Normally I’m a pretty healthy person, but this last summer my health took a nose dive. I went to my regular doctor and they ran all of the usual tests. I was told I was low in Vitamin D (really, really low), and low in Vitamin B. Nothing else stood out in the lab work. But point of fact, I was exhausted, gaining weight (especially around my mid-section), and my hair was falling out. Yes, you read that right – my hair was falling out. Not cool.
During a haircut and color my stylist (who I’ve been with for years) mentioned how thin my hair was getting. I replied that I was concerned but no one could turn up the reason for my thinning hair. I went on to list my symptoms that included the aforementioned vitamin deficiencies, weight gain, and hair loss, along with bumps on the back of my arms. My stylist got very quiet for a minute, and the she said something I’ll never forget. “I don’t want to that asshole that says you have what I have, but you have what I have.” That sentence and the journey that followed have changed how eat and live my life, and I am so much better because of it.
On this blog we talk a lot about the food system, and how screwed-up the system really is right now. Many folks I know can no longer eat wheat products, but what I want you to know is that there are several possible culprits regarding why your body does not agree with wheat. In no particular order, they are as follows:
1. Wheat has been desiccated with glyphosate for about the last 15 years or so, a process that causes the wheat to push just a little bit further in seed production. Wheat (at least so far – though an unauthorized GMO strain was recently discovered) is not GMO, so the application of glyphosate is a radical idea, and one that is raising eyebrows. Conventional wheat is treated in this manner, but not organic wheat.
2. Another concern regarding wheat is its extreme hybridization. Some folks believe that the inbreeding of wheat may have caused some issues for many folks, and that ancient wheat strains (like Einkorn) are a possible solution for folks who otherwise can’t eat wheat.
3. The final issue with modern wheat doesn’t have anything to do with the wheat itself, but rather national policy that requires Folic Acid be added to the entire wheat flour supply in the United States (and many other countries). This includes organic wheat, and while this sounds like a great idea, not everyone can process Folic Acid and turn it into Folate (Vitamin B).
Several blood tests turned up three genetic mutations that have been driving my issues, most likely exacerbated when Folic Acid hit the mainstream in the U.S. The first two mutations disallow me to process Folic Acid into Folate, and the third mutation (a very rare mutation) disallows my body to discard the poisonous byproduct from the failed methylation process (hence the hair loss and other symptoms). But what is important to note here is that roughly 40% of the human population carries one or more of these mutations. That means that 40% of the population have some diminished capacity to turn Folic Acid into Folate. How diminished (and how crappy you feel after eat wheat) depends on the number and severity of the mutations you carry.
As it turns out, I was also extremely low in Magnesium – required for both Vitamin D & B to be absorbed. Huge Magnesium doses, huge Vitamin D doses, and a large doses of a very special Vitamin B (methylated B – gets around my genetic mutations), and a strict gluten free lifestyle and I’m back to my spunky self. And thank GAWD, my hair is growing back. Oh, and I’ve lost 13 lbs., so I’ve got that going for me.
Now I said I live a gluten free lifestyle, but not exactly. What I’ve found through this journey is that I can eat organic, folic acid free wheat, but that means grinding the grains myself. A dear friend gave me her grain grinder, and this weekend I made authentic Iris soda bread to go with our corned beef and cabbage. The bread was delicious, and I’ve had no side effects from eating the bread for three days in a row (the bumps on the back of my arms usually show up within a day or so). While I cannot and will not eat wheat products outside of my home, I feel confident that I can eat organic, folic acid free wheat products that I prepare for myself. And if I could get Einkorn grains, even better.
I encourage you to continue to ask questions about our food supply, to continue to know the source of your food, and to continue to ask for second opinions regarding your health. If I had not persisted in just one of those areas I would still be stuck, and I would still be sick. If you are sensitive to wheat, or know someone who is (and don’t we all know someone who is sensitive to wheat?), share this information with them. I’m not claiming that it will turn around the health of everyone that has gluten issues, but it helped me. I’m notoriously skeptical about the health and safety of our food system, but honestly, this one came out of left field.