What if it’s not the gluten that is causing your gut trouble?
For years now, I’ve heard anecdotal stories of patients with food intolerance issues – specifically gluten and wheat intolerances – finding that when travelling in Europe, they did not experience the same problems as at home in Australia. Their joy was palatable. Being able to eat pasta in Italy, baguettes in France. Suddenly a whole world of food that they loved and felt deprived of was on the menu again!
But then they’d return home, and all the problems would come back again. These patients would sit in my office in distress, wanting to know why they could eat these foods on holiday but not at home. For years, I didn’t know what to tell them, but now it seems that emerging research might provide some substance to these anecdotal stories.
A researcher from MIT, Dr Stephanie Seneff, has suggested that glyphosate – more commonly known by its brand name, Roundup – could be a trigger for intolerance reactions to wheat.
Roundup is used by many farmers to kill weeds prior to planting, to create a more favourable environment for the crops and to reduce competition from weeds for the soil’s nutrients. It is also used by some wheat farmers to dessicate – or dry out – wheat prior to harvest. This practice allows farmers to harvest wheat sooner and avoid problems from worsening weather conditions.
Why is this a problem?
Roundup is considered by many to be a safe product, yet the WHO recently released advice that it could contribute to cancer. With regard to eating wheat that has been treated with Roundup, the concerns relate to its impact on the shikimate pathway. Humans do not have a shikimate pathway, so until recently this has not been considered a concern. But what does have a shikimate pathway? Our gut microbes. And as we’ve discussed before, gut microbes and gut health are increasingly being shown to have a huge impact on food intolerances and overall health.
According to Dr Seneff’s study, Roundup damages gut microbes triggering the increase in inflammatory diseases that are common in Western countries. This includes an array of gastrointestinal disorders and autoimmune diseases.
What to do?
Thankfully, the pre-harvest application of Roundup to even ripening and drying times is not as widespread in Australia as it is in the United States. Australia’s dry climate in wheat growing regions is more favourable for crop drying, reducing the need for such practices. Having said that, Roundup is still widely used as a weed control method and remains a concern until more in-depth studies are performed about the relationship between glyphosate and gut health.
To avoid Roundup in wheat (and many other grain and vegetable crops), choosing organically grown foods are recommended. For patients who have been able to eat particular foods in Europe with no symptoms, I invite them to experiment with organically grown foods to see if that triggers an intolerance response. This advice is restricted to patients with mild intolerances. Obviously, patients with coeliac disease should continue to completely avoid all wheat and other gluten-containing foods.