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.