Wheat has been used as a base of human foods for centuries. While there are many beneficial properties relating wheat-fiber, many individuals experience problems with the ingestion of wheat ranging from intestinal upset to allergic reactions. But now a new danger has emerged, that of wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) and its negative effects upon human health.
Scientists have long known that chronic degenerative and inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are most frequently prevalent in those populations who regularly consume wheat products. Wheat products, especially those processed products most often offered for sale in industrialized countries, contain lectins. Lectins are proteins within the wheat product that bind sugars together. These lectins can bind to the membranes of other substances, and produce toxic results. In fact, an August, 1998 study published in the British Journal of Cancer discussed the suspected ties between wheat germ agglutinin and pancreatic cancer, and found a very strong potential link.
Lectins are tiny and tough, as well as very resistant to breakdown. Since our bodies do not conduct an effective job of breaking these down into smaller pieces that can then eliminated, the levels of lectin accccumulate in our bodies over time. This can cause issues if the lectins block absorption of nutrients by our bodies. Other dangers of lectins within wheat products may include the promotion of inflammation, particularly in the gut and digestive tracts, overproduction of white blood cells, promotion of cell apotosis, or cell death, and neurotoxicity.
The negative effects of grain lectins have just begun to be documented, but some of them include a link to allergies, arthritis (both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis), diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, Crohn's disease, colitis, multiple sclerosis, and several types of cancer. All of these conditions are notably higher in industrialized countries where individuals consume more processed wheat products.
The human intestinal tract is lined with tiny, fingerlike villi, which help us absorb nutrition from food as it is consumed. The gluten from wheat products can interfere with the villi's work, slowing the absorption of nutrients and allowing accumulation of more waste products than normal. This can leave us feeling bloated and sluggish. If you suffer from some of these symptoms, try eliminating wheat from your diet for a week, and then have one serving, either in a sandwich, pasta or other food; this can provide a concept of whether you may be sensitive to wheat.
If your symptoms suddenly reappear, you may have sensitivity to wheat, if not an outright allergy or intolerance. Even people who show no intolerance should consider limiting their take of wheat. The villi in the intestines regenerate in approximately 72 hours, so if wheat consumption is limited to once every 3 days or so, the body should have time to recover from the first round of wheat, and minimal disruption to the digestive system should occur.
An interesting preliminary finding is that people who have been using NSAID pain relievers over a continued period of time may be at even greater risk from WGA, because the NSAIDs increase intestinal permeability, potentially increasing the absorption of WGA, which can increase inflammation. That can cause an individual to feel poorly, leading him or her to take more NSAIDs, and the cycle continues. Until more is known about this connection, the use of NSAIDs and wheat products together should be undertaken with caution.