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Wheat Problems: Celiac, Gluten Sensitivity, and Roundup

man standing in a wheat field
December 18, 2014 (Updated: August 4, 2021)
Lily Moran

I’m sure you’ve noticed a growing number of products in the supermarket advertised as “gluten free.” Maybe you think the whole “gluten is bad” issue is silly for anyone who doesn’t have celiac disease.

People have been eating wheat for centuries. How could gluten—a protein that’s always been part of wheat—suddenly be bad for us?

Before getting into the details, let me say right up front—I wouldn’t be writing this if I thought wheat was harmless. Even if you don’t have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, I recommend avoiding wheat unless it’s organically grown.

Here’s why: You’re putting your health at serious risk, and in this case, gluten is not the only problem. Let’s take a look at why conventionally grown wheat is best avoided.

An estimated 5 percent of Americans suffer from gluten intolerance, say experts. That means approximately 15 million people in this country could be suffering needlessly and have no clue as to the cause.

Signs of gluten intolerance are shared by other conditions, so it’s not always easy to recognize. For example, symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Inflammation
  • Skin rashes
  • Anemia
  • Depression

Now there’s nothing on that list that would tell the average doctor that wheat is the culprit. Food poisoning can cause similar reactions, as can a dozen or so other conditions.

But without a change in diet to avoid gluten and wheat, sensitive individuals just get worse. Eventually, they can end up suffering from nutritional deficiencies, thyroid disease, reproductive problems, kidney failure, and even cancer.

But what if gluten isn’t the problem? Could there be something else going on with wheat that’s causing so many people’s misery?

Yes, says a new study from Boston’s prestigious MIT. The authors reveal how a chemical called glyphosate (the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup), has contaminated our food supply, and is now making people sick.

Nearly all the conventionally grown wheat in this country gets a hearty spray of glyphosate just before it’s harvested. Soon after, the wheat plant dies, the wheat berries expand, and farmers enjoy a larger, easier harvest. Good news for farmers, bad news for everyone else.

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As the use of glyphosate on wheat crops has become commonplace, the number of people suffering from celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and irritable bowel syndrome has grown.

Here’s a partial list of the health effects the study authors linked to glyphosate:

  • Hormone imbalances due to disruption of the endocrine system
  • Breakdown in intestinal wall junctions, leading to leaky gut
  • Vitamin and mineral depletion
  • Reduced detoxification abilities in the liver
  • Difficulty maintaining properly balanced intestinal bacteria

On the surface, those consequences may not seem so terrible. But the truth is, some of these effects can be devastating. Hormone imbalances caused by glyphosate, for example, have been linked to low testosterone and sperm count. For someone hoping to start a family, that can spell doom.

Similarly, maintaining a tight fit in your intestinal wall junctions is extremely important. Otherwise, you’re at risk for developing a condition known as “leaky gut.” When that happens, nutrients pass through your body without being absorbed, putting you in danger of malnutrition.

And more recently, researchers in a second study have discovered that glyphosate could be causing life-threatening heart arrhythmias, too.

If you’ve tried to avoid wheat or gluten in the past, you know how challenging that can be. Like sugar, wheat and gluten are “stealth” ingredients in many foods, including things like soup and salad dressing.

So my first piece of advice is to eat organic whenever possible. Organic foods are grown without chemical herbicides, like Roundup and glyphosate.

Second, if you don’t already, please cook as much of your own food as possible. Skip prepared and processed foods, many of which contain added wheat and hidden gluten.

Instead, focus on vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and low-fat dairy, along with non-gluten grains (rice, quinoa). I’ve seen patients turn their health around in a matter of days after going wheat and gluten free.

It may seem hard to believe, but wheat is no longer the staff of life. You may not like to hear it, but as a doctor, I think it’s important to provide you with information you can use to reclaim the good health you’re entitled to. Giving up certain foods might seem like a chore. But it’s a small price to pay for your wellbeing.

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