Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Whole Truth about Whole Grains

Inflammation is the fire that burns inside us damaging our cells, our cardiovascular systems, our brains, and our immune systems.  Inflammation is a necessary evil pruning dead or dying cells, fighting infections, and healing wounds.  Gone unchecked, however, inflammation is associated with almost every disease and condition known to man including chronic pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, sinusitis, allergies, acne, asthma, autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, hypertension, depression, insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes), diabetes and stroke.

Diet is the leading culprit when it comes to inflammation. It is discouraging to discover that so many foods are pro-inflammatory, leaving you wondering what to eat. More discouraging is suffering from many of the numerous diseases and conditions associated with inflammation discussed above.  We need to be careful about consuming pro-inflammatory foods and not take for granted what appears to be current good health. The fewer inflammatory foods we eat, the less inflammation we will have. With every bite, we either increase or reduce inflammation. The problem is most inflammatory diseases develop slowly and without symptoms until it is too late.

Today, let’s talk about grains.  Consider the fact that grains have been consumed for a short period of man’s time on earth. The use of grain products for food has existed for only a (relatively) brief 10,000 years out of the 2 million years in the history of early and modern man. Grains, refined sugar, partially hydrogenated fats, vegetable & seed oils were not consumed for nearly 2 million years.  Humans are genetically adapted to eat fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish, fowl and meat; foods not related to any chronic disease.
Our genetic code is not that different from our predecessors' but our food chain most definitely is. After grains were adopted as a staple food that replaced animal proteins a number of negative health outcomes occurred including the following: 

• Increased infant mortality
• Reduced lifespan
• Increases in infectious
• Increase in iron deficiency
• Increased number of
   dental cavities and
   enamel defects
• Increased osteoporosis
   and other bone mineral disorders

GLUTEN - Many different biochemical components make grains inflammatory. The most notorious is a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley, barley malt, semolina, spelt, kamut, cous cous and possibly oats (thought there is some debate about this). Gluten may cause many symptoms and conditions ranging from Celiac Disease to more common conditions such as headaches. In a 1992 study published in the journal Gut, researchers randomly selected 200 “disease-free” individuals to assess gluten antibody levels. 15% of the subjects were severely affected by gluten and suffered from headaches, chronic fatigue, regular digestive complaints, anemic changes and showed no signs of having celiac disease.  I find this approximate number to be true in my clinical practice as well. Brought to the current population of the United States, 46,000,000 people experience negative effects associated with gluten.

LECTIN - all grains and legumes (beans, lentils, soy) contain sugar proteins known as lectins that can cause digestive system inflammation.  While details are not known, researchers from the Journal of Nutritional Medicine state that, “there is now abundant evidence that lectins can cause disease in man and animals,” such as arthritis, kidney disease, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, cataracts, congenital malformations, infertility, allergies and autoimmune problems.

OTHER PROBLEMS WITH GRAINS - Grains contain phytic acid which is known to reduce the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Grains also promote the pH of our body to become more acidic, which is known to be inflammatory. Finally, grains contain higher amounts of omega-6 fatty acids which cause inflammation. This is in contrast to the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids which are prevalent in fish and green vegetables.

So why are grains so heavily promoted as good for us? First, whole grains do contain nutrients and fiber which are healthy and anti-inflammatory. Unfortunately, these benefits most likely do not outweigh the problems with grains previously discussed. We can obtain the nutrients and fiber required by eating good meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts and using supplements wisely. Second, from an economic standpoint, grains are inexpensive and profitable to store and manufacture. This is why they are found everywhere in fast foods, snacks, easy to prepare meals, packaged foods, etc.

Everything you put in your mouth matters.  Choose wisely.

Yours in Health,
Dr. James Turnbull D.C., C.C.S.T., F.I.A.M.A.