage protein. In barley, the protein that triggers celiac-type reactions is known as hordein. In rye, it is secalin.

Gliadins make up the bulk of gluten and are very hard for us to digest. Worse, their amino acid structure is very similar to that of human organs, so when we develop antibodies to gliadins, our immune systems can attack our own tissues.

Amylopectin A is the “complex” carbohydrate unique to wheat. It is highly digestible, but that is not a good thing. It digests so quickly that it causes a jump in blood sugar and blood insulin. That’s why two slices of wheat bead increases blood sugar more than six teaspoons of sugar would.

Can’t get enough wheat? There’s a reason for that

Your body relies on leptin receptors to tell you when you’re full. When you eat wheat, its lectin (sugar-binding protein) called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) can bind to the leptin receptor, amplifying your appetite. That means that you eat without feeling satisfied, and want more.

Also, remember those hard-to-digest gliadins? Well, when you digest wheat, gliadin is reduced to polypeptides that bind to the opiate receptors of the brain. Unlike opiates such as morphine and heroin, gliadin polypeptides don’t provide pain relief nor euphoria, but only stimulate appetite. Not that wheat is a drug, but…

Other reasons wheat can be hard on our bodies

  • Bowel flora: Eating wheat can change bowel flora and causeintestinal inflammation, feeding bad bacteria and suppressing beneficial bacteria (probiotics).

  • Fructans: some wheat sufferers might have a problem not with gluten, but specific wheat sugars called fructans.

One more thing to remember: Wheat is not what it used to be

These days, most wheat has been hybridized to increase production and fight plant diseases, pests, weather conditions, etc. Modern wheat is a hybrid of many different grains and grasses, giving it 42 chromosomes, whereas ancient wheat has 14 chromosomes. This totally changes the wheat gluten structure. Many blame hybridization for the rising number of people with a high intolerance to gluten.

Modern wheat also has seven times the Amylase trypsin inhibitor (ATI) activity of ancient wheat. ATIs are plant-derived proteins that protect the wheat plant against infection. When lab mice eat the levels of wheat that we eat, ATI’s provoke auto-immunity.

Not just a fad

As you can see, while gluten intolerance may seem like a fad, there are many properties in wheat that do attack the body in different ways. To further demystify your body’s relationship to gluten, make an appointment with Dr. Charny: 310-553-4242.

Dr. Charny
Dr. Charny

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