Back to that 60's population explosion and the pasture improvement programmes, and part of this was the Wheat Project, to increase the wheat yield per acre. First up, scientists took a look at the standard wheat crop to see what they could do to 'improve' it, and so began a wheat-breeding programme by pollinating it with various wild grasses to extract certain genetic characteristics - the first genetic modification (GM), as it were. So far so good, you'd think. But then along came a lovely word - mutagenesis.
The newly created genetically 'modified' wheat-cross plant was then subjected to a further process called mutagenesis, which is the "purposeful induction of mutations", performed using chemicals, radiation and gamma rays. Thing is, the scientists couldn’t control the mutations they got – they couldn't order up a specific mutation for better pest resistance or a reduced height - they got what they got. Hundreds of experimental mutations were applied and if they weren’t fatal to the plant, this was the bonus.
The final result? A completely mutated, unrecognisable wheat form from its former self. FrankenWheat. Whether it was safe to eat was another matter. Scientists certainly considered so at the time, but let's not forget the delicate fact that everyone involved was on the payroll of BigFood, so of course it got the green light for Go. We had to wait for history to reveal that result, which sure enough soon showed itself.
The wheat that our ancestors had known, the 4ft-tall traditional Spelt plant that humans and livestock had survived perfectly well on for centuries, had now been mutated into an 18”, short, thick, stocky, hybridized, semi-dwarf strain, as it was called. Its change in appearance was accompanied by multiple changes in its genetics, its biochemistry, and in particular its gluten proteins. And here's the rub - when products with this high-yield semi-dwarf wheat arrived on the newly-built supermarket shelves, the western world saw a dramatic increase in not only calorie intake, diabetes Type II and obesity, but also an explosion of multiple autoimmune diseases.
The gluten link to leaky gut & autoimmunity
I can still remember the day, back in the mid-1960's, when mum took me and my brother to this new, ultra-modern - and huge, the likes never seen before - shop on the high street. It was called Waitrose, and it was described as a 'super' market, where mum could buy everything under one roof instead of dragging us kids up and down the High Street into lots of different shops.
Overnight, everything seemed to change in our kitchen. She started cooking up unusual new meals out of cardboard boxes made from dried powders – anyone remember Vesta Chicken Curry or Angel Delight? A weird invention from Italy soon appeared as well - pasta! (Made from - you've guessed it - wheat). Mum started making a thing called Spag-Bol from frozen (yes, another weird invention!), ready-made beef-burgers by thawing them first then chopping them up in the frying pan. This was the Modern New World entering our home.
Cut to today, and the wheat we’re now eating is not the wheat of our grandparents. It's super-high in gluten, as well as a much higher starch content; for example, take 2-tablespoons of refined white sugar - yes, that's a whopping 2-tablespoons - a huge amount of sugar which we know is baaaad. Yet - and sit tight for this one - it raises blood sugar levels less than 2 slices of manufactured, processed, supermarket wholewheat bread. Astonishing.
But worse, what we also know is that the glutens in today’s wheat are highly inflammatory and not what our gut system is adapted to eat. They disrupts the gut lining by way of microscopic pathogenic intestinal permability, aka Leaky Gut Syndrome, even in those who do not have celiac disease, and this affects not only humans but our horses too.
The lining of the gut is supposed to be strong and tight, keeping food, waste, and microbes inside the digestive tract. Gluten can cause the release of an inflammatory protein called zonulin, which opens up the junctions in the lining of the gut and causes gaps, allowing particles to leak into the bloodstream (where they don’t belong) and creating an immune response. This sets the stage for systemic inflammation.
Leaky Gut is not a fad; it’s a phenomena, now considered an epidemic, that’s been created as a result of the increased use of man-made processed foods, antibiotics, chronic stresses and environmental toxins, all colluding to drive the disruptions in the gut function further, which allow the glutens to break through the gut membrane and create this systemic inflammation that's become all too common these days.
All the health and nutrition models I've researched have been on human studies so I can only quote from these, but it completely replicates what happens in our horses' gut systems, so here goes:
Every time the human gut is exposed to wheat, it tears the inside lining of the gut every time.
The good news is that the body is permanently on a healing mission, so if we have toast for breakfast, the gut lining will heal; a sandwich for lunch, it'll heal; a chunk of bread to mop up supper; it heals. But only for so long. The not-so-good news is that the gut lining will eventually lose its tolerance to heal and this is when the problems start.
Those tears become inflamed and finally open up, causing the microscopic pathogenic intestinal permability, aka Leaky Gut, where gluten and other toxins, as well as undigested food matter, leak through the intestines into the bloodstream. Specifically, we're talking refined grains, refined sugar which feeds candida and yeast in the body, and genetically modified organisms wired with pesticides and viruses which kill off the beneficial microbes in the gut. And I haven’t even mentioned hydrogenated oils and artificial sweeteners ...
Autoimmune disease starts right here. The immune system goes into a runaway immune response to these toxins in the bloodstream, and unless corrected, so it begins. We're talking joints becoming affected (rheumatoid arthritis), thyroid health (Hashimoto's Disease, aka chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, often leading to hypothyroidism), the colon (Crones disease), fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) – all caused by leaky gut, caused by certain foods. If a human is suffering an inflammatory or chronic condition, i.e. autoimmunity, digestive disorders, depression, neurological issues and so on, gluten should be at the top of list to eliminate, as many of these are being driven by gluten.
Need a few more reasons to go easy on the gluten? The new forms of hybridized wheat contain amylopectin A, a super starch worse than sugar, many more inflammatory gliadin proteins that cause leaky gut, lots of the weed killer glyphosate, and lastly a preservative, calcium propionate, linked to mood, behaviour, attention problems and even autism. Makes you want to skip the breadbasket ...
By removing gluten we can see the impact it has on health, and I speak from personal experience - see my Blog Post, The Metabolic Horse - and Me. Eliminating carbs, including gluten, completely eliminated my mid-life belly-bloat, re-energised me and cleared my brain fog, as well as unintentionally shifting half-a stone to boot (which I truly wasn't expecting) and acquiring a waist for the first time in my entire 6-decades of life.
Let's end with Novak Djokovic
Any tennis fans out there? Novak Djokovic is a great example of an athlete who accelerated his career thanks to a nutritionist who spotted his autoimmune syndrome back in 2010.
Djokovic had lost yet another Grand Slam, the Australian Open, to Tsonga. He was exhausted, wrung out, and couldn't understand why he kept losing. Yet by removing inflammatory dairy, gluten and sugar from his diet, we've since seen Djokovic in the last 8-years go from repeatedly losing Grand Slams to becoming the the World No. 1 and pretty much unbeatable, including winning Wimbledon just 12-months after changing his diet.
Quoted from the actual Wimbledon footage: "It’s championship point (tense hush) … (then cue huge applause) ... And there’s our new champion at Wimbledon! Novak Djokovic! He’s the new World No. 1 in every sense, and he deserves it. After the year that he’s had, he came in here as the People’s Favourite, and now he’s proved it.”
And to quote Djokovic himself, “I just needed that information about change of the diet and nutrition, and with that change in 2010 and the years after that I felt so stronger as a tennis player on the court, I recovered better, I had endurance, I had more clarity of mind, all of a sudden the horizons of life opened up to me, the circumstances in life I’ve had after that were phenomenal.”
And, as some say, the horse is the greatest athlete in the world. Imagine the athlete we'd get if we got this mutated, inflammatory wheat out of their diets as well.