To understand the wheat belly phenomenon, we first have to understand that the wheat we know today is only distantly related to the einkorn and emmer wheat of our ancestors. This is because wheat has changed drastically in the last 50 years due to human intervention; modern wheat is shorter in height to increase yield, has on average 70% carbohydrate by weight, and lower protein than the einkorn and emmer of the past.
Of the complex carbohydrates in modern wheat, 75% are the chain of branching glucose units called Amylopectin A, and 25% is the linear chain of glucose units, amylose. Amylopectin A is rapidly converted to glucose and absorbed into the blood stream, thus raising blood sugar. In fact Amylopectin A is so readily digested that studies have shown that wheat (whole grain or white) increases blood sugar to a higher level than sucrose. Wheat products elevate blood sugar levels more than virtually any other carbohydrate, including candy bars and soft drinks.
When we trigger high blood sugars repeatedly or over sustained periods of time, more fat accumulation occurs.
According to cardiologist, William Davis, “from a blood sugar standpoint, wheat products are worse than nearly all other foods, skyrocketing blood sugar to levels that rival those of a bull-blown diabetic.” (Wheat Belly, 2011, Rodale Press)
In many commercial horse feeds we find wheat middlings are a common ingredient; does this by-product of wheat manufacturing trigger high blood sugar levels — and wheat belly — in horses? We honestly don’t know, but I am suspicious that this ingredient is not decreasing the inflammation, and big bellies of so many horses.
In my own life, cutting out wheat has been profound. This summer I noticed that my belly was protruding a bit more, and while I cut down on my sweet tooth it made no difference in the size of my belly. I increased the duration of my nightly walks with the dogs, and still my belly didn’t change. But after three weeks of being wheat free, my belly was back to normal, and the arthritis discomfort in my finger joints went away.
Being wheat free is different from being gluten free. Since I have no symptoms of celiac disease, or inflammatory bowel disease, or any auto immune imbalances, it appears I don’t have a problem with gluten. But interestingly enough, after my three weeks of being wheat free, I decided to go gluten free as well, and have to say that I really do feel “lighter” and more energetic; however I must add, that if I do eat a food with gluten, I don’t have a reaction to it. If I eat wheat, I notice that my finger joints start aching hours later.
A study done in Holland, published in Veterinary Quarterly, April 2012, highlights the possibility that some horses may be gluten intolerant (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22489998). Further studies are needed as to the possible relationship in horses of inflammatory small bowel disease (ISBD) and gluten intolerance.
In a study done by NIH, conducted by Dr. Christine Zioudrou, it was discovered that the polypeptides in modern wheat bind to the brain’s morphine receptor, the same receptor to which opiate drugs bind. Dr. Ziodrou and her colleagues named these polypeptides in modern wheat : exorphins (short for exogenous morphine-like compounds); thus distinguishing them from endorphins. These researchers named the dominant polypeptide that crosses the blood brain barrier: gluteomorphin (morphine-like compound from gluten).
Even more interesting is that the opiate-blocking drug Naloxone (used to reverse the action of heroin or any other opiate drug), also blocks gluteomorphin; stopping the binding of wheat exorphins to the morphine receptors in brain cells.
Like many of us, I always thought whole wheat was a good food, and for years I have searched out bakeries that made bread using whole wheat and other grains. Eating wheat made sense to me, it was the food of my European ancestors, it was the food of early civilization. I had no idea that the wheat of Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, the wheat of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the American colonists is not the wheat of today.