“All grain is good for man, nevertheless, wheat for man.” Whole wheat furnishes some protein, a lot of carbohydrates, and is a source of the minerals calcium, iron and phosphorus, B vitamins and vitamin E. It has been called the “staff of life” for good reason.

But it seems over the past several years, we have noticed an increase in the incidence of wheat-related diseases and sensitivities. The incidence of celiac disease has increased from 1 in 500 fifty years ago to 1 in 133 today. This is certainly not a change in genetic susceptibility. So what could be causing this dramatic change in incidence? Although I don’t think the jury is in, there are some likely causes.

The Main Culprit

Of the diseases associated with wheat intake, the culprit is usually the gluten protein (or gliaden). Although there are 5 other proteins in wheat, gluten protein is the biggest reaction-causing offender.

Celiac disease is caused by exposure to gluten. The body becomes sensitized or allergic to it, setting up an inflammatory reaction that causes the lining of the small intestines to slough away. The enzymes that help break food down for proper absorption are found in the lining. Without those enzymes, the final stage of food breakdown does not take place, resulting in poor absorption of critical nutrients.

Symptoms of celiac disease include:

1. Gastrointestinal

  • gas
  • bloating
  • cramping
  • queasiness
  • constipation
  • diarrhea

2. Neurological

  • headache
  • migraines
  • dizziness
  • balance problems
  • nerve pain
  • weakness
  • tingling or numbness

3. Emotional

  • irritability
  • moodiness

4. Fibromyalgia

  • fatigue

So What’s Causing These Symptoms?

Here are some possibilities:

Through hybridization, the gluten (protein) content in wheat has increased significantly. It is the protein content of any product that causes allergies, and the more frequent the exposure, the greater the risk of allergies.

  • Wheat is put in most processed foods (cans, boxes), often as the main ingredient.
  • Wheat is subsidized by the government, thus making it a cheap product to put in many foods.’
  • Centuries ago grains were eaten with nuts and legumes, thus having a reduced exposure.
  • Intestinal health is already compromised in our society.

Intestinal Health

I’d like to address the issue of intestinal health breakdown in greater detail. Some of the causes of our compromised intestinal health include:

  • antibiotics or other medications (NSAIDs, antacids),
  • stress,
  • chemical or toxic exposures,
  • regular ingestion of fast food or junk food,
  • viruses, bacteria or fungal infections

These may destroy the intestinal lining and predispose to leaky gut syndrome. These leaks’ in the intestinal wall permit larger proteins that are not yet broken down adequately to cross the lining of the intestines and be exposed to the immune system. This triggers the sensitivity or allergic response.

Recently a milder form of celiac disease has appeared, called gluten sensitivity. This does not trigger breakdown of the lining of the intestines, but causes clear, reproducible symptoms similar to celiac disease with gluten exposure.

Wheat allergy may not be associated with gluten, but it may have more traditional allergic symptoms, such as hives, nasal congestion, and even anaphylaxis (severe, potentially fatal allergic reaction).

Treatment Options

Treatment of gluten sensitivity or celiac disease is simple: avoid gluten. That does not mean it is easy. In addition to wheat, gluten is found in rye, barley, spelt, kamut, triticale, and there is a little bit in oats. The grains that are free of gluten include rice, quinoa, buckwheat and sorghum.

With care, it may be possible to reintroduce wheat back into the diet over time, but one must always be careful to watch for symptoms. This needs to be done with medical supervision and careful scrutiny of other potential issues with food intake.

Gluten-free products are easier to find now, and a huge industry has developed, providing gluten-free food.

Wheat is for man. The nutrient value is high. Man has interfered with the production and manufacturing of wheat and the overall intestinal health of mankind to the point that many people have become unable to tolerate the God-given gift of wheat.


The office of Stan Gardner, M.D., CNS, is at the Keys to Healing Medical Center in Riverton, UT. For appointments, call 801-302-5397.

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