Dr. David Perlmutter, author of The New York Times bestselling Grain Brain, article in The Daily Beast is spot on: “Wheat Threatens All Humans.” Nevertheless, wheat germ agglutinin or WGA has not yet been shown to appear in human blood following its ingestion. Our research group actually performed the only experiment that has ever been conducted in humans with WGA consumption, published in the FASEB Journal and our poster presentation in 2010 at Experimental Biology, and we came up empty handed. We collaborated with Franz Gabor’s group from Austria who had previously developed an ELISA for WGA, and we sent our frozen plasma samples to them for analysis. We drew venous blood in 14 subjects over a 24 hr period following ingestion of 50 g of wheat germ (the highest natural dietary concentration of WGA) and found no WGA in plasma.
However, like Columbus sailing to the new world, we had absolutely no prior direction in our experiment. We now believe our experiment was fatally flawed. Notice in the poster that we presented the major proteins in plasma, and none of them bind WGA. In fact of the more than 60 proteins found in plasma, only one binds WGA and that protein represents <0.1 % of all plasma proteins.
Accordingly, we were almost certainly looking in the wrong place for WGA. When we spun down whole venous blood and threw out the formed elements (erthrocytes, WBCs and platelets), we threw out the baby with the bath water. In all likelihood WGA breeches the gut barrier by first binding to the gut glycocalyx (which causes it to be shed) and subsequently WGA now has access to the gut epithelial cells, dendritic cells and M cells.
At this point, it is unclear whether WGA takes a transcellular, paracellular (or both) journey allowing it to gain entry into lymph and then into venous blood, where it binds RBCs, WBCs, platelets and other formed elements and thereby gains access to virtually every cell in the body. Arpad Pustzai group’s earlier work in animal models supports this concept, however they employed concentrations of WGA that could never be achieved via consumption of naturally occuring WGA in whole wheat bread or even wheat germ.
So, tantalizingly, the article still cannot be substantiated by any human experiments. We would like to perform our experiment once again and analyze WGA in the blood formed elements — but unfortunately have no funding to do this experiment. One of the most important nutritional/ health experiments for all of humanity has yet to be conducted.
On another note, not only does wheat contain gliadin, which upregulates zonulin, which increases intestinal permeability, it also contains an obscure compound (thaumatin like proteins) which also increase intestinal permeability. Hence wheat represents a triple time bomb (gliadin, WGA and thaumatin like proteins) which maintain physical and physiological characteristics that almost certainly impair gut function, interact with our immune systems to produce low level inflammation, and impair vitamin D metabolism (not a vitamin at all, but a hormone having receptors in virtually every cell in the body).
In vitro studies show that WGA binds the nuclear pore and prevents vitamin D from causing its normal gene transcription — not a good thing as proper vitamin D metabolism is protective against osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease and all cause mortality. Hence, as Dr. Perlmutter has suggested, it is likely that wheat consumption will eventually be recognized as a potent health risk for us all, similar to cigarette smoking which was first identified at the population level in the Surgeon General’s recommendations of the early 1960s.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus
Dr. Loren Cordain is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research emphasis over the past 20 years has focused upon the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health and well being in modern humans. Dr. Cordain’s scientific publications have examined the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets as well as the nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods consumed by foraging humans. He is the world’s leading expert on Paleolithic diets and has lectured extensively on the Paleolithic nutrition worldwide. Dr. Cordain is the author of five popular bestselling books including The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Answer, and The Paleo Diet Cookbook, summarizing his research findings.