Are Grains Really Dangerous to Our Health?

By Brane Žilavec, May 2015

3. Is Coeliac Disease Just the Tip of A Hidden Gluten Pandemic?

There is no question that in the present time many people are suffering from various forms of gluten intolerance (see The Spectrum of Gluten Intolerance in Appendix 1). However, when we try to figure out what the main cause is things are not so simple – even when we read through the selected books by anti-grain health experts. In Wheat Belly it is explained that "the term 'gluten' encompasses two primary families of proteins, the gliadins and the glutenins. The gliadins, the protein group that most vigorously triggers the immune response in coeliac disease, has three subtypes: α/β-gliadins, ϒ-gliadins and ω-gliadins. Like amylopectin, glutenins are large repeating structures, or polymers, of more basic structures. The strength of dough is due to the large polymeric glutenins, a genetically programmed characteristic purposefully selected by plant breeders.

Gluten from one wheat strain can be quite different in structure from that of another strain. The gluten proteins produced by einkorn wheat, for example, are distinct from the gluten proteins of emmer, which are, in turn, different from the gluten proteins of Triticum aestivum. Because fourteen-chromosome einkorn, containing the so-called A genome, has the smallest chromo­somal set, it codes for the fewest number and variety of glutens. Twenty-eight-chromosome emmer, containing the A genome with the added B genome, codes for a larger variety of gluten. Forty-two-chromosome Triticum aestivum, with the A, B and D genomes, has the greatest gluten variety, even before any human manipula­tion of its breeding. Hybridisation efforts of the past fifty years have generated numerous additional changes in gluten-coding genes in Triticum aestivum, most of them purposeful modifications of the D genome that confer baking and aesthetic characteristics on flour. Indeed, genes located in the D genome are those most fre­quently pinpointed as the source of the glutens that trigger coeliac disease. It is therefore the D genome of modern Triticum aestivum that, having been the focus of all manner of genetic shenanigans by plant geneticists, has accumulated substantial change in geneti­cally determined characteristics of gluten proteins. It is also poten­tially the source for many of the odd health phenomena experienced by consuming humans.

Gluten isn't the only potential villain lurking in wheat flour. Beyond gluten, the other 20 per cent or so of nongluten pro­teins in wheat include albumins, prolamins and globulins, each of which can also vary from strain to strain. In total, there are more than a thousand other proteins that are meant to serve such func­tions as protecting the grain from pathogens, providing water resistance and providing reproductive functions. There are agglutinins, peroxidases, α-amylases, serpins and acyl CoA oxidases, not to mention five forms of glycerinaldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenases, β -purothionin, puroindolines a and b, and starch synthases… As if this protein/enzyme smorgasbord weren't enough, food manufacturers have also turned to fungal enzymes, such as cellulases, glucoamylases, xylanases and β-xylosidases, to enhance leav­ening and texture in wheat products. Many bakers also add soya flour to their dough to enhance mixing and whiteness, introducing yet another collection of proteins and enzymes." [1]

Even if we stay with wheat it is more than obvious that things are rather complicated. In The Dark Side of the Wheat this situation is summarized in the following way: "Wheat presents a special case insofar as wild and selective breeding has produced variations which include up to six sets of chromosomes (3x the human genome worth!), capable of generating a massive number of proteins each with a distinct potentiality for antigenicity. Common bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), for instance, has over 23,788 proteins cataloged thus far. In fact, the genome for common bread wheat is actually 6.5 times larger than that of the human genome!" [2]

To this extraordinary complexity in regard to proteins we need to add the fact that "the 20th century's development of widespread consumption of highly processed foods brought with it a dramatic increase in gluten consumption." [3] Gluten is not present only in foods made from grains, "it's one of the most common food additives on the planet." [4] Gluten in the form of a food additive is called 'vital wheat gluten' – that is, "a powdered, concentrated form of the gluten that is found naturally in all bread. It is made by washing wheat flour with water until the starches dissolve. Bakers add extra gluten to their dough to provide the strength and elasticity necessary for it to endure the often brutal process of commercial mixing. Vital wheat gluten increases shelf life and acts as a binder; because it's so versatile, food companies have added it not only to bread but to pastas, snacks, cereals, and crackers, and as a thickener in hundreds of foods and even in some cosmetics." [5]

These are just some facts in relation to gluten and wheat. To this we need to add the thousands upon thousands of proteins found in other foods people are consuming. And foods don't contain just proteins but also numerous carbohydrates, fats, trace minerals and phytochemicals – even if we eat food without any additives. When we eat "we're dealing not just with three or so different nutrients affecting each other and the various systems of the body; we're talking about all the active elements of a whole food. We simply cannot know how many kinds of chemicals are consumed in a single morsel of food or at a single meal of during the course of a day. Hundreds of thousands? Millions? The complexity increases virtually without limit." [6]

Knowing this and knowing how enormously complex the human organism is, one just wonders how on earth any scientist or medical doctor can claim that gluten is the main culprit. There are simply too many factors involved to make final statements about gluten, or gliadin, or any other ingredients of the grains as the 'main culprit' for a host of modern illnesses. Without proper understanding of the nature of food intolerances – which is evidently lacking in the literature of anti-gain health experts (see the last chapter) – they can easily succumb to such extreme opinions as this: "In New Perspectives On Celiac Disease & Wheat Intolerance, I (Sayer Ji) have proposed that CD (celiac disease) be viewed not as a rare 'genetically determined' disorder, but as an extreme example of our body's communicating to us a once universal, species-specific affliction: severe intolerance to wheat. CD reflects how profoundly our diet has diverged from what was, until only recently, a grain-free diet and even more recently, a wheat-free one. We are so profoundly distanced from that dramatic Neolithic transition in cultural time that 'missing is any sense that anything is missing'. The body, on the other hand, cannot help but remember a time when cereal grains were alien to the diet because in biological time, it was only moments ago... If we view CD not as an unhealthy response to a healthy food, but as a healthy response to an unhealthy food, classical CD symptoms like diarrhea may make more sense. Diarrhea can be the body's way of reducing the duration of toxic or pathogenic exposure, and villous atrophy the body's way of preventing the absorption. Therefore, these symptoms might be considered the systemic effects of chronic exposure to wheat." [7]

So now the author of The Dark Side of the Wheat is suggesting that all people are not genetically adapted to eat wheat. He is not saying that is something is wrong with the modern wheat and food products made from it, but with the wheat per se, because our bodies are still longing for the grain-free diet of our ancestral hunter-gatherers. Here we have an example of an absurd conclusion that wheat and other grains are not suitable food for human beings, in spite of the fact that they were suitable for the last ten to fifteen thousand years. The escalation of gluten intolerance is historically a very recent phenomenon – and for that reason we should ask what has happened in last century that had contributed to this.

"A recent study published in the July issue of the journal Gastroenterology shows quite conclusively that the actual incidence of celiac disease has grown about 400% since the early 1950s. In the study, blood samples drawn at Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming from 1948 to 1954 were compared to two sets of blood samples from people living in Minnesota today: one group matching the ages of the Wyoming subjects at the time of their blood-drawing, and a second group whose birth years matched the original subjects. Compared to the samples drawn sixty years ago, blood from the birth-year group was four times as likely to contain an antibody produced by celiacs, while blood from the younger, age-matched group was 4.5 times likelier." [8] Similarly another "research has found a fourfold increase in the rate of diagnosed cases of celiac disease in the United Kingdom over the past two decades, but it still appears that three quarters of people with celiac disease remain undiagnosed." [9]

Why would the bodies of people living in United States and United Kingdom start to increasingly crave for the long gone diet of their remote ancestors now, and not a few centuries or few millennia ago, when these 'memories' were still relatively fresh? It doesn't make sense. [10] But this is not an isolated example of the way of argumentation based on a mixture of some facts with the addition of conjectures and wishful thinking.

So instead of seeing the coeliac disease for what it is – a disease with multiple causes – the fault is assigned solely to wheat per se. With such an extreme example of reductionism it is then easy to make the next step and say: "I (Sayer Ji) encourage everyone to see celiac disease not as a condition alien to our own. Rather, the celiac disease condition gives us a glimpse of how profoundly wheat may distort and disfigure our health if we continue to expose ourselves to its ill effects. I hope this article (The Dark Side of the Wheat) will provide inspiration for non-celiacs to try a wheat free diet and judge for themselves if it is really worth eliminating." [11]

And I hope that members of the anti-grain movement will start to take seriously their own discoveries and voices of other scientists who are revealing the disturbing facts about the modern wheat production. For example, "the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, has dramatically risen over the past 15 years, right in step with the use of genetically engineered crops. According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, glyphosate appears to be strongly correlated with the rise in celiac disease… Dr. Seneff's research reveals that when it comes to gluten intolerance and celiac disease, the problem actually doesn't stem from genetically modified organisms. Rather it's related to the use of glyphosate just before the harvesting of many of the non-organic wheat crops, in order to reduce the amount of residue that needs to be cleared and to get a head start on next year's weeds… According to Dr. Seneff, desiccating non-organic wheat crops with glyphosate just before harvest came in vogue about 15 years ago. Interestingly enough, when you expose wheat to a toxic chemical like glyphosate, it actually releases more seeds… This results in slightly greater yield, and the glyphosate also kills rye grass, a major weed problem for wheat growers that is resistant to many other herbicides… So, most of the non-organic wheat supply is now contaminated with glyphosate. A large percentage of processed foods are made from wheat, and this helps explain the explosion of celiac disease and other gut dysfunction." [12]

Here we have one shocking practice of modern grain production which is very likely contributing to the increase of various forms of gluten intolerance. There are many more things we do to the grains, especially when it comes to the more or less hidden technologies of food processing. If all these impacts were taken seriously by the members of anti-grain movement, then they would not persist with one-sided blame on gluten. Instead they would rather ask: Should we search for the hidden causes behind the modern increase of gluten intolerance in what people do with grains before they appear on our plates?


  1. William Davis, MD, Wheat Belly, Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health, Harper Thorsons, London, 2014
  2. Sayer Ji, The Dark Side of the Wheat, A Critical Appraisal of the Role of Wheat in Human Disease,
  3. James Braly, MD, Ron Hoggan, MA, Dangerous Grains, Why Gluten Cereal Grains May Be Hazardous to Your Health, Avery, New York, 2002
  4. Dr David Perlmutter, Grain Brain, The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs and Sugar – Your Brain's Silent Killers, Yellow Kite Books, London, 2014
  5. Michael Specter, Against the Grain – Should you go gluten-free?
  6. T. Colin Campbell, PhD with Howard Jacobson, PhD, Whole – Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, BenBella Books, USA, 2014
  7. See note 2
  8. Celiac Disease Increases Fourfold, July 8, 2009
  9. Fourfold Increase in Celiac Disease in the UK, 12.05.2014
  10. It would make sense if the increase of coeliac disease were found only among the American native population, because for them wheat is the late-comer, as is maize for Europeans. Though there is no racial distinction mentioned in both studies, we can assume that this increase includes people of European origin for the simple reason that they constitute the majority of people living in the USA and the UK.
  11. See note 2
  12. Dr Mercola, Why the Use of Glyphosate in Wheat Has Radically Increased Celiac Disease, 14.09.2014