When you think of wheat, protein is probably not your first association.
But did you know that this seemingly healthy food actually has the capability to produce no less than 23,788 different proteins (1)?
That’s right, wheat (Triticumestivum) is actually the by-product of three separate ancestor plants that united to form one plant. As a result, it has a minimum of 6 sets of chromosomes.
So, why is this an issue? After all, protein is a good thing, right?
Well, according to a number of studies, gluten (the main protein in wheat) can cause severe immune responses in a large number of the population. This protein is hard to digest, and when left in your gut and intestines, your body treats it like a foreign invader and launches an attack.
The issue, however, is that your body not only attacks these proteins, but it also attacks your digestive wall, resulting in a whole host of issues, including leaky gut syndrome (2). This autoimmune response is also the basis of another disease, celiac disease (CD), which can be very serious if left untreated (3).
An Inseparable Bond
Gluten is actually the Latin name for “glue,” which, essentially, means a sticky, gooey substance that holds things together.
The reality is, however, that the bonds created by gluten are the same, rock-solid sulfur-based bonds that you find in both human hair and vulcanized rubber! As you can imagine, this makes it nearly impossible for your digestive system to break these down, hence why your immune system goes on the attack (4,5).
While experts estimate that celiac disease affects about 1 percent of the population, some researchers suggest that 20-30 percent of the world’s population actually have a genetic susceptibility to celiac disease based on a specific chromosome (6,7).
What is more disturbing, however, is that beyond those who are actually given a concrete diagnosis, a growing number of other people are believed to be “sensitive” to gluten and experiencing symptoms as a result. In developed countries, specifically, researchers estimate that 83 percent of sufferers remain undiagnosed, typically because they have “non-classic,” or even minimal complaints (8,9).
For those who are not diagnosed with celiac disease, the ongoing issues can still become serious, and often more so because they are undiagnosed and thus untreated.
Studies clearly show that gluten can damage your intestinal lining and cause symptoms such as pain, neurological disorders, nutrient deficiencies, anemia, nausea, skin rashes, depression, bloating, stool inconsistencies, chronic fatigue and exhaustion, plus a long list of other issues (10,11, 12, 13).
In fact, there are at least 200 scientifically proven health conditions and/or adverse health effects associated with wheat consumption according to GreenMedInfo (14).
One of the most disturbing issues only beginning to be examined by science, however, is the effect gluten can have on your brain!
The Gluten/Brain Connection
It’s hard to imagine that something as seemingly innocuous as wheat can literally make you crazy, or worse.
Science, however, has irrefutably shown there is a connection between your brain and your enteric nervous system, which is essentially like the brain of your digestive system. Because of this, researchers began to look at how gluten’s proven effects on your immune response and nutrient absorption can also affect your brain.
To say the results are terrifying is an understatement!
Gluten and Cerebellar Ataxia
You may have heard of a condition known as cerebellar ataxia, which is essentially caused by tiny lesions in the cerebellum, the part of your brain that controls motor functions. What may come as a surprise is that one form of this disease may actually be caused by or at the very least, exacerbated by gluten consumption.
This very serious condition called “gluten ataxia,” occurs when your immune system attacks your brain, similar to how it attacks your gut. Symptoms of gluten ataxia typically relate to your body’s ability to control muscular coordination. They include such things as dizziness, clumsiness, fatigue, difficulty speaking and swallowing, muscular tremors, abnormal gait or difficulty walking, nausea, and vomiting; all of which are also caused by head trauma or injury (15).
Right now, there are more than enough studies to show there is a positive link between gluten, gluten sensitivity, and cerebellar ataxia (16,17,18, 19). The first controlled study ever done further proved this connection when patients significantly improved after they were put on a gluten-free diet (20).
Gluten and Schizophrenia
Another scary disease caused by gluten consumption is schizophrenia.
This very serious mental disorder typically afflicts between 0.3-0.7 percent of the population (21).
Conventional medicine will agree that “neuroimaging studies do show differences in the brain structure and central nervous system of people with schizophrenia,” (22). Yet it does not often look at gluten as the culprit, despite the fact there are very strong statistical links between celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and schizophrenia. In fact, many studies show a positive correlation between gluten antibodies in the bloodstream and schizophrenia (23,24, 25, 26, 27).
Further, there is a reliable controlled study, as well as numerous case reports, that clearly show some schizophrenic patients see improvement on a gluten-free diet (28,29, 30, 31). While not all of these patients improve significantly, there is enough evidence to show gluten should be removed from their diets.
Gluten And Headache: Your Brain On Grain
While the two previous conditions should be enough to sway you to ditch wheat forever, there are a variety of other brain disorders and conditions that researchers believe are associated with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, including autism and epilepsy (32,33, 34, 35)!
MR imaging (MRIs) also shows that people suffering from celiac disease have significant brain abnormalities, particularly those who suffer from headaches and migraines, an all too common complaint from people with CD (36).
Researchers have also looked at things such as immune system activation and the “increased ability for toxins and pathogens to enter your blood stream.” This was proven to be caused by gluten consumption, and they positively determined there is a real connection to this condition and mental illness (37).
As well, in some cases where brain disorders are a result of a loss of brain matter, the adoption of a gluten-free diet has also been show to help.
While wheat or gluten are not always directly shown to cause all of the above conditions, there is enough evidence, according to Psychology Today, to suggest that gluten may be a contributing factor and thus, should be avoided (38).
The mere fact that researchers are even studying the link between wheat, gluten, and mental illness and brain disease, let alone the other 200 issues it is shown to cause, should be enough to give anyone pause. It may be time to put down the bread and explore other grains.