Amber Waves of Pain

      76 Comments on Amber Waves of Pain

Last week I posted an on-line debate between me and someone who is, I believe, a nutritionist. Most of the debate was over grains, which she insists we need as part of a balanced diet. (Note: Sorry if this seems sexist, but I’m assuming the nutritionist is a she, since the vast majority of dieticians and nutritionists I’ve seen quoted in the media are women. I don’t like writing sentences of full of awkward “he or she” and “him or her” phrases, so I’m going with she.)

I asked her to explain the scientific basis for her belief that we need grains but never received a reply, other than further insistence that we need them — especially those oh-so-wonderful whole grains. I suggested she find and read Dr. Loren Cordain’s paper on grains, lectins and diseases … which I seriously doubt she did, since learning that grains are bad news could cause her head to explode.

Cordain’s paper, titled Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword, isn’t an easy read — some of the biochemistry can make your head swim — but it’s worth the effort.  I first read it after Fat Head was already in the can, which is why (to answer a question some people have asked) I didn’t quote Cordain in the film or ask for an interview.  After reading the paper, I finally understood why my vegetarian phase was such a disaster:  I was getting the bulk of my calories from grains and legumes.  Some humans may have adapted to those foods, but many (if not most) have not.

Below are some quotes from the paper, with my comments.

For the vast majority of mankind’s presence on this planet, he rarely if ever consumed cereal grains. With the exception of the last 10,000 years following the agricultural ‘revolution’, humans have existed as non-cereal-eating hunter-gatherers since the emergence of Homo erectus 1.7 million years ago.

It is apparent that there is little or no evolutionary precedent in our species for grass seed consumption. Consequently, we have had little time (<500 generations) since the inception of the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago to adapt to a food type which now represents humanity’s major source of both calories and protein. The sum of evidence indicates that the human genetic constitution has changed little in the past 40,000 years. The foods which were commonly available to pre-agricultural man were the foods which shaped modern man’s genetic nutritional requirements.

This is why it drives me nuts when nutritionists insist we “need” grains.  It makes zero biological sense.  According to Cordain, grains have been part of the human diet for roughly 0.4% of our existence. If 99.6% of my ancestors managed to live without them, why would I need them now?

Generally, in most parts of the world, whenever cereal-based diets were first adopted as a staple food replacing the primarily animal-based diets of hunter-gatherers, there was a characteristic reduction in stature, an increase in infant mortality, a reduction in lifespan, an increased incidence of infectious diseases, an increase in iron deficiency anemia, an increased incidence of osteomalacia, porotic hyperostosis and other bone mineral disorders and an increase in the number of dental caries and enamel defects.

So we became shorter and sicker, with reduced lifespans and bad teeth.  On the other hand, according to today’s nutritionists, switching to grains probably cured the type 2 diabetes problem among Paleolithic humans.

Consumption of high levels of whole grain cereal products impairs bone metabolism not only by limiting calcium intake, but by indirectly altering vitamin D metabolism. In animal studies it has been long recognized that excessive consumption of cereal grains can induce vitamin D deficiencies in a wide variety of animals including primates.

Consistent with populations from the fossil record showing a characteristic reduction in stature with the adoption of cereal-based agriculture, is the observation that present-day populations depending upon cereal grains for the bulk of their energy and protein also tend to be of short stature. Further, vegan and vegetarian children often fail to grow as well as their omnivorous cohorts despite apparently adequate intakes of amino acids and nitrogen.

Wait, that simply can’t be true … I just read an article published by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine that explains how feeding your kids a vegetarian diet is Raising Them Right From the Start.  I’m not going to be persuaded by actual evidence when it’s in competition with a catchy phrase.

Because primates evolved in the tropical forest, all of their potential plant food was derived from dicotyledonous species; therefore, the primate gut was initially adapted to both the nutritive and defensive components of dicotyledons rather than the nutritive and defense components of monocotyledonous cereal grains.

Consumption of monocotyledonous plant foods, particularly cereal grains, is a notable departure from the traditional plant foods consumed by the majority of primates. Consequently, humans, like all other primates, have had little evolutionary experience in developing resistance to secondary and anti-nutritional compounds which normally occur in cereal grains.

Don’t feel bad; I had to look ‘em up too.  From what I read online, grasses are monocotyledons and most other plants are dicotyledons.  Grains are grasses, and according to Cordain, humans haven’t been eating them long enough to build up much resistance to the anti-nutrients Mother Nature gave them as a means of warding off over-consumption by predators.

After several pages explaining how grains have replaced more nutrient-dense foods and may even block the absorption of nutrients we still manage to consume, Cordain begins to deal with effects of the anti-nutrients contained in grains. The worst anti-nutrients seem to be the lectins — which, by the way, are also found in legumes and are particularly high in soybeans.

Lectins are proteins that are widespread in the plant kingdom with the unique property of binding to carbohydrate-containing molecules, particularly toward the sugar component. They were originally identified by their ability to agglutinate (clump) erythrocytes which occurs because of the interaction of multiple binding sites on the lectin molecule with specific glycoconjugate receptors on the surface of the erythrocyte cell membranes. Because of this binding property, lectins can interact with a variety of other cells in the body and are recognized as the major anti-nutrient of food.

Of the eight commonly consumed cereal grains, lectin activity has been demonstrated in wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, and rice but not in sorghum or millet. The biological activity of lectins found in cereal grains are similar because they are closely related to one another both structurally and immunologically. The best studied of the cereal grain lectins is wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), and the in vitro biological effects of WGA upon tissues and organs are astonishingly widespread. In his comprehensive review, Freed has shown that WGA can bind (in vitro) the following tissues and organs: alimentary tract (mouth, stomach, intestines), pancreas, musculoskeletal system, kidney, skin, nervous and myelin tissues, reproductive organs, and platelets and plasma proteins.

But … but … but … my college nutrition textbook says grains are good for us.  So, uh … lectins must bind to our alimentary tract, pancreas, musculoskeletal system, kidneys, skin and nervous system so we’ll never be without them!  (I don’t even want to think about lectins binding to my reproductive organs.)

Most food proteins entering the small intestine are fully degraded into their amino acid components and therefore do not pass intact into systemic circulation. However, it is increasingly being recognized that small quantities of dietary protein which escape digestive proteolytic breakdown can be systemically absorbed and presented by macrophages to competent lymphocytes of the immune system. Under normal circumstances, when the luminal concentrations of intact dietary proteins is low, absorbed proteins generally elicit a minimal allergic response because of the limiting influence of T-suppressor cells.

Because of their resistance to digestive, proteolytic breakdown, the luminal concentrations of lectins can be quite high, consequently their transport through the gut wall can exceed that of other dietary antigens by several orders of magnitude. Additionally, WGA and other lectins may facilitate the passage of undegraded dietary antigens into the systemic circulation by their ability to increase the permeability of the intestine. Consequently, dietary lectins represent powerful oral immunogens capable of eliciting specific and high antibody responses.

In other words, lectins can lead to leaky-gut syndrome.  They poke holes in your intestines, seep into your bloodstream and are carried throughout your body, which then must produce antibodies to attack them.  If that were the end of the story, it would be bad enough.  But that’s not the end of the story.  The amino-acid profile of lectins is similar to the amino-acid profile of many of your own tissues.  The result of what Cordain calls “molecular mimicry” isn’t pretty.

Autoimmune diseases occur when the body loses the ability to discriminate self proteins from nonself proteins. This loss of tolerance ultimately results in destruction of self tissues by the immune system.

So your body ends up attacking itself.  We already know grains cause celiac disease.  Based on both observational and clinical evidence (such as high concentrations of the antibodies produced when lectins seep into the bloodstream), it’s also likely that grains cause or aggravate ailments like these:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Dermatitis Herpetiformis
  • Insulin-Dependent Diabetes
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Schizophrenia

Based on my own experiences as well as countless emails and comments I’ve received, I’d add psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma and chronic fatigue to that list.  And yet nutritionists are apparently taught in school that humans need grains to be healthy.  So they scurry off to the clinics and tell people to eat foods that can make them sick.

That’s why I don’t listen to nutritionists anymore.


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76 thoughts on “Amber Waves of Pain

  1. Clyde

    There are ways to highly process grains so they are low carb and don’t have any of the bad affects discussed here:

    Whiskey
    Vodka
    Gin

    Properly taken they can be very good.

    Some might consider beer in this group, but it isn’t processed enough to get rid of all its carbs. I don’t know about the other stuff discussed here.

    Clyde

    The occasional Jameson’s or Glenfiddich works for me.

    Reply
  2. tina

    I taught ESL in Korea for 1.5 years. I ate lots of fish I’ve never heard of, lots of fermented seaweed and kimchi, pork, beef and rice (and possibly a cat or dog but not knowingly.) I also only remember one soup that had tofu in it. China, Thailand, Japan and Vietnam had similiar foods.

    I’ve never been to Asia, but people who have tell me it’s not all rice and veggies by any means.

    Reply
  3. Clyde

    There are ways to highly process grains so they are low carb and don’t have any of the bad affects discussed here:

    Whiskey
    Vodka
    Gin

    Properly taken they can be very good.

    Some might consider beer in this group, but it isn’t processed enough to get rid of all its carbs. I don’t know about the other stuff discussed here.

    Clyde

    The occasional Jameson’s or Glenfiddich works for me.

    Reply
  4. ben

    What about microwaving oats, or wheat? Does that break down the lectin as effectively as soaking?

    Also, what about rice? I don’t think it contains lectins, nor is it refined, but is there anything particularly bad about it?

    I doubt microwaving breaks down lectins any better than cooking them. Keep in mind that many non-grain foods also contain some lectins — tomatoes, nuts, potatoes, milk — but it’s a matter of the dose. From what I’ve read, rice is lower on the lectin scale than other grains, especially if it’s white rice.

    Reply
  5. Clyde

    Ethanol certainly is a carb. However, it’s a good carb. Basically it’s not a carb that the body turns into fat or stores in any way.

    Beer does have some carbs that are convertible and storeable, because yeast doesn’t eat all kinds of sugars/carbs. Wine can have a little to a lot of sugar in it. Distilled spirits get down to just ethanol – well, until they start adding stuff back in. Often that stuff includes sugar.

    I’m not food scientist (maybe that’s a good thing), but from what I’ve read and experienced, whiskey, vodka, and gin are absolutely great on a low carb diet. So are other spirits that don’t have added sugar: brandy, rum, tequila, etc.

    Clyde

    Reply
  6. Susan

    Tom,
    Just found you through a friend’s FB post. Thank you for your voice of reason in a sea of sickness and confusion. My hubby and I lost a combined total of 120 pounds by no longer eating grains and sugar. Our numerous illnesses disappeared and we no longer needed a multitude of medications. Finding this blog is a delight. I’m signing up and will spread the word. Go forth, “Beefy” Head!

    Susan

    Isn’t it a pleasure when you realize you can eat your way to better health?

    Reply
  7. ben

    What about microwaving oats, or wheat? Does that break down the lectin as effectively as soaking?

    Also, what about rice? I don’t think it contains lectins, nor is it refined, but is there anything particularly bad about it?

    I doubt microwaving breaks down lectins any better than cooking them. Keep in mind that many non-grain foods also contain some lectins — tomatoes, nuts, potatoes, milk — but it’s a matter of the dose. From what I’ve read, rice is lower on the lectin scale than other grains, especially if it’s white rice.

    Reply
  8. Clyde

    Ethanol certainly is a carb. However, it’s a good carb. Basically it’s not a carb that the body turns into fat or stores in any way.

    Beer does have some carbs that are convertible and storeable, because yeast doesn’t eat all kinds of sugars/carbs. Wine can have a little to a lot of sugar in it. Distilled spirits get down to just ethanol – well, until they start adding stuff back in. Often that stuff includes sugar.

    I’m not food scientist (maybe that’s a good thing), but from what I’ve read and experienced, whiskey, vodka, and gin are absolutely great on a low carb diet. So are other spirits that don’t have added sugar: brandy, rum, tequila, etc.

    Clyde

    Reply
  9. Susan

    Tom,
    Just found you through a friend’s FB post. Thank you for your voice of reason in a sea of sickness and confusion. My hubby and I lost a combined total of 120 pounds by no longer eating grains and sugar. Our numerous illnesses disappeared and we no longer needed a multitude of medications. Finding this blog is a delight. I’m signing up and will spread the word. Go forth, “Beefy” Head!

    Susan

    Isn’t it a pleasure when you realize you can eat your way to better health?

    Reply
  10. Fred Hahn

    “I’m not going to be persuaded by actual evidence when it’s in competition with a catchy phrase.”

    Tom – this is priceless. Great post.

    Thank you, Fred.

    Reply
  11. Dr. William Davis

    Hear, hear!

    I agree, Tom. Elimination of wheat has been, in my experience, among the most potent strategies to regain health I have ever witnessed.

    Beyond the lectin effect, there is the extravagant increase in blood glucose peculiar to wheat, the brain-active “exorphins” that modify mood, as well as inflammatory phenomena that are only partly understood due to glutens.

    I, too, have had to engage dietitians and nutritionists in this debate. Sadly, they have not read the literature as carefully as you have.

    Thank you, Dr. Davis. I started testing my glucose after your lecture on the cruise and was stunned by the reading after a small bit of pasta. There’s something about wheat that goes beyond the carb load.

    Reply
  12. Dr. William Davis

    Hear, hear!

    I agree, Tom. Elimination of wheat has been, in my experience, among the most potent strategies to regain health I have ever witnessed.

    Beyond the lectin effect, there is the extravagant increase in blood glucose peculiar to wheat, the brain-active “exorphins” that modify mood, as well as inflammatory phenomena that are only partly understood due to glutens.

    I, too, have had to engage dietitians and nutritionists in this debate. Sadly, they have not read the literature as carefully as you have.

    Thank you, Dr. Davis. I started testing my glucose after your lecture on the cruise and was stunned by the reading after a small bit of pasta. There’s something about wheat that goes beyond the carb load.

    Reply
  13. Brian

    Hi Tom. Thanks for the post! As a skeptic and a scientist it’s always awesome to see people engaging with the research being done, rather than just swallowing mainstream media or cultural ‘wisdom’. That said, there’s a few things that bother me about the science (and the use of) here. While I am definitely on board with low carb and grain free (how could I not be, with the evidence available?), but I hope you can bear with me a bit.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, when you say that it makes “zero biological sense” that we could thrive on a grain based diet is just wrong. To answer your question there, it’s because we’re the *last* .4%. Evolutionary change can happen VERY quickly when selective pressures become high. This is what’s called “punctuated equilibrium”.

    An example of this is human skin color. People turned white very fast in response to vitamin D deficiency, which correlates strongly with birth defects and miscarriages. Reproductive issues are about as selective as you can get. Interestingly though, reduced melanin expression only developed in high latitudes… *and grain consumption*. It’s highly plausible that grains interfered with vitamin D uptake, which couldn’t be made up for by sunlight, so light skin evolved… funny how our cousins in northern Asia and America didn’t lighten up, and they didn’t eat grains…

    If you can’t tell, I actually think this supports ‘grains-are-bad’, but the salient point here is that the key of your quote there is “The sum of evidence indicates that the human genetic constitution has changed little in the past 40,000 years.” Sure, it could’ve happened… *but it didn’t*. This is the same thing again below re: jungle and primates, etc. This gives us an idea to investigate, but it isn’t an *answer*.

    My goal here isn’t to “poke holes” in your argument, but it’s *really* important when we deal with science that we never forget that science is about questions and ideas, not answers. We get data, we form an idea, but then we have to ask “what could be wrong with this picture? How else can I check this?” *Especially* when dealing with something so intrinsically related to our lives and health.

    Remember that jumping on the first idea that sounded good was what got us in this mess, you know? I read the comments and I see some really awesome success stories and scientific engagement, but I also see a lot of “science faith”, which is very scary. Every time someone swears by science, a higgs boson dies (hah, science humor, get it? So clever).

    I’ve gotten slightly off topic from the grains discussion here, but there has to be a level of caution when dealing with new infos like this. So please guys, *please* keep looking at the science. It’s there for *you*, not some mystical lab-coated figure making declarations. But question. Always, always question.

    I would also love to add to and hopefully elucidate on some of the biology, immunoregulation and all that, but I figure this has gone on long enough. Not much to say when everyone’s already wandered off bored. So one last time, thanks for bringing this paper and its knowledge to a wider audience!

    **I am a University student currently studying master’s cell biology**

    All good points. But to clarify, I stated it makes zero biological sense statement that I would NEED grains to be healthy, not that I might be able to tolerate them. Clearly some people do tolerate them, and most Europeans adapted to tolerate milk in something less than 10,000 years.

    Reply
  14. Brian

    Hi Tom. Thanks for the post! As a skeptic and a scientist it’s always awesome to see people engaging with the research being done, rather than just swallowing mainstream media or cultural ‘wisdom’. That said, there’s a few things that bother me about the science (and the use of) here. While I am definitely on board with low carb and grain free (how could I not be, with the evidence available?), but I hope you can bear with me a bit.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, when you say that it makes “zero biological sense” that we could thrive on a grain based diet is just wrong. To answer your question there, it’s because we’re the *last* .4%. Evolutionary change can happen VERY quickly when selective pressures become high. This is what’s called “punctuated equilibrium”.

    An example of this is human skin color. People turned white very fast in response to vitamin D deficiency, which correlates strongly with birth defects and miscarriages. Reproductive issues are about as selective as you can get. Interestingly though, reduced melanin expression only developed in high latitudes… *and grain consumption*. It’s highly plausible that grains interfered with vitamin D uptake, which couldn’t be made up for by sunlight, so light skin evolved… funny how our cousins in northern Asia and America didn’t lighten up, and they didn’t eat grains…

    If you can’t tell, I actually think this supports ‘grains-are-bad’, but the salient point here is that the key of your quote there is “The sum of evidence indicates that the human genetic constitution has changed little in the past 40,000 years.” Sure, it could’ve happened… *but it didn’t*. This is the same thing again below re: jungle and primates, etc. This gives us an idea to investigate, but it isn’t an *answer*.

    My goal here isn’t to “poke holes” in your argument, but it’s *really* important when we deal with science that we never forget that science is about questions and ideas, not answers. We get data, we form an idea, but then we have to ask “what could be wrong with this picture? How else can I check this?” *Especially* when dealing with something so intrinsically related to our lives and health.

    Remember that jumping on the first idea that sounded good was what got us in this mess, you know? I read the comments and I see some really awesome success stories and scientific engagement, but I also see a lot of “science faith”, which is very scary. Every time someone swears by science, a higgs boson dies (hah, science humor, get it? So clever).

    I’ve gotten slightly off topic from the grains discussion here, but there has to be a level of caution when dealing with new infos like this. So please guys, *please* keep looking at the science. It’s there for *you*, not some mystical lab-coated figure making declarations. But question. Always, always question.

    I would also love to add to and hopefully elucidate on some of the biology, immunoregulation and all that, but I figure this has gone on long enough. Not much to say when everyone’s already wandered off bored. So one last time, thanks for bringing this paper and its knowledge to a wider audience!

    **I am a University student currently studying master’s cell biology**

    All good points. But to clarify, I stated it makes zero biological sense statement that I would NEED grains to be healthy, not that I might be able to tolerate them. Clearly some people do tolerate them, and most Europeans adapted to tolerate milk in something less than 10,000 years.

    Reply
  15. Walter

    Speaking of mood alteration, I’m in physical therapy for a car accident that happened a month and a half ago. Yesterday for some reason the pain and headache really got to me, so I had some carb “comfort food” 3 oatmeal cookies and 2 coffee milkshakes on top of a normal days food intake. Got on the scale 6 pounds heavier today! Past experience says it will come off easily over the next few days.

    For the next time, which do you think is less damaging oatmeal cookies (one of the few types that doesn’t taste so sweet to me that I can still eat) or ice cream?

    I don’t think I could make that call. If I’m really craving ice cream, I get the low-carb variety.

    Reply
  16. Walter

    Speaking of mood alteration, I’m in physical therapy for a car accident that happened a month and a half ago. Yesterday for some reason the pain and headache really got to me, so I had some carb “comfort food” 3 oatmeal cookies and 2 coffee milkshakes on top of a normal days food intake. Got on the scale 6 pounds heavier today! Past experience says it will come off easily over the next few days.

    For the next time, which do you think is less damaging oatmeal cookies (one of the few types that doesn’t taste so sweet to me that I can still eat) or ice cream?

    I don’t think I could make that call. If I’m really craving ice cream, I get the low-carb variety.

    Reply
  17. tony-k

    Great post Tom! This blog never fails to deliver eye-opening facts! BUT.. You missed one single vital point! And that is YOU NEED GRAINS!! I mean, you JUST DO!!! For..something, you.. You NEED THEM!!

    You’re officially qualified to teach nutrition classes.

    Reply
  18. tony-k

    Great post Tom! This blog never fails to deliver eye-opening facts! BUT.. You missed one single vital point! And that is YOU NEED GRAINS!! I mean, you JUST DO!!! For..something, you.. You NEED THEM!!

    You’re officially qualified to teach nutrition classes.

    Reply
  19. Alex

    I’m not food scientist (maybe that’s a good thing), but from what I’ve read and experienced, whiskey, vodka, and gin are absolutely great on a low carb diet. So are other spirits that don’t have added sugar: brandy, rum, tequila, etc.

    Fantastic. I don’t have to get rid of my Chivas Regal after all.

    Reply
  20. Theresa

    Fab post and explains the reason corn polenta affected me the same way porridge oats did when I first went gluten free. I was never able to work that one out. I rarely eat any grain now and when I do experience many of the symptoms of other posters.

    Incidentally one of my cats started throwing up after eating cat biscuits. The vet said she was either gluten or beef intolerant – it would be too hard to tell which and sold me some very expensive cat food. When I read the ingredients I found that it included many of the things that I am trying to avoid myself and things that a carnivorous animal wouldn’t naturally eat. Both my cats are now happliy eating raw grass fed beef (so obviously not beef intolerant!) and grain free cat biscuits and have more energy and are generally happier and healthy, so it is not just ourselves we are poisoning with diets nature never intended.

    Too true; we’ve poisoned a lot of our pets with grains.

    Reply
  21. Alex

    I’m not food scientist (maybe that’s a good thing), but from what I’ve read and experienced, whiskey, vodka, and gin are absolutely great on a low carb diet. So are other spirits that don’t have added sugar: brandy, rum, tequila, etc.

    Fantastic. I don’t have to get rid of my Chivas Regal after all.

    Reply
  22. Theresa

    Fab post and explains the reason corn polenta affected me the same way porridge oats did when I first went gluten free. I was never able to work that one out. I rarely eat any grain now and when I do experience many of the symptoms of other posters.

    Incidentally one of my cats started throwing up after eating cat biscuits. The vet said she was either gluten or beef intolerant – it would be too hard to tell which and sold me some very expensive cat food. When I read the ingredients I found that it included many of the things that I am trying to avoid myself and things that a carnivorous animal wouldn’t naturally eat. Both my cats are now happliy eating raw grass fed beef (so obviously not beef intolerant!) and grain free cat biscuits and have more energy and are generally happier and healthy, so it is not just ourselves we are poisoning with diets nature never intended.

    Too true; we’ve poisoned a lot of our pets with grains.

    Reply

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