“That baguette may look innocent, but it’s a lot harder on the joints than you think.” –Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly
Is your sandwich sabotaging your joints, and your morning toast taxing your knees?
Many health experts now claim that wheat contributes to everything from arthritis to dowager’s hump, and link wheat consumption to many of the “normal” aspects of ageing, including wrinkles.
So how bad is wheat, and can it really be causing your joint pain?
From Celiac to Arthritis: A brief history of wheat
In the past, it was relatively rare to be diagnosed with Celiac disease. Today, it seems as if every second person you know either has Celiac, or is sensitive or intolerant to gluten.
For thousands of years, humans have been eating various types of wheat without obvious problems, so what’s changed?
First, the grain mill was invented. Before that, large stones ground all the parts of the wheat kernel into small pieces. The bran, germ, and endosperm were mixed together, creating highly nutritious flour. However, the flour went rancid quickly, and bugs and rodents were attracted to the easily accessible nutrients.
The newly-invented grain mill was able to separate wheat from most of the protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. This gave us affordable white flour with a long shelf life. It also eliminated the pest problem, as animals no longer attacked food that lacked nutrients.
More recently, high-yield forms of wheat were genetically engineered using chemicals to induce mutations in wheat seeds. These modern grains bear little resemblance to the healthy wheat our ancestors consumed.
How is modern wheat affecting our health, and especially our joints?
1. Wheat triggers an autoimmune response: William Davis, in his book, Wheat Belly, says: The proteins of grains, including gliadin in wheat, initiate the small intestinal process that gets the fires of autoimmunity burning and trigger an immune response. This means that proteins in grains are the first steps in initiating autoimmunity.
Susceptibility to autoimmune disease can be determined by genetic patterns, but in a staggering proportion of cases, the initiating event boils down to a single factor: consumption of grains. The cumulative damage makes the cartilage brittle and unyielding, eventually crumbling. Joint inflammation, pain, and destruction result, the hallmarks of arthritis.”1
2. Wheat causes glycation. Wheat through excessive elevations in blood sugar, contributes to a process called glycation. Glycation causes an irreversible modification of proteins in the bloodstream and body tissues, including joints. Cartilage in joints is especially susceptible to glycation as it is long-lived and not capable of reproducing. Once damaged by glycation, the cartilage in joints becomes stiff and brittle, and doesn’t recover, says Dr. Keith R. Holden, summarizing Wheat Belly.2
3. Rheumatoid arthritis corresponds to wheat ingestion. In a JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) article by Henry J. Binder, MD; William M. O’Brien, MD; Howard M. Spiro, MD; J. William Hollingsworth, MD, the authors state a hypothesis:
“The worldwide distribution of rheumatoid arthritis corresponds to the distribution of wheat ingestion. The validity of this theory is strengthened by Shatin’s report that 18 out of 18 patients with rheumatoid arthritis improved on a gluten-free diet, often within two weeks after beginning the dietary restriction of cereal grains.”3
Ready to try going gluten-free?
The idea of breakfast without muffins or cereal, or lunch without a sandwich may seem like a daunting task. What will you eat? But if you suffer from arthritis or joint inflammation, it’s worthwhile experimenting to see if your pain subsides.
Here are some practical steps to going wheat free:
- Concentrate on eating lots of organic vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, grass-fed meats and wild fish, basically the Paleo Diet.
- Cook from scratch, just like your grandmother did. You’ll have control over what you eat, and may find that it actually takes you less time than driving to pick up ready-made food. It can save you money as well.
- Avoid fast food and packaged foods. From frozen dinners to canned soups and bottled salad dressing, wheat often lurks in artificial additives and even some so-called “natural” flavorings, disguised under various names.
- If you are extremely sensitive to gluten, check for traces in places you never suspect, such as in medications and even in lipsticks and lip balms. Although you don’t eat lipstick, just licking your lips can cause reactions in some people.
- If you have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive, you may have to avoid all grains. If you want to see if you can reduce your joint pain, you can switch to ancient wheat varieties such as Einkorn , Farro, Spelt , Red Fife, Triticale , or Kamut . If you don’t get any relief, experiment by eliminating those as well, and see how they affect your joints.
You can also eat grain-like seeds, such as amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa, which are high in protein and gluten free. They are considered some of the most nutritionally complete foods available, and will fill you up so you don’t crave wheat.
Test yourself by going wheat free for at least two weeks. You may be surprised at how much better you feel, and an added bonus is that you will probably lose weight!
1 Wheat Belly Total Health, by William David, MD, pages 274-275
Easy Almond-Meal Muffin Recipe
These muffins make a fabulous, filling and nutritious breakfast or snack.
Ingredients for 1 microwaved muffin
2 tablespoons almond meal
1 whole egg
½ to 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract (to taste)
¼ cup of berries or carob chips (or use shredded carrots)
1 Tsp baking powder
1. Combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl.
2. Add 1 tsp of baking powder.
3. Mix together and pour into a Pyrex measuring cup.
Microwave for 45 seconds to 1minute, or make a bread-pudding by microwaving it for 45 seconds. Enjoy!
Playing Sweet Music by Going Wheat Free
For over 10 years, a 58-year-old classical guitarist had suffered from joint pain and sciatica. In the past 2 years she developed tendonitis in her elbow and wrist. She tried various treatments such as Advil and massage, but nothing provided more than temporary relief.
After much prodding, she agreed to experiment with going gluten and sugar free for a week.
After just one week of eliminating sweet deserts and drinks she felt enough improvement that she decided to continue the experiment. Within two weeks, 95% of her pain had disappeared. She could now play guitar without pain!
An interesting post script is that after 18 months on this program, she ended a bad marriage and noticed that her tolerance for gluten had improved by at least 50%.
Clearly, feeling free and happy has a big impact on the inflammatory process!
– Dr. Robert Hedaya