Wheat Germ Agglutinin

Written by: Kevin Cann



Most everyone is familiar with gluten.  Gluten free products can now be purchased from most super markets and many restaurants now offer a gluten free diet.  This is an enormous stride in the right direction to help improve the health of Americans.  However, gluten is not the only toxic compound found in wheat products.  Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) may be just as dangerous as gluten.

Before we get started on the possible issues of WGA I would like to include a disclaimer.  Most of these studies are performed on animals that are given unusually high amounts of WGA.  There was one study that I found that showed that WGA may be potentially hazardous in small amounts.  This study can be found here, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=873700.  This study states that WGA acts upon enterocytes and accumulates within the cells (Pellegrina, 2009).  With that being said we have seen many cases anecdotally with people’s health and body composition improving following a grain free diet.

WGA is a lectin protein that protects wheat from pests.  Just like gluten, WGA increases intestinal permeability and damages the gut lining.  This leads to our immune system initiating an immune response and can lead to various auto-immune ailments.  WGA has also been shown to increase size of the gut through a process of endocytosis.  This is when the cells literally engulf the lectin protein.  It was also shown to interfere with metabolism.  Once the WGA enters the bloodstream, it is deposited in various cells and the blood wall.  WGA also causes an increase in size of the pancreas and a decrease in size of the thymus (Pusztai, 1993).

An interesting action of WGA in the body is its relationship with insulin receptor sites.  WGA bonds directly with the insulin receptor sites.  A study published in 1973 states that “wheat germ agglutinin is as effective as insulin in enhancing the rate of glucose transport and inhibiting epinephrine-stimulated lipolysis in isolated adipocytes” (Cuatrecasas, 1973).  The study states specifically that it increases glucose transport into fat and liver cells while blocking the ability of stored fat to be released.  This can make losing weight impossible and the fact that more glucose is getting brought to the liver; it can increase the amounts of triglycerides in our blood.   I have seen many times people eating the same amount of calories when changing from a standard American diet to a paleo diet, but losing weight.  This may be a substantial factor in the weight loss.

Vitamin D deficiency is another health epidemic that we currently face.  Vitamin D deficiency is linked to numerous health issues such as heart disease and cancer.  Vitamin D deficiency was estimated at 41.6% nationwide with 82.1% of blacks being deficient and 69.2% of Hispanics (Forrest, 2011).  WGA may be a major culprit.  According to the USDA wheat is the third most produced crop in the United States behind corn and soybeans.  Studies have shown that WGA actually inhibits cells from accumulating the vitamin D receptor (Zhongjun, 2005).  This means that no matter how much time someone spends in the sun, the decrease in available vitamin D receptors can potentially lead to deficiencies.  This may also explain some of the ineffectiveness of vitamin D supplementation.

Understanding WGA and the other toxins found in grains and legumes is an important concept to health and weight loss.  WGA alone has the ability to increase fat storage as well as decrease the body’s ability to use that fat as energy.  Counting calories while eating wheat products may work for some, but there are going to be quite a few people that run into failure.  How can one reverse insulin resistance by eating a food that acts like insulin?  Consumption of wheat can lead to vitamin D deficiencies which may be why we see increasing rates of disease and even osteoporosis.  It damages the gut lining and increases inflammation.  Inflammation can also lead to weight gain.  If anything remove wheat from the diet for 30 days and see how you feel.  Eliminating all grains and legumes would be an even better step towards better health.







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  1. says


    I’m going to assume that gluten free does not mean WGA free? I tried to research this further and can’t find much about the extent of “gluten free.”

  2. says

    I find this really really interesting. I have become a big proponent lately of how the biology of the foods we eat is mostly a black box. We are discovering new molecules, and their effects, everyday but we are still at the tip of the iceberg.

    This resonates with me at the moment because I have gone pure paleo – no dairy, salt etc AND NO EXCUSES. I have been on a more relaxed primal version before but couldn’t lose the weight. Now I am losing it so fast, and the funny thing is, I am eating more calories than I ever have (I aim for around 3000). One of the assumption for doing this was the fact tha there are probably so many nasty chemicals in these non-paleo foods that mess with your digestive system so better play it safe and just eliminate all potentially threatening foods. It’s working wonders.

  3. Martin says

    >> This resonates with me at the moment because I have gone pure paleo – no dairy, salt etc

    What does “no salt” have to do with “pure paleo”? :-)

  4. says

    The question should be what does salt have to do with paleo. It wasn’t eaten. Maybe a few exceptions to the rule, but the rule remains. Loren Cordain discusses this on his site.

  5. says

    The reason the studies where animals are fed an unusually high amount of stuff, is because if one uses “normal” amounts it could take years to see the effects. Dosing them with excessively high amounts exposes the potential toxicities much earlier. Drugs are routinely scrapped from clinical development because they cause cancer in rats at much higher doses than taken normally. In fact, the FDA had randomized studies showing Bextra at high doses caused cardiac events when they approved it (7 fold increase in event rate – with the concerns in the medical review document published online at that time), but the FDA let them get away with it – and of course years later we learned those studies should have been taken seriously. Moral of this story, one does need to respect a study even if the doses used as much higher than normal.

  6. Sally Ellis says

    Hi Rob,
    I’m new to this field, and there seems to be a huge amount of activity on the Internet regarding wheat germ agglutinin. However, I am having trouble finding any published research showing that consumption of WGA increases human intestinal permeability, or is harmful to health. Can you help?

  7. Alex says

    I don’t deny that WGA could be harmful, however, that study isn’t very helpful in determining if it is at realistic levels of consumption. It says that the rats were fed a WGA at a level of 7g/kg. That’s a TON of WGA. That’s the equivalent of feeding someone who weighs 150 lbs (68 kilos) about 476g (about .8 lbs.) of WGA each day for 10 days (then killing them, as they always do in lab experiments). That’s an equivalent of 4.76 kilos of WGA over a week and a half. Of course it caused problems. The authors of the study claim that wheat germ has 300mg/kg of WGA. Given the name, I would suspect that most of the wheat germ agglutinin is concentrated in the germ, which is not part of white wheat flour, but I don’t know for certain. Even if white flour contained WGA at a rate of 300mg/kg, our 4.76 kg of WGA would be the equivalent of around 15,800 lbs. of flour. That’s a lifetime of WGA consumption in 10 days. I’m not saying that wheat or WGA aren’t harmful to humans, it most certainly is, at least how it is normally consumed, as far as blood sugar, cravings, obesity, etc. is concerned. I personally have been off of wheat for a while now, i’m just saying that this study is not valid evidence one way or the other. The authors acknowledge in their conclusion that the effects of WGA in humans is unknown.

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