Although it is a central premise of the whole Wheat Belly argument, I fear that some people haven’t fully gotten the message:
Modern wheat is an opiate.
And, of course, I don’t mean that wheat is an opiate in the sense that you like it so much that you feel you are addicted. Wheat is truly addictive.
Wheat is addictive in the sense that it comes to dominate thoughts and behaviors. Wheat is addictive in the sense that, if you don’t have any for several hours, you start to get nervous, foggy, tremulous, and start desperately seeking out another “hit” of crackers, bagels, or bread, even if it’s the few stale 3-month old crackers at the bottom of the box. Wheat is addictive in the sense that there is a distinct withdrawal syndrome characterized by overwhelming fatigue, mental “fog,” inability to exercise, even depression that lasts several days, occasionally several weeks. Wheat is addictive in the sense that the withdrawal process can be provoked by administering an opiate-blocking drug such as naloxone or naltrexone.
But the “high” of wheat is not like the high of heroine, morphine, or Oxycontin. This opiate, while it binds to the opiate receptors of the brain, doesn’t make us high. It makes us hungry.
This is the effect exerted by gliadin, the protein in wheat that was inadvertently altered by geneticists in the 1970s during efforts to increase yield. Just a few shifts in amino acids and gliadin in modern high-yield, semi-dwarf wheat became a potent appetite stimulant.
Wheat stimulates appetite. Wheat stimulates calorie consumption: 440 more calories per day, 365 days per year, for every man, woman, and child. (440 calories per person per day is the average.) We experience this, sense the weight gain that is coming and we push our plate away, settle for smaller portions, increase exercise more and more . . . yet continue to gain, and gain, and gain. Ask your friends and neighbors who try to include more “healthy whole grains” in their diet. They exercise, eat a “well-balanced diet” . . . yet gained 10, 20, 30, 70 pounds over the past several years. Accuse your friends of drinking too much Coca Cola by the liter bottle, or being gluttonous at the all-you-can-eat buffet and you will likely receive a black eye. Many of these people are actually trying quite hard to control impulse, appetite, portion control, and weight, but are losing the battle with this appetite-stimulating opiate in wheat.
Ignorance of the gliadin effect of wheat is responsible for the idiocy that emits from the mouths of gastroenterologists like Dr. Peter Green of Columbia University who declares:
“We tell people we don’t think a gluten-free diet is a very healthy diet . . . Gluten-free substitutes for food with gluten have added fat and sugar. Celiac patients often gain weight and their cholesterol levels go up. The bulk of the world is eating wheat. The bulk of people who are eating this are doing perfectly well unless they have celiac disease.”
In the simple minded thinking of the gastroenterology and celiac world, if you don’t have celiac disease, you should eat all the wheat you want . . . and never mind about the appetite-stimulating effects of gliadin, not to mention the intestinal disruption and leakiness generated by wheat lectins, or the high blood sugars and insulin of the amylopectin A of wheat, or the new allergies being generated by the new alpha amylases of modern wheat.
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Goodness, the legal drug-makers have been busy! This week the Associated Press revealed that in 2010, US pharmacies dispensed the equivalent of 69 tons of pure oxycodone (used as ingredient in OxyContin, Percocet, and Percodan) and 42 tons of pure hydrocodone (used in Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab). That’s enough to give forty 5-milligram Percocets and twenty-four 5-milligram Vicodins to every single person in the United States.
The production and sale of both drugs has increased tremendously over the past decade; in some locations, sales have increased by 1,500 percent. Distribution is particularly high in Appalachia, the Midwest—particularly suburbia—and the Southwest.
Why the increase? Our poor diets and inactive lifestyles increase inflammation and pain. Older people are especially vulnerable in this regard. And doctors are increasingly willing to treat pain with drugs. Sales are also being driven by addiction, as users become physically dependent on painkillers and begin “doctor shopping” to keep the prescriptions coming.
As with all opiates, oxycodone and hydrocodone bind to opiate receptors in the brain, blocking not only pain signals but any negative emotions like stress or anxiety. The euphoria associated with early use fades relatively quickly as tolerance builds. The pain-managing efficacy will also be reduced as tolerance builds—which is why these drugs should not be used for long-term or chronic pain. If users take the drug for longer than prescribed, or in higher doses, it is likely that they will become addicted.
Addicts die from drug overdoses at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. Opioid pain relievers like oxycodone and hydrocodone caused 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008. Addiction is also responsible for the alarming rise in pharmacy robberies nationwide.
The epidemic is not likely to abate soon. The explosion of pain management clinics in Florida, dubbed “pill mills,” prompted the state legislature to close a loophole that had allowed physicians to fill oxycodone prescriptions on the spot. Authorities say a half-billion doses of the drug and its generic equivalents were distributed in the state during 2009 alone. An unknown number wound up in the hands of “patients” who had come from out of state to have prescriptions filled by multiple pill mills, before driving home to resell the pills on the black market.
According to Gene Haislip, who for seventeen years was head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Diversion Control, the DEA’s policy of allowing increases in the production of these drugs in the face of widespread illegal and non-medical use shows a “serious lack of accountability and oversight”:
The DEA is the lone federal agency with the power to decide how much of the drug gets made and put out there; it alone has had all the responsibility to do something about this problem. The way I did it for seventeen years, which was basically the way it had always been done even before the DEA was the DEA, is that when a significant diversion problem occurred, the quota increase requests would come under greater scrutiny. With Oxy, there has been a significant diversion problem since the late 1990s, so the requests should have come under greater scrutiny.
That apparently didn’t happen, Haislip says. Instead, the DEA has rubber-stamped Big Pharma’s requests to increase oxycodone production. And why is that? Political influence, plain and simple.
As Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, pointed out in her 2004 book The Truth about the Drug Companies, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) employs more lobbyists in Washington than there are members of Congress. Since 2007, the group has spent more than $20 million annually on lobbying in Washington to see that its interests are protected. Haislip says DEA won’t block a company’s requested quota increase “if that company is supporting members of Congress who have the power to block the agency’s funding.”
Then there’s the revolving door between the Office of Diversion Control and drug manufacturers or consulting firms that work with both industry and DEA. People working in the Office of Diversion Control know they might get lucrative work with drug companies upon retirement, and this constitutes a huge conflict of interest that prevents DEA officials from doing their duty. They certainly aren’t going to offer an opinion or do something that’s going to cut off their future prospects.
Contrast the “hands-off” approach dealing with incredibly addictive narcotics with the aggressive disapproval of perfectly safe supplements like DHEA. DHEA, which is short for dehydroepiandrosterone, is a natural hormone produced by the adrenal glands, the gonads, and the brain. DHEA is the most abundant circulating steroid hormone in humans and is sometimes referred to as the mother hormone since other hormones can be made from it. In its supplement form, DHEA is used for slowing or reversing aging, improving thinking skills in older people, slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, weight loss, decreasing the symptoms of menopause, and boosting the immune system.
As we reported last October, DHEA supplementation also helps create improvements in muscle strength and bone mineral density with a reduction in body fat mass. And there is substantial support for its effectiveness in fighting adrenal insufficiency, hypopituitarism, general osteoporosis, systemic lupus, depression, schizophrenia, and balancing the overproduction of cortisol produced by excessive stress. Too much cortisol ages us rapidly; a little extra DHEA can make all the difference.
There are a number of different forms of DHEA. 5-DHEA is the form most commonly sold on the market and used for aging, depression, obesity, cardiovascular risk, and adrenal insufficiency. However, it can result in an increased production of male hormones, which may be positive or negative depending on various factors. For example, some aging males convert extra testosterone to estrogen, a process called aromatization, and too much in women can cause unwanted hair growth. For men with prostate troubles, 1-DHEA might be a better choice (no estrogenicity and decreased androgenicity), while 19Nor-DHEA might be better for women (little estrogenicity and anti-androgenic metabolites). But these little-known forms of DHEA are especially vulnerable to being lumped together with dangerous drugs and banned—simply because they are not well known.
DHEA has had a fifteen-year record of complete safety. Despite this, FDA and certain members of Congress keep trying to regulate it as a controlled substance, specifically as an anabolic steroid, even when used in dietary supplements.
Currently DHEA could be classified as an illegal anabolic steroid if the DEA were to present evidence that it meets all eight requirements under the Anabolic Steroids/Controlled Substances law. As the DEA has not yet put DHEA on the list, they clearly either don’t think it fits or hesitate for other reasons. Legislation was introduced a few years ago to add DHEA to the DEA’s controlled substances list, even though DEA already had the power to put it on the list if they met the burden of proof.
No deaths from DHEA. No addictions. No shameful deals between the manufacturer and federal agencies. No organized crime because of DHEA in America’s heartland. And yet DHEA is under attack, while big Pharma keeps churning out dangerous opiates by the ton.
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A toxic ingredient in a popular herbal remedy is linked to more than half of all cases of urinary tract cancer in Taiwan where use of traditional medicine is widespread, said a US study Monday.
Aristolochic acid (AA) is a potent human carcinogen that is found naturally in Aristolochia plants, an ingredient common in botanical Asian remedies for aiding weight loss, easing joint pain and improving stomach ailments.
The ancient herb has been touted around the world for thousands of years for everything from gout to childbirth, but scientists now know it carries serious risks of causing kidney disease and urinary cancers.
The latest research found it can interact with a person’s DNA and form unique biomarkers of exposure, as well as creating signals within tumor suppressing genes that indicate the carcinogen has been ingested.
In Taiwan, where previous research has shown about one-third of the population has taken AA in recent years, rates of urinary tract and kidney cancer are about four times higher than in Western countries where use is less common, said the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“It is a rare tumor and Taiwan has the highest incidence of any country in the world,” said lead author Arthur Grollman of the department of pharmacological sciences at Stony Brook University in New York.
“The fact that Taiwan had the highest incidence both of cancer and this renal disease — that was our clue that something was going on there,” Grollman told AFP.
The research was based on 151 patients with urinary tract cancer, of whom 60 percent showed specific mutations linked to the herbal remedy.
In particular, after being ingested the acid forms a unique kind of lesion in the renal cortex, and also gives rise to a particular mutational signature in the TP53 tumor suppressing gene, said the study.
The herb is known in Europe by the name birthwort because it was often given to women during childbirth. Derived from the Greek, “aristolochia” means noble birth.
“This has been used by every culture in the world from the earliest written record,” said Grollman.
Signs of harm have emerged in recent decades, and the acid is blamed for causing a kidney disease called Balkan endemic nephropathy, first described in 1956, that afflicted rural farmers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Serbia.
The villagers were found to be baking seeds from a weed called Aristolochia clematitis in their bread.
In the 1990s, a group of Belgian women reported sudden late stage kidney failure after taking a weight loss drug that contained AA.
And even though many countries have taken steps to warn of the risks, the ingredient is difficult to control and still finds its way into products via the Internet, said Grollman, adding that most of the AA products currently being used in Taiwan are made in China.
“Many countries ban it but it is always available on the Internet. And in fact you can’t ban it in the United States. You can only ban its importation.”
The US Food and Drug Administration warned of the risks of aristolochic acid in 2001 after two patients developed serious kidney disease after using botanical products containing it.
“Natural is not necessarily safe, nor is long-term usage,” said Grollman.