Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gluten - The Two Week Challenge

Routinely, I ask new clients to stop eating gluten for 2 weeks, to see what happens. I do this because I know there will be improvements in the client's condition, whatever that may be. 

It's a long story, but fascinating. It has taken me 15 years to put it together in this way. I wanted the truth about wheat, so I began to explore, to pay attention, ask questions and do research. I'm share my conclusions here. I'm not so interested in the current science, biological or physiological technicalities or popular alternative medicine opinions about gluten, grains and diet. I want to know enough to satisfy my curiosity - what happened? I want enough information - no more please - to make an intelligent decision. There is so much information out there masquerading as science. So, I like to piece together my truth, in my own way - from my own experience, and from very selected sources I know I can trust - what ancient cultures did, for one. Why did they consider bread "the staff of life" when today, obviously, it is not? 

My way of presenting is a little rambling, but blunt. This is how I will talk to a client, if I think gluten, or wheat is causing them trouble. If you still want to eat wheat after reading this post, you have a strong will, is all I can say. So, here goes. 

One of my clients had a mother who was 108 years old. This was 10 years ago. Her mother had good cognition, and good memory, even of Haley's Comet at the turn of the last century, and the sinking of the Lusitania etc. So I asked her if she remembered whether wheat kernels were smaller and harder back then, compared to today. She confirmed my suspicion. Yes, they were smaller and harder. And I believe, because the soil was healthier, and the wheat was not "flash grown - quick and big" with artificial fertilizer - that such wheat had more wheat germ oil, more enzymes, more minerals and fiber - it was not just a wad of sticky gluten as wheat kernels are, today. Bread back then was more like the staff of life; today it is like the staff of death. 

Why is it that in every known case of eating disorders, grains are involved - the gluten containing grains? That means wheat, rye, oats and barley. A couple years ago, there was an article about the Inca's in Central America. Up to then, scientists had thought they had a grain - corn based - culture. New evidence indicated this was not the case - instead, they had a diet heavy in seeds, fruits, roots, vegetables, some meat and herbs. Not grains! 

In the 1950's  and 1960's I can remember newspaper headlines that read "University Professor Awarded Nobel Prize for Developing High Protein Strains of Wheat". I remember feeling glad, proud and happy that my country, the USA, was so magnanimous as to want to feed the world, and develop better strains - high protein, what could be better? - of wheat. And the U.S. Government, Universities and Agribusiness were all cooperating to do this - how wonderful!

What I should have thought was this: Hmmm. I wonder if money and profit have anything to do with this? More protein means less minerals, enzymes, fiber and oil. High gluten wheat is quicker and easier to grow with artificial fertilizer, on bad soil. What a coincidence! More profit for the farmer! For the corporations! And the Universities and the US Government share in that money. What grows fast and is puffy and larger than normal - which is how wheat is today - can it be good for us?  Things grown like that rot quickly in the refrigerator. Why would I want to eat grains grown like that? Especially if it is like sticky glue, and without the enzymes and fiber that should be there!  Gosh, I guess they did not really have our health, or feeding the world, in mind. It was all about money. What grows slowly, also has deeper roots, more minerals, better staying power, more fiber, good oil and enzymes.

Today wheat, rye, oats and barley - the four gluten containing grains - are too high in gluten. It is like eating glue - even when you have a bowl of oatmeal. I remember in the 1950's that oatmeal flakes would fall off the spoon one by one. Oatmeal was not engineered back then to be "high gluten" and hence, be like sticky glue when you eat it. That is how oatmeal is, today. 

Well, what is so bad about gluten in the diet? Now, that question gets to the heart. Some three years ago, there was a Time Magazine article concerning wheat allergies, wheat sensitivity. The main point of the article, as I remember it, was that far more people are affected by wheat allergies than Doctors ever suspected. Many people have a sub-clinical allergy or sensitivity to wheat; they won't be diagnosed, yet they suffer. Wheat or gluten intolerance can mean a whole host of unpleasant symptoms, including irritable bowel, poor assimilation of nutrients, nerve damage, neuropathy, inflammation and much more. 

Dr. William Philpott wrote a book some years ago titled Brain Allergies. He is a board certified psychiatrist and internist. In that book he describes what happens if we don't have the digestive power to completely digest gluten - which is a long, sticky and hard to digest molecule. What happens is that the molecule of gluten breaks in half - at a "breaking point". And, can you believe this? Each half of the gluten molecule, according to Dr. Philpott, is one of the most powerful addictive narcotics known to psychiatric science. It turns out that nearly everyone over age 40  or 50 has diminished digestive power. A young child may do fine eating wheat - but you or I? I am over 60, and I certainly cannot eat wheat, without suffering consequences. 

When I learned this, it really got my attention. Wheat - as addictive as any street drug, as addictive as alcohol, as addictive as cigarettes! Why doesn't the world know this? Why? Why, I asked myself, am I still eating wheat? Do I think just because everybody else is eating it, there will be no consequences for me? I am slow to change my ways, you have to knock me over the head. Well, I got knocked on the head by this information.  

Bernard Jensen, DC, the well-known chiropractor, has said that eating products made with white flour will break off the villi of the small intestines, which absorb fine nutrients. So we will then suffer from a form of malnutrition. When we eat glue, and it is not well digested, there has to be consequences. Just another reason not to eat wheat. 

In recent years I have turned to raw food more; I even went two years 100% raw. In the raw food movement, grains are highly discouraged. Raw food people are sensitive souls, that is why they do raw food, and they can feel right away the negative effects from grains.   I ate very little grains for those two years, and felt better than I had ever felt in my life. I've come to trust that I can be happy, healthy and strong without eating grains. It took me time to come to that understanding, since there is so much cultural propaganda to the contrary.  

If  you are young with healthy strong digestion - as is usually the case - your body can break down the gluten into small easily assimilated amino acids. Still, probably, some poorly digested gluten may slip through.  That's probably not so addictive, if at all. That is what is supposed to happen for us, too. But as we age our digestive fire dwindles. So we end up with only those two pieces for each gluten molecule - the narcotics. If you don't believe gluten is addictive, just walk past a bakery, and smell the bread. Can you resist that? It is no accident that bakeries have the vent directed to the sidewalk just outside their shop. 

How to tell if you are addicted to wheat?  Go two weeks with no gluten and see what happens. Also eliminate rye, oats and barley, not just wheat. If you are addicted, you will go through withdrawal pangs just like any other drug addict.  That means headaches, dizziness, uncontrollable cravings, maybe physical weakness, fever alternating with being too cold, cold sweats, and more. I  went through that, and that is why it took me ten years to go off gluten - I had  to do it gradually. You'll have a persistent driving craving for wheat. You'll feel like life is not worth living if you can't have at least a little bite of... cracker.. graham cracker.. toast.. pizza..... french toast... pasta.... oatmeal... rye crackers... barley in soup... soup thickened with wheat ... cake .. cookies ... chips ... pastry .. pie .. sandwiches... pudding... and the list goes on. 

When I worked as a vegetarian cook for 8 years, many years ago, I ended up with aching feet, hands, insomnia and other nerve symptoms due to wheat and soy allergy. Life became unbearable, and I got very concerned. I was still young - how could I live the rest of my life like that? How? Medical diagnosis came up empty, so how did I know it was because of wheat and soy? After I quit that job, I did not eat bread, wheat or soy for about 6 months, and all my symptoms ended. I did not know why, I just knew I was not hungry for those things anymore. Then, when I had my first wheat and soy, the symptoms returned. I can still remember the red, aching, hot throbbing feeling in the bottom of my feet, the next morning as I woke up. I wondered "what did I DO?" and then remembered eating a tofu salad with french bread at a vegan restaurant in Santa Monica. It was the same torturous feeling I had for all those years. It was real torture. I was not about to continue eating wheat or soy. I know from my own experience, that soy also is problematic. I don't need to read any scientific studies to tell me that. 

When I work with new clients, and they have any kind of nerve involvement, which is often the case, I feel the bottom of their feet. I can sense, in half a second, whether their feet have that same kind of hot, red, achy feeling that I once had (I say "red" because that is the color that flashes in my mind). When I feel that, I give them a talk similar to what you are reading, and without fail, they begin to make remarkable improvements - if they do the two week trial. 

One such lady - Jewish - was eating one bagel for breakfast, and one for lunch, with cream cheese, of course. I told her she had to stop, and NOW. At least for two weeks, no bagels - no wheat, no oats, barley or rye! Well, she did it, and she later told me I was a genius - because all her MDs and neurologists had been working for years to try to help her severe neuropathy (and I do mean very severe, her feet were really hot), to no avail. And here I was, with no medical training,  giving her an instant solution, that actually worked. She was not pleased that her doctors had not told her about wheat allergy, to put it mildly!

About 8 years ago I gave a presentation to an Multiple Sclerosis (MS) group in a hospital classroom. On the blackboard, still remaining from last week's class, was written "No gluten - no wheat, oats, rye or barley".  I asked a class member why that was written there. She told me: "The doctor last week who gave us the lecture told us that gluten eats away nerve endings, and and anyone who has MS should not eat any gluten."

Now, I am not a nutritionist, I am not a doctor, not do I pretend to know anything about what they do. But I do like  simple, safe, maybe not easy, protocols that can only be helpful with no downside. Going two weeks with no gluten is one of those things. You can't lose. Even if you are not allergic/addicted to gluten, it is good to know that, and no harm is done. You might even learn to like rice crackers, millet for breakfast instead of oatmeal, and gluten free bread from the local health food store (but I doubt it). There is nothing wrong in all of that. 

My opinion? The USA and much of the world is addicted to wheat. I myself was addicted to wheat for many years, but did not know it.  Wheat addiction is the trigger for so many other compulsive behaviors around eating and even mental/emotional problems - that has been my experience, and also, so I am told by a member of Overeater's Anonymous who does mentoring for new members of that group - that is their experience as well. She tells me a new member in her group must agree not to eat wheat for two weeks, before being admitted to the group. 

It took me ten years to break my wheat addiction. I could not imagine life without it. I was raised with wheat every day, and I lived for my daily fix - either bread, waffles, pancakes, toast, oatmeal, donuts, pizza, sandwiches, pasta, crackers, cake, pie or at least graham crackers. One of those things was my first thought when I woke up, and it was the motivation for me to live life. Without my gluten fix, what was the purpose of even living? Life was exciting with wheat, without wheat, life was boring and not worth living. I was really addicted, but I did not have a clue. 

I could not quit cold turkey. First, I made a switch to gluten-free bread. That was traumatic. The stuff tasted OK, but it was not anything like REAL bread. It tasted flat and empty. Of course it did, it was not feeding my addiction.  It took a lot of will power. But I stuck with it. Then I made a resolve not to bring gluten, especially bread, into my apartment. Never. Instead, when I was out and about, I could eat wheat - like a sandwich or piece of pizza. I went on like that for years. Still I had trouble with my nerves. So, I was driven to take more steps. I began to eat millet for cereal instead of oatmeal. I stopped eating bread, even outside the home, except for once or twice a month. After ten years of that, more or less, I made the jump to no wheat. I got tremendous relief in my digestion, in my nerve pains, in my general well-being.

Wheat is so pervasive today, anybody who has any trouble with their body, of any kind whatsoever, should try going without wheat and gluten for 2 weeks - just to see if there is any improvement, and to see whether one is addicted. In the sanskrit language, derived from ancient Vedic India, there is one word that means both allergy and addiction. Apparently they believed that allergies and addictions always went together. What we eat too much of, that we become allergic to.  

Today, I have no more such nerve symptoms, my digestion has improved so much that I can again eat wheat. But, I only do so occasionally. I am very cautious. I never seek it out. Yes, I get careless, and I'll have a sandwich now and then - but I will certainly suffer for it!  I'll go to the health food store, and want some chocolate crackers. I'll find the gluten-free brand, and eat them, and enjoy them. I have come to not miss the wheat. It is truly gone as a controlling force in my life. 

Because of my experience, and my distrust of anything I read in the popular press (which trivializes many serious issues, and confuses with "scientific" jargon and studies the clear message that we should understand about many things, wheat included - stop eating it!!) especially from magazines or news outlets that take advertising dollars from agribusiness or others who may profit from people getting addicted to wheat - I am very blunt, like I am here, when I talk to my clients about going two weeks without wheat  or gluten: "see what happens". 

A strange thing. When I was in Italy some years ago, I could eat their white bread with no trouble. And, I did that every day for two weeks. It was wonderful for breakfast, with buffalo mozzarella cheese and olive oil - perhaps with a little garlic rubbed on. When I came back to America, I searched high and low in LA for bread like that, but could not find it. American bread, by comparison, was heavy, oily, over-salted and too tough to chew. 

To this day, I do not know why bread in Italy comes "penalty free" while bread in America comes heavily laden with consequences. One Italian-American told me this is the reason: "In Italy the wheat goes from the farmer to the baker. In America, it goes from the farmer to the wholesaler. Here, you store grains for many months, before it goes to the baker. So, they have to spray anti-fungals, to prevent mold; plus the bread here has preservatives - in Italy bread is purchased from the local bakery every morning. It is a tradition. No preservatives are needed."  I suspect that American bread - laced with unwholesome chemicals - is less digestible, and therefore the gluten becomes a problem for the body. 

Two weeks without bread or gluten - if you try it, you may learn something about yourself. 



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve,
What a great post on gluten this is!!
Did you know that approx1/3 of children in Italy are now officially gluten intolerant and you can now get gluten free pasta in most restaurants there!
However, I think one of the reasons that gluten in bread in Europe is less aggravating to the gut than it is in the US ( my experience also) is that they have tried to prevent SuperGluten GMO wheat from coming into their country. At this point all wheat in the US is contaminated with GMO supergluten, so we no longer are getting just regular gluten. Supergluten aggravates everyones guts, not just those with allergies. Recently a shipment of normal wheat seeds that we sent to china was rejected because even though it was just supposed to be regular gluten, it was all contaminated and supergluten.
I don't know if you have noticed, but it seems to me that a lot more people are being reactive to wheat, and I think the supergluten is the reason.
Take care,