Most folks don't realize that when we are talking about health problems associated with wheat, or gluten, we are not talking about a monolithic entity, a singular "bad guy," solely responsible for the havoc commonly experienced as a consequence of consuming this grain. After all, how could just one villain cause the 200+ different clinically observed adverse health effects now linked in the biomedical literature to wheat consumption?
No, the problem is that "gluten" is an abstraction, and in its perceived singularity profoundly misrepresents the true extent of the problem, much in the way that the tip of an iceberg does not convey the massive threat submerged below ...
Gluten is the Latin name for "glue," and signifies the doughy complex of proteins within the wheat plant, further classified as either gliadins (alcohol soluble), glutelins (dilute acid or alkalis soluble), or other. Because wheat is a hexaploid species (doesn't that sound creepy?), the byproduct of three ancestor plants becoming one, with no less than 6 sets of chromosomes and 6.5 times more genes than found in the human genome, it is capable of producing no less than 23,788 different proteins - a fact as amazing as it is disturbing.[i]
Well, any one of these proteins could elicit what is known as an antigenic response, i.e. the immune system identifies a wheat protein as other, launches either an innate or adaptive immune response, and attacks self-structures accidentally, as a result.
So, if only one protein could incite an adverse reaction, what would 23,000 different proteins do when presented to the body for processing simultaneously? And what if many of these wheat proteins were disulfide-bonded proteins, that is, "glued" together (Remember, gluten is the Latin word for glue) with the same, sturdy sulfur-based bonds found in human hair and vulcanized rubber – (think bowling ball plastic tough!) – which is to say, impossible for our digestive system to break down fully?*
What would happen is that many of these proteins would pass through our intestinal tract, made more permeable by the dual effects of gliadin (zonulin up-reguation) and wheat lectin (the invisible thorn), hence "opening pandora's bread box" of autoimmunity and systemic inflammation.
Keep in mind that 23,788 proteins is a very large number. And given the recombinatorial possibilities inherent in such a large number of distinct, different proteins, some of them have emerged -- by sheer accident -- as nearly identical (homologous) in structure and configuration to both narcotic drugs and virulent components of immune-system activating microbes.