Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity May Not be the Real Problem With Grains After All

Field of Wheat

By Catherine Haug, Thanksgiving, November 22, 2018 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Many Americans are pursuing a gluten-free diet to relieve/avoid gut issues. While that is very very important for those with Celiac disease (an auto-immune disorder), it may not be the best healthful solution for those with “gluten sensitivity.”

What is gluten? And if it is not the problem with non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, what is causing the trouble with grains?

What is gluten?

Gluten is a 2-protein complex that, combined with certain starches, comprise a stored complex in the whole, un-germinated grain called “endosperm” (the part that is ground into white flour). In the various types of wheat, those two proteins are called gliadin and glutenin. The other true grains (rye, barley and oat)  have different proteins in their gluten complexes. (1)

Once the grain begins the germination process, the endosperm begins to break down and the structures of those proteins change to become nourishing proteins for the growing sprout. For baking, gluten is the part of wheat that supports a rise in dough, either in presence of yeasts or acidified baking soda (or baking powder).

It has been hypothesized that glutens contain an amino acid sequence that is also present in known allergens, a situation called “biological mimicry.” If your immune system knows that sequence as “bad,” it goes into attack mode when it is found in proteins such as gluten. Many believe that “gluten sensitivity” is a result of the immune-system’s attack on gluten.

But no one has yet been able to identify the problematic amino acid sequence. So, what if that hypothesis were wrong? What if gluten is not a problem for non-Celiacs; what if there’s something else in the grain that causes the digestive discomfort?  What if that something were toxic herbicides like glyphosate (in Roundup)? What if avoiding grains does more harm than good?

The Glyphosate Question

Here’s some of the evidence about glyphosate in grains:

  • Commercial grains are high in glyphosate (Roundup) contamination.
  • Our American diets in general are high in glyphosate, even if we only eat Organic, because of drift and other issues.
  • Glyphosate is a patented antibiotic, so when it comes in your food, it messes with your gut microbiome, making you reactive to many foods that are otherwise good for you.
  • Europeans – where glyphosate is banned – do not have the high levels of gluten-sensitive people that are seen in North America.

Why is glyphosate a problem with wheat, when GMO wheat has not been approved in the US? Drift is one contributor (glyphosate sprayed on nearby GMO crops can drift on the wind to settle on non-GMO crops). But the main contributor is that most commercial grain farmers (not Organic) spray glyphosate on their grain crops (especially wheat and oat) to kill them before harvest. Why? because the dead plants dry faster, and grains should not be harvested until they have dried. Once the toxin is sprayed on the plant, it is taken up by the plant and distributed to all parts, including the seeds (grains). Recent studies on cereal products (breakfast cereals like Cheerios and Quaker Oats) have very high levels of glyphosate.  See Newsweek article (2) and Natural News article by Mike Adams (3) for more.

Wheat Shocks along Holt Dr., 1940s (Photo used with permission)

Before invention of the combine, grains were desiccated (dried) in a different, more artful way, as shown in the photo, left (4). First the grain stalks were cut from the ground, then bound into “shocks” and positioned with other shocks to form tee-pees in the grain field, so they could dry. Once they were dry, the grain seeds were separated from the stalks.

However, this method provided another benefit as well. Until they were thoroughly dried, the grain seeds were exposed to moisture that stimulated germination of the seed. This resulted in partial breakdown of the toxic lectins, and improved nutrition of the grain.

The Science of Short Term vs Long Term Studies

Most of the gluten-free recommendations for non-Celiacs are result of short-term studies.  But now there are some longer-term studies that show that people who avoid gluten due to non-Celiac sensitivities have worse health outcomes in the long term than those who do not avoid gluten. (what follows is mostly from an article by Dr. Allen Christianson (5),  but I’ve added my own comments as well).
Non-celiac populations that avoid gluten:
  • Have higher risk factors for diabetes
  • Greater tendencies toward weight gain
  • More risk of cardiovascular disease

One contributor to the increased health issues of non-Celiac gluten-free people, is that people still want breads, cereals and other grain foods, so they eat foods made with gluten-free flour, most of which are high in starches and are easily broken down into simple sugars in the gut and then are absorbed into the blood where they raise blood sugar. This may lead to insulin sensitivity which is the precursor to type-2 diabetes.

But that is probably not the biggest issue in these long-term studies. Instead, gluten-free people were consuming less whole grains, and whole grains have very important nutrients not found in processed grains or other foods.

One thing that has long bothered me is the attack on whole grains in our culture. After all, white flours have only been around since the late 1800s. Prior to that, people only had whole grain flours. Eating breads goes back to the early days of human civilization – as recorded in the Bible. However, those breads were most likely sourdough whole grain bread, because baker’s yeast had not yet been created, and humans had not yet figured out how to separate the endosperm from the bran and germ of the grain (endosperm is what is ground into white flour).

Eating the intact whole grain – such as in porridge or side-dishes – is far more beneficial than the processed (ground) grain. Intact whole grains include rice, buckwheat, oats, wheat berries, quinoa and amaranth, to name a few. However, some of these grains are not healthful for those with Celiac (wheat berries, and oats that are processed where wheat is also processed).

I encourage you to check out the referenced articles.


  3. (article by Mike Adams)
  4. Bigfork Art and Cultural Center, with permission by Director M. Forbes (Photo of Wheat Shocks)
  5. by Dr Alan Christianson

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