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New research confirms some of the basic tenets of the Wheat Belly, a book by Dr. William Davis, which argues that wheat avoidance results in healthy weight loss.
Published in Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry this month, and titled "Gluten-free diet reduces adiposity, inflammation and insulin resistance associated with the induction of PPAR-alpha and PPAR-gamma expression," researchers compared the effects of a gluten-based diet to a gluten-free diet in mice.
Gluten exclusion (protein complex present in many cereals) has been proposed as an option for the prevention of diseases other than coeliac disease. However, the effects of gluten-free diets on obesity and its mechanisms of action have not been studied. Thus, our objective was to assess whether gluten exclusion can prevent adipose tissue expansion and its consequences.
Mice were fed either a high-fat diet containing 4.5% gluten (Control) or no gluten (GF). The researchers then assessed the following 16 parameters in both groups:
- Body weight
- Adiposity gains
- Leukocyte rolling and adhesion
- Macrophage infiltration
- Cytokine production in adipose tissue
- Blood lipid profiles
- Glycaemia (blood sugar)
- Insulin resistance
- Expression of PPAR-α and γ
- Lipoprotein lipase (LPL)
- Hormone sensitive lipase (HSL)
- Carnitine palmitoyl acyltransferase-1 (CPT-1)
- Insulin receptor
- Adipokines in epidymdimal fat
Remarkably, they found that, relative to the gluten-fed mice, the gluten-free animals showed a reduction in body weight gain and adiposity, without changes in food intake or lipid excretion.
We interpret this to mean that the weight gain associated with wheat consumption has little to do with caloric content per se; rather, the gluten proteins (and likely wheat lectins) disrupt endocrine and exocrine processes within the body, as well as directly modulating nuclear gene expression, e.g. PPAR-α and γ, in such a way as to alter mammalian metabolism in the direction of weight gain.
Sometimes we forget that food is not simply a source of energy, or the material building blocks for the body, but a source of information as well. The way in which food directly interacts with the genes, gene expression, or gene product structure and function, is the object of study of the burgeoning new field of nutrigenomics. Wheat, like anything we attempt to use as food, contains both energy/matter and information that the body will use to maintain its genetic integrity or that may interfere with it.
Certain foods our bodies have had thousands, if not millions of years of adaptation to. Wheat, on the other hand, and particularly its modern permutation, is a biologically and evolutionarily novel new source of both energy/matter and information. In the same way that we have spent intense effort manipulating its genes through selective breeding and hybridization, it is in turn, intensely modifying our own gene expression and related biological pathways.
The researchers stated that the observed results were associated with "up-regulation of PPAR-α, LPL, HSL and CPT-1, which are related to lipolysis and fatty acid oxidation."
Also, there was an improvement in glucose homeostasis and pro-inflammatory profile-related overexpression of PPAR-γ among the gluten-free animals.
The researchers concluded:
Our data support the beneficial effects of gluten-free diets in reducing adiposity gain, inflammation and insulin resistance. The data suggests that diet gluten exclusion should be tested as a new dietary approach to prevent the development of obesity and metabolic disorders.
Considering our previous investigation of the weight-promoting effects of wheat in cattle, discussed in our essay The Dark Side of Wheat, we are not at all surprised by these most recent research findings. Wheat grain-fed cattle, while much sicker, are always heavier. Grass-fed, on the other hand, are healthier and yet weighs less. Certainly, therefore, the notion that feeding wheat to mammals may increase their weight is not novel.
The time has come for us to recognize that the consumption of grains, that is, the seed form of the cereal grasses, is a evolutionarily novel behavior. While we have been doing so for 10,000-20,000 years, this is only a nanosecond on the scale of biological time. Albeit, culturally, it may seems like forever.
Weight gain, of course, is only one of over 200 adverse health effects associated with wheat consumption. Whereas weight gain often speaks to our vanity, the reality is that cardiovascular health, psychiatric problems, autism, irritable bowel, and many other common health complaints can be tracked back directly to this "king of grains." The time has come, we believe, to give wheat and gluten elimination a good try. After all, only your first-hand experience can determine with any certainty whether these concepts are just theory or truth – for you.