Why Wheat Is A Concealed Cause of Many Diseases, III: Adjuvant Activity

We’ve been looking into how wheat can cause autoimmune diseases other than the “classic” wheat-associated diseases, celiac disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

The first post in the series discussed how wheat can cause a leaky, permeable gut that lets toxins and bacteria into the body. The second post discussed how wheat can itself generate a variety of auto-antibodies that attack nerves, brain, connective tissue and joints.

Now, we want to look at how wheat can create diseases by binding to other molecules and causing the body to form antibodies to them. Wheat can thereby cause allergies against foods as well as autoimmune attacks on self molecules.

Adjuvant Activity of Wheat Germ Agglutinin

Immunologically speaking, an “adjuvant” is a molecule that when bound to another molecule makes it much more immunogenic. Adjuvants such as aluminum salts are used in vaccines to make the immune system produce antibodies more readily against the target protein. This lowers the vaccine dose needed for immunity.

Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) is a wheat lectin. (It is not part of gluten.) WGA can act as an adjuvant, causing the body to generate antibodies against proteins that, in isolation, the body would not form antibodies against. 

For instance, antibodies against the egg protein ovalbumin are not generated if it enters the body alone, but are generated if it is accompanied by WGA. [1]

So don’t eat toast with your eggs! If you have a leaky gut, the wheat might give you an egg allergy.

Haptenization Activity of Wheat Gliadin

A similar process that helps create auto-antibodies is “haptenization.” The immune system forms antibodies more readily against large molecules than small ones. (This helps avoid autoimmunity, since small molecules are more likely to have similar human peers.)

When two small molecules bind together, so they look like one big one, the immune system is more likely to form antibodies against the large complex. These antibodies may then react against one of the molecules individually, even if it is not paired up. If the targeted molecule is human, then the antibody is an auto-antibody.

One reason wheat gliadin is so disruptive to the body is that it binds strongly to sugars. The average molecule of wheat gliadin is bound to 1 to 2 molecules of glucose and 2 molecules of sialic acid, another sugar. [2] Since a lot of human molecules have sialic acid residues, gliadin can bind to them.

One of the sialic acid-containing molecules gliadin binds to is called GM1 ganglioside. This molecule is found on the intestinal brush border, but it is also found in nerves. When wheat binds to GM1 ganglioside on the intestinal surface, it induces the formation of auto-antibodies that attack the ganglioside in nerves. In 65% of patients with gluten sensitivity and peripheral nerve damage, anti-ganglioside antibodies are found. [2]

Conclusion

Wheat could be a concealed cause of many food allergies, through WGA’s adjuvant activity. If so, then many food allergies may gradually disappear after wheat is given up.

Wheat proteins can also bind to an extraordinarily large number of human proteins, in part by binding to sialic acid or other carbohydrate residues of glycoproteins or glycolipids, and has a chance to induce antibody formation against many of those proteins.

The bewildering array of ways in which wheat can trigger attacks on human tissue makes it impossible to identify all the wheat-caused diseases.  The only thing we can say for sure is that if you have a disease, it’s a good idea to give up wheat. You may give up your illness at the same time.

Related Posts

Other posts in this series:

  1. Wheat Is A Cause of Many Diseases, I: Leaky Gut Oct 26, 2010.
  2. Why Wheat Is A Concealed Cause of Many Diseases, II: Auto-Antibody Generation Oct 28, 2010.

References

[1] Lavelle EC et al. The identification of plant lectins with mucosal adjuvant activity. Immunology. 2001 Jan;102(1):77-86. http://pmid.us/11168640

[2] Alaedini A, Latov N. Transglutaminase-independent binding of gliadin to intestinal brush border membrane and GM1 ganglioside. J Neuroimmunol. 2006 Aug;177(1-2):167-72.  http://pmid.us/16766047.

Leave a comment ?

26 Comments.

  1. Hi Paul,
    I saw this on Nora Gedgaudas’ blog (http://www.primalbody-primalmind.com/blog/?p=805#comments) and I thought you might find it useful. If not you maybe some of the readers:

    http://towncenterwellness.com/announcements/dangers-of-wheat-germ-agglutinin-wga/

    • Thank you simona, that’s an excellent essay.

      We have a discussion of WGA in the book, but not nearly as detailed as his. These things are so dangerous, it’s hard to enumerate all their effects in a short space.

  2. I also thought this from Nora’s post is interesting:

    Wait just a minute, back up—did you just say “personal care products”? What???

    Crazy sounding, but true. You need to examine your shampoos, conditioners and other hair care and skin care products for the presence of wheat protein, sometimes also listed as “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”. Look for corn-related additives, also.

    I didn’t know they used wheat protein in shampoo. I wonder why?

  3. One of Costco’s popular Kirkland brand shampoos contains wheat germ protein and is prominently labeled as such. Shampoos have contained protein for a long time, supposedly to “repair” damaged hair (Protein 21 was a very popular shampoo brand when I was a teen in the 70s). Many people are turned off by the thought that protein from the waste stream of livestock processing is in shampoo, so I think wheat protein is used because it is more emotionally acceptable.

  4. Cherry pickers……… « - pingback on November 3, 2010 at 7:05 pm
  5. Uncle Herniation

    In “Why We Get Sick” by Nesse and Williams, they discuss evolutionary theories of allergies. It’s a weak chapter for sure, but after reading this blog post, something they briefly mention came to the forefront. They hypothesized that allergies to cat dander, for example, may arise if one is simultaneously to a pathogen (e.g., influenza virus) and a non-pathogenic protein (e.g., proteins in cat saliva). In other words, the body associates cat saliva proteins with the presence of a pathogen and develops antibodies against it.

    It seemed like a crazy idea to me, but it makes more sense in the context of dietary factors. Perhaps we develop allergies to things like animal dander, pollen, dust, and other environmental things because, for some people, they are repeatedly present while eating wheat?

    I know your post focuses specifically on food allergies, but could it also apply to environmental allergies? I’d love to hear about any research you can dig up.

  6. Hi Uncle H,

    Yes, I’m sure wheat can induce environmental allergies. Exactly the same logic applies as in the case of food allergies.

    There is an association between wheat antibodies and cat allergy:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11972602

    “An increased IgG antibody level to a mixture of wheat-rice or orange, indicates an increased risk of developing IgE to cat, dog or mite allergens.”

    Best, Paul

  7. As always, I appreciated reading your articles today.

    I would like to hear from the author and readers about your knowledge and opinions regarding both anecdotal evidence and scientfic studies that the traditional sourdough process can possibly transform gluten into a much more usable and benign substance for humans.

    If you don’t know what I’m referring to, here’s one study abstract for a start:

    http://aem.asm.org/cgi/content/abstract/70/2/1088

    Thanks for your time and I look forward to your thoughts on this.

    Margaret

  8. Hi Margaret,

    Sourdough fermentation definitely detoxifies wheat somewhat, as the paper you found shows. I just don’t know how much. My preference is “better safe than sorry.” I gave up wheat 5 years ago and don’t miss it.

    Best, Paul

  9. Hi,
    I’m slowly getting into the diet because my boyfriend bought the book and it looks pretty sensible everything I’ve read so far. I’m definitively up for giving up wheat and most grains! However, I grew up on pure corn (not sweet corn) products such as tortillas and arepas and I was wondering about the dangers of eating those. I’ve read they could induce pellagra, but mostly because of a deficiency in niacin that as far as I understand you could somehow else (right?).
    Anyways, if you could expand on the effects of eating corn (not sweet corn, oil or syrup) it would be very much appreciated.

    Many Thanks,

    Laura

  10. Hi Laura,

    Welcome! Corn has some toxins which induce pellagra, and the disease can be averted by eating niacin.

    There are ways of treating corn to remove some of its toxins. The native Americans soaked corn in lime water before preparation for this purpose. This prevents pellagra.

    I don’t trust most industrial food preparers to properly detoxify corn. In any case, although the lime-water treatment fixes the pellagra problem, there are other toxins in corn which are probably not removed. For instance, corn oil is very effective at inducing atherosclerosis, more than you’d expect from its omega-6 content alone. The Rose Corn Oil trial had very high mortality rates.

    So in general I would take the view that corn is not safe and is best avoided. Sorry to have to say that!

    Best, Paul

  11. Thank you Paul for all your work and smarts.

    Bread is ubiquitous in some places and households, and some of us have a very hard time avoiding it, and an even harder time getting loved ones to avoid it. Have you ever tried to figure out which is worse – white bread or whole grain bread? From some of your analysis, I infer that white bread might actually be less bad; but that goes against the most basic and well known of all conventional diet commandments (“the whiter the bread, the sooner your dead”). Is it possible that even the whole grains idea is actually backwards, ie if you’re going to eat grains, eat white instead of whole?

  12. Hi Brendan,

    Whole grain has slightly more toxins, it’s more like 14% protein vs 10% for milled wheat, and protein is more or less proportional to toxin levels. On the other hand white bread has a higher glycemic index, so diabetics might have more trouble with it.

    Overall, I think white bread is probably safer than whole wheat bread, but since wheat is the worst grain and whole grain breads usually mix in other grains, whole grain bread may typically be a bit healthier than white bread from wheat.

  13. Hi Paul and everybody,

    Can brewer’s yeast be considered as a good nutritional supplement (as a by product of beer making, with malt and so on…) and do you recommend it for daily use ? Thanks a lot !
    Maya

  14. Hi Paul,

    I am a 39 yo healthy and fairly fit female. About 8 months ago, my distal left forearm swelled up – pitting edema. It is has not changed since then and remains limited to just the distal forearm. MRI showed subQ edema. Ultrasound negative for clots or lymph nodes.

    About 3 months ago I developed a lump in my belly button which turns out to be some ascites that leaked through an abdominal wall defect. The ascites is largely around my left colon which looks a little inflammed.

    I am a physician myself and I have now seen several physicians over this and I have repeatedly suggested that we check for celiac, since it’s in my family. Everyone insists this can not be celiac. I have no bowel symptoms.

    All of my blood work is within normal limits, except TTG antibodies which have not been checked yet.

    The latest recommendation was for an ex-lap to take a look. I politely declined.

    Any thoughts? When the arm first swelled up, I was at sleep away camp with my son and dependent on some of the worst conventional cafeteria food (think grilled cheese for every meal).

    Thanks so much for the great work that you do.

    Sincerely,
    Kate

    • Hi Kate,

      I don’t know what it is, but we do recommend eliminating wheat as a general health practice and in possible celiac cases elimination is definitely worth a try!

      People do get silent celiac with no digestive symptoms. Since you have inflammation around the colon, it seems a possibility that should be taken seriously.

      A stool test like the Metametrix DNA test might also be worthwhile. Could be microbial toxins or microbes themselves causing the inflammation.

      Best, Paul

      • Hi Paul,

        Thanks so much for the reply.

        My TTG antibodies came back negative. I think next might be a colon biopsy. I’m not sure how informative that will be, but I’m anxious to figure out what my fluid issue is, with fluid in the arm and in the belly . . .

        Have started PHD and hope that will help.

        Thanks again,
        Kate

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  17. “If you have a leaky gut, the wheat might give you an egg allergy.”

    Paul, might beans do the same? After years of strict avoidance, I re-introduced beans a few months ago, with no obvious health downside (to my surprise, not even flatulence) and a great deal of gastronomical pleasure.

    A couple of weeks ago, however, I had a severe allergic reaction (joint pain) which I was able to trace to eggs. For years prior, I had been eating eggs regularly with no issues. Now, suddenly, I cannot eat them at all (the whole egg, anyway; I have not yet experimented with just yolks).

    I wonder how plausible it is to blame the beans, either in the adjuvant sense, or via damage to the gut lining.

  18. You state:

    If so, then many food allergies may gradually disappear after wheat is given up.

    Once the adaptive immune system has been sensitized against a particular allergen/food, what leads you to believe it will loose this immune memory?

    • Well, autoantibodies and food sensitivities typically go away in 6 to 12 months once you remove the cause. Allergies are longer lasting but they might fade too.

      • Thanks for the response. The reason I ask, is because I have developed dozens of “food sensitivities” which have persisted for well over a year. The reactions are immediate onset, even though the “allergies” do not show up on the IGE blood test. I strongly suspect that the “food sensitivities” in my case and probably many others, is indeed IGE mediated, only the sensitization is local to the GI tract. Research has shown IGE can be produced locally, see local allergic rhinitis. The problem is the research is still young, and unlike the nasal mucosa, its very hard to test the GI tract. I think this could account for the myriads of folks with “non-immune mediated” reactions to foods. Would love to hear you thoughts on this.

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