Friday, April 09, 2010

The Wheat Bombshell

Bonnie - What substance may be pro-inflammatory, immunotoxic, neurotoxic, cytotoxic, cardiotoxic, may interfere with gene expression, may disrupt endocrine function, may adversely effect gastrointestinal function, and may share pathogenic similarities with certain viruses? The substance is called WGA (wheat germ agglutinin).

I have always known that for some clients, even though tests for wheat allergy (IgE), celiac disease, gluten intolerance (IgG), and wheat intolerance (IgG) were all negative, wheat was still an issue. While I could not enunciate a “scientific” term, I just knew that these clients felt much better without wheat in their diet.

The following piece wonderfully articulates why this occurs, and it reinforces why I have been even more vociferous about avoiding wheat, especially whole wheat (which contains more WGA than regular wheat), the darling of the USDA and its Food Pyramid.
If wheat is consistently a problem for you and you are seeking ways to confidently eliminate it, as well as most grains for that matter, make an appointment.

The article is very long, so I have summarized some of the most important points:

"Opening Pandora’s Bread Box: The Critical Role of Wheat Lectin in Human Disease"
by Sayer Ji

Now that celiac disease has been allowed official entry into the pantheon of established medical conditions, and gluten intolerance is no longer entirely a fringe medical concept, the time has come to draw attention to the powerful little chemical in wheat known as 'wheat germ agglutinin' (WGA) which is largely responsible for many of wheat's pervasive, and difficult to diagnose, ill effects. Not only does WGA throw a monkey wrench into our assumptions about the primary causes of wheat intolerance, but due to the fact that WGA is found in highest concentrations in "whole wheat," including its supposedly superior sprouted form, it also pulls the rug out from under one of the health food industry's favorite poster children. Below the radar of conventional serological testing for antibodies against the various gluten proteins and genetic testing for disease susceptibility, the WGA “lectin problem” remains almost entirely obscured.

What is unique about the WGA glycoprotein is that it can do direct damage to the majority of tissues in the human body without requiring a specific set of genetic susceptibilities and/or immune-mediated articulations. This may explain why chronic inflammatory and degenerative conditions are endemic to wheat-consuming populations even when overt allergies or intolerances to wheat gluten appear exceedingly rare. The future fate of wheat consumption, and by implication our health, may depend largely on whether or not the toxic qualities of WGA come to light in the general population.

Lectins are, by design, particularly resistant to degradation through a wide range of pH and temperatures. WGA lectin is an exceptionally tough adversary as it is formed by the same disulfide bonds that make vulcanized rubber and human hair so strong, flexible and durable. Like man-made pesticides, lectins are extremely small, resistant to break-down by living systems, and tend to accumulate and become incorporated into tissues where they interfere with normal biological processes. Indeed, WGA lectin is so powerful as an insecticide that biotech firms have used recombinant DNA technology to create genetically modified WGA-enhanced plants.

Lectins are glycoproteins, and through thousands of years of selectively breeding wheat for increasingly larger quantities of protein, the concentration of WGA lectin has increased proportionately. This, no doubt, has contributed to wheat’s global dominance as one of the world’s favored monocultures, offering additional “built-in” pest resistance. WGA is nature's ingenious solution for protecting the wheat plant from the entire gamut of its natural enemies. WGA's unique binding specificity to these exact two glycoproteins is not accidental. Nature has designed WGA perfectly to attach to, disrupt, and gain entry through these mucosal surfaces. Humans – not Nature – have spent thousands of years cultivating and selecting for larger and larger quantities of these proteins.

WGA, as well as gluten, contain exceptionally high levels of the excitotoxic l-aspartic and l-glutamic amino acids, which can be highly addictive, not unlike their synthetic shadow molecules aspartame and monosodium glutamate.

Each grain of wheat contains about 1 microgram of WGA. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, it takes only 500 micrograms (about half a grain of sand) of ricin (a lectin extracted from castor bean casings) to kill a human. A single, one ounce slice of wheat bread contains approximately 500 micrograms of WGA, which if it were refined to its pure form and injected directly into the blood, could, in theory, have platelet aggregating and erythrocyte agglutinizing effects strong enough to create an obstructive clot such as occurs in myocardial infarction and stroke. This, however, is not a likely route of exposure and in reality the immediate pathologies associated with lectins like ricin and WGA are largely restricted to the gastrointestinal tract where they cause mucosal injuries. WGA is exceptionally small, at 36 kilodaltons (approximately the mass of 36,000 hydrogen atoms) and it can pass through the cell membranes of the intestine with ease. The intestines will allow passage of molecules up to 1,000 kilodaltons in size.

The disruptive and damaging effects of whole wheat bread consumption are formidable in someone whose protective mucosal barrier has been compromised by something as simple as Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) use, or a recent viral or bacterial infection. The common consumption of both wheat and NSAIDs may suggest the frequency of the WGA vicious cycle. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, increase intestinal permeability and may cause absorption of even larger than normal quantities of pro-inflammatory WGA. Conversely, the inflammation caused by the absorption of WGA lectin is the very reason there is a great need for the inflammation-reducing effects of NSAIDs.

One way to gauge just how pervasive the adverse effects of WGA are among wheat-consuming populations is the popularity of the dietary supplement glucosamine. When we consume glucosamine supplements, the WGA, instead of binding to our tissues, binds to the pulverized chitin in the glucosamine supplements, sparing us from the full impact of WGA.

WGA may be pro-inflammatory, immunotoxic, neurotoxic, cytotoxic, cardiotoxic, may interfere with gene expression, may disrupt endocrine function, may adversely effect gastrointestinal function, and may share pathogenic similarities with certain viruses.

It is my belief that a careful study of the wheat plant will reveal that, despite claims to the contrary, man does not have dominion over nature. All that he deems fit for his consumption may not be his inborn right. Though the wheat plant’s apparently defenseless disposition would seem to make it suitable for mass human consumption, it has been imbued with a multitude of invisible“thorns,” with WGA being its smallest and perhaps most potent defense against predation. While WGA may be an uninvited guest at our table, wheat is equally inhospitable to us. Perhaps the courteous thing to do, having realized our mistaken intrusion, is to lick our wounds and simply go our separate ways. Perhaps as the distance between man and his infatuation with wheat grows, he will grow closer to himself and will discover far more suitable forms of nourishment that Nature has not impregnated with such high levels of addictive and potentially debilitating proteins.

Research references can be found at the link provided above.

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