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Volume 38, No. 2

Dangerous Grains


In their book, Dangerous Grains, James Braly, MD, and Ron Hoggan, MA point out that undiagnosed sensitivity to gluten in wheat, rye,  barley,  spelt, and kamut, and also to other proteins in grains:

is the root cause of many cancers, autoimmune diseases, neurological  diseases, chronic pain syndromes, psychiatric and other brain disorders, and premature death.  There is also a clear clausal connection with some cases of osteoporosis, epilepsy, attention deficit disorders and learning disorders, infertility, miscarriage, premature births, chronic liver  disease,  and short stature.  When a person is placed on a strict gluten-free diet, reversal of these conditions frequently occurs.


     Why are so many devastating diseases connected to the consumption of grains? The authors point out that our genetic heritage has altered very little over the millennia.  We have not had time to adjust to consuming grains.  Some of the grain-related diseases involve lowered reproductive capacity.  Consequently, some descendants from the inhabitants of the Near East, “the fertile crescent,” where farming with grains was first developed, are the survivors and have lost some of their sensitivity to grains.  However, since most of the diseases occur in adults, many people would have already reproduced and passed on all the problems.

        Our ancestors have only been farmers and consumed grains for a tiny portion—less than one half of one percent— of our life on earth.  “The human species and its forerunners survived, thrived,  and evolved eating fish, meat, organs, vegetables, and fruit, for at least a million years, and probably about 2.5 million years.”  Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were tall and robust.  When they turned to faming and the growing of grain, probably because of depleted supplies of fish and game, they became shorter “by five to six inches,” more diseased with weaker bones,  and even their brain size decreased.

     “Human brain size,  based  on head circumference,  has diminished approximately 11 percent since the advent of agricultural societies.” We are reminded vividly of the work of NOHA Honorary Member Michael Crawford, PhD, who pointed out to us that for brain development, the long-chain  “neural “ fatty acids are absolutely essential.  We obtain them from fish and to some extent from wild game.2  They are absent in grains.

     Braly and Hoggan emphasize that for most of our existence we did not eat grains.  When other foods were abundant, archeologists have pointed out that these hard seeds were ignored.  Grains need grinding and cooking before they can be eaten.  Unfortunately, their proteins contain peptides, which we cannot break down into their constituent amino acids  for proper digestion.  Even in a healthy person, who has not yet developed “leaky gut syndrome,” some of these peptides can be absorbed through the intestinal wall.  Many of them act like opiates, giving a good feeling and resulting in addiction.   Many of our religions speak of bread as the “staff of life” and every day we want “our daily bread.”

     Some of these peptides from grains,  particularly from gluten, are similar to our own tissues,  consequently, when our immune system attacks them, it can also attack our own tissues and organs,  resulting in many chronic diseases.  The authors also point out that dairy products—milk and cheese—are recent additions to the human diet and there are peptides in casein (from milk), which can also participate in “molecular mimicry” and cause autoimmune problems.

     Wheat  is “the world’s most-consumed grain.”  Over the centuries people have carefully developed wheat strains containing more gluten,  which  enhances the elasticity of bread dough,  thus improving the baking qualities.   Also, “hard” (i.e. high gluten) wheat grows better in northerly climates with their shorter growing seasons.  Thus, we have increased our exposure to gluten with its deleterious human health effects.  Braly and Hoggan point out that our culture promotes the heavy consumption of grain.3  We see wide-spread health claims for whole  grain foods and our government—with its food pyramid—promotes grains as the foundation of a healthy diet for all of us.  The authors show the conflict of interest for our government between concerns for human health and the profits of its agri-business backers with their huge fields of monoculture wheat.

     There are many hidden sources of gluten in processed foods.  Braly and Hoggan carefully document the increasing incidence of many diseases, which are connected to gluten sensitivity.  They also point out the excellent improvements from a gluten-free diet.  Here is one quite amazing example, described in the “Foreword,” which is by Jonathan Wright, MD.  He visited Dr. Chris Reading near Sidney,  Australia, in the late 1980s.  Dr. Reading had a list of over one hundred individuals, who had all the symptoms plus positive blood tests for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE),

but since consulting him,  everyone on the list had been symptom free with negative blood tests for five years or more!  That’s right: over one hundred people cured of lupus in the 1980s.  Even in the United States of 2002, any lupus specialist will tell s that’s impossible and resume writing prescriptions for Prednisone,  a  dangerous,  synthetic version of the natural cortisone molecule.

     How did Dr. Reading do it?  His program included complete elimination of all grains from the diet, except rice and corn (it also included elimination of milk and dairy products combined with heavy nutritional supplements both orally and intravenously).

In their book Braly and Hoggan list over 200 chronic diseases and syndromes that can be relieved and/or prevented by a gluten-free diet.  In addition, they recommend allergy testing to discover other sensitivities.  Patients benefit from excellent nutritional therapy, which is needed to counteract the former poor nutrient absorption,  the autoimmune effects,  and the impingement on their immunity, which had been caused by reactions to the gluten and other cereal proteins.

     In their acknowledgements the authors give special thanks to a founding member of NOHA’s Professional Advisory Board: “In addition, very special thanks must posthumously go to Dr. Theron Randolph,  renowned and beloved food allergy-clinical  ecology pioneer and clinician, who intellectually grabbed hold [of us] over twenty years ago and has yet to let go.”

     This whole book is a courageous and carefully documented call to all of us to think carefully about gluten gluttony and addiction and about avoiding the awful human health effects for ourselves and all those people for whom we care.

1DANGEROUS GRAINS: Why Gluten  Cereal  Grains May Be Hazardous to Your Health,  Avery, 2002.

2Crawford NOHA* tape: “Essential Fatty Acids for the Brain and Heart,” #161, 4/97 (Audio and Video).  Other references to the work of Dr. Crawford can be found on the NOHA web site in the “Name” index under “Newsletter.”      In regard to brain size Professor Crawford pointed out to me [MF]:  When archaeologists find animal remains that include skulls, they conclude that he animals of the same species with the smaller skulls were domesticated in contrast  to their wild relatives, who had larger brains. 3Other plants also have constituents that are difficult for humans to digest.  However, usually we do not consume a particular plant food several times a day and every day,  as is our custom with grains.  Professor Richard Wrangham points out that plants develop toxins to defend themselves.  They cannot “run away.”   See his “Song of the Hungry Hominid” and “The Original Fast Food Freaks,” NOHA NEWS, Summer 1987 [link].

Article from NOHA NEWS, Spring 2003

*The American Nutrition Association was formerly known as the Nutrition for Optimal Health Association [NOHA].

For informational purposes only - not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor an endorsement by the American Nutrition Association®. Use permitted for non-profit and non-commercial uses or by healthcare professionals in their practice, with attribution to Other use only with written ANA℠ permission. Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ANA℠. Works by a listed author subject to copyrights as marked. © 2010 ANA℠