The "diseases of affluence," as they are known, include diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and cancer, and are sometimes referred to as the "Western disease" paradigm.
They emerge largely in response to the type of overnourishment that occurs in relatively wealthy societies, and particularly the excessive consumption of certain evolutionarily incompatible foods that nonetheless have become the nutritional centerpiece of agrarian, grain-based cultures.
(Consider that we have only been consuming the seeds of cereal grasses, i.e. grains, en masse for 10-20,000 years, which while ancient in cultural time, is but a nanosecond in biological time!)
While we have already spent considerable time indicting the credibility of wheat as a so-called health food, whose secular and religious glorification are unparalleled within the cereal grains, we have not delved deeply enough into the link between grain consumption, particularly wheat, and cardiovascular disease, the #1 cause of death in the Western world.
This link, of course, strikes literally to the heart of the seemingly indestructible myth that eating wheat, and more exactly whole wheat (which has more lectin than white, processed wheat flour), is a good thing for human health.
Beyond the well over 200 adverse health effects linked to wheat consumption that now exist in the peer-reviewed biomedical literature, we hope to point out in the following article how cardiovascular health is better served by eliminating this uniquely problematic grain from the diet.
It was actually Loren Cordain, Ph.D., author of the Paleo Diet, who (to our knowledge) first pointed out the inherent cardiotoxicity of wheat.
In the March 2008 edition of The Paleo Diet Newsletter, Cordain explains in an article titled, "Whole Wheat Heart Attack Part 2: The Role of Dietary Lectins," how dietary lectins, as found in wheat, promote the formation of fatty streaks and mature atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries.
First, he explains how dietary lectins, which we like to call "invisible thorns" within many commonly ingested plant foods, and which are designed to fend off microbial and animal predators (among other functions), are capable of gaining entry into the circulatory system:
Second, he asks the question:
In answer, he first discusses the well-known atherosclerosis-promoting effects of peanut lectin, as well as the intriguing fact that atherosclerosis almost always occurs, not just anywhere, but in a specific location of the arteries.
Basically, at sites where arteries branch a protective glycocalyx (a wispy, hairy structure whose "slipperiness" reduces turbulent flow) prevents damage that might otherwise be caused by white blood cells attaching to adhesion molecules on the surface of the cells lining the arteries.
The attachment of white blood cells and subsequent infiltration of the middle section of the artery - namely, the intima media - by them, is what leads to the formation of fatty streaks within the arteries, eventually leading to plaque formation which may obstruct the flow of blood within the narrowing lumen of the artery.
Therefore, when the glycocalyx is disturbed, and/or excessive glycocalyx shedding there is induced - presumably by dietary lectins like wheat lectin - the resulting increased arterial wall shear stress and inflammation contributes to atherosclerosis.
For a more elaborate and technical explanation of the process, Cordain explains the process below:
Wheat lectin, also known as Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA), is highly selective in what it binds to (the word select and lectin share the same etymological root), and has such a high affinity with certain biomolecules that make up the glycocalyx - n-acetyl-glucosamine and sialic acid - that the problem with lectin-arterial glyocalyx distruption is clear as day.
Just as wheat lectins bind to the slippery mucous coat of the glycocalyx in the intestines, contributing to their well-known gastrointestinal toxicity, once they enter into systemic circulation, they may also bind to the slippery glycocalyx lining the arteries, resulting in the damage and subsequent inflammation associated with atherosclerosis.
According to Cordain, another way in which wheat germ agglutinin contributes to the final and fatal step in atherosclerosis, is through its agglutinating effect, i.e. "to cause to adhere, as with glue," which is to say, forming a clot.
According to Cordain:
The ability of lectins to cause the clumping up of cells in the plasma is well known.
The Eat Right For Your Blood Type System, for instance, is based upon ascertaining the agglutinizing effects of different foods on different blood types. If wheat lectin can contribute both to inflammation in the lining of the arteries, and cause clumping up and clotting of the blood, there is little doubt that it can also contribute to the #1 cause of death in the Western world.
There is also the possibility that the immune system may respond to the presence of wheat proteins by producing antibodies that cross-react with cardiovascular tissue, causing myocardial inflammation, i.e. myocarditis.
Myocardititis was in fact identified to be a potential cause of autoimmune myocardititis in a minority of celiac disease patients.1