Wheat intolerance affects an estimated 15% of the population

Wheat intolerance

Wheat intolerance is one of the most common food sensitivities.

The grain is a staple that is consumed in large quantity by billions of people around the world every day And accounts for between 15% and 20% of the calories of most people’s diet in the western world, including Canada.

Wheat is a grass that is cultivated throughout the world for its seeds. There are several dominant species and hybrids that have been developed for food consumption, including durum and Triticum, red winter, red spring and white varieties.

The content of wheat seeds varies by species but, on average, contain 71% carbohydrates including 12% dietary fibre, 13% protein, 2% fat and 13% water. It also contains vitamins like B1, B3, B5 and B6 and appreciable amounts of minerals like iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.

Although quite high in protein compared to other grains, wheat is not considered a complete protein because it does not contain all the essential amino acids like lysine.

Gluten is a the most common protein found in wheat. It makes up 75 to 85% of the total protein content of this grain. Gluten is a large structural protein made up smaller protein sub-units, like glutelin and prolamin, including gliadin. The elastic quality of gluten gives wheat its adhesive, gummy and stretchy properties. Those effects hold wheat together in bread, giving its texture and traps gases created by fermentation.

Celiac disease is an inflammatory disease of the small intestine caused by an autoimmune reaction to gluten. It is known to occur in one 1% to 2% of the general population. Gluten and gliadins accumulate in intestinal epithelial cells and cause an immune cascade that produces widespread inflammation along the intestinal lining.

That leads to damage and flattening of the delicate brush border that is involved in absorption of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Malabsorption of nutrients occurs. Other symptoms include widespread gas, bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, anemia, headache and general feeling of being unwell.

True gluten or wheat allergy is rare. An immunological reaction between the protein and antibodies from IgE and IgG occurs. More common is a non-immunological wheat or gluten intolerance or sensitivity.

Wheat intolerance is estimated to affect up to 15% of the general population. Many of the same symptoms of celiac disease, including gas, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, headache and weakness occur. Other symptoms that could be related to wheat sensitivity including eczema and other skin rashes, arthritis and joint pains, dizziness and brain fog, heartburn and upset stomach, muscle weakness, head, lung and sinus congestion.

If conventional diagnostic tests for wheat and gluten allergy are negative, an elimination and challenge test can be done. It removes all wheat for several weeks to one month and then is challenged with the reintroduction of wheat products. The occurrence and development of symptoms are then monitored in relationship to the quantity of wheat that is reintroduced into the diet.

More than 20 different herbicides, including paraquat, 2,4 D and glyphosate are used on wheat to control weeds during and after the growing season. Glyphosate or roundup is one of the most used herbicides. Environmental protection agencies like Canadian Food Inspection Agency monitor herbicide levels on different foods.

Levels of those herbicides are limited to acceptable levels that are believed not to pose a significant health risk to consumers. However, glyphosate and other herbicides have been associated with adverse health issues. Glyphosate has been banned in Europe because it is widely considered to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing).

Genetic manipulation of food is another contentious issue for food consumers. Modifications to increase crop size, yields and prevent damage to the food. While there are certainly concerns about the health and safety of genetically modified products there are currently only five GMO foods approved in Canada, including sugar beets, canola, corn, potatoes and soy.

According to government authorities, there is no genetically modified wheat produced in Canada.

Many health experts believe hybrid selection of different wheat species allowed for an increase in the consumption of mono-culture wheat products. That led to an increase in the consumption of larger quantities of the same protein. Over-exposure to the same wheat proteins overburdened both immune and non-immune regulatory mechanisms in the human body. That causes many of the symptoms associated with wheat intolerance.

It goes without saying whole wheat contains higher amounts of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals compared to refined white flour. During the processing, the bran and germ portions of the wheat kernel are removed leaving the endosperm. The presence of wheat bran gives whole wheat a darker colour and generally a courser texture.

Meanwhile, white flour can be bleached to give a more appealing whiter texture. White flour generally contains more gluten than whole wheat flour.

Sourdough bread is generally tolerated better by wheat sensitive individuals because the fermentation process breaks down some of the gluten proteins.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Doug Lobay is a practicing naturopathic physician in Kelowna, British Columbia.

He graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the University of British Columbia in 1987 and then attended Bastyr College of Natural Health Sciences in Seattle, Washington, where graduated with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine degree in 1991. While attending Bastyr College, he began to research the scientific basis of naturopathic medicine. 

He was surprised to find many of the current major medical journals abounded with scientific information on the use of diet, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal medicines.

Doug is a member of the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia and has practiced as naturopathic family physician for more than 30 years.  He maintains a busy practice in Kelowna where he sees a wide age range of patients with various ailments.

He focuses on dietary modification, allergy testing, nutritional assessments, supplement recommendation for optimal health, various physical therapy modalities, various intravenous therapies including chelation therapy.

An avid writer, he has written seven books on various aspects of naturopathic medicine that are available on Amazon and was also a long-time medical contributor to the Townsend Letter journal for doctors and patients, where many of his articles are available to view on-line. He has also given numerous lectures, talks and has taught various courses on natural medicine.

Doug enjoys research, writing and teaching others about the virtues of natural health and good nutrition. When not working, he enjoys cycling, hiking, hockey, skiing, swimming, tennis and playing guitar.

If you have any further questions or comments, you can contact Dr. Lobay at 250-860-7622 or [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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