Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wheat and gluten as a cause of bloating death in cattle. Is there a parallel to wheat gluten's contribution to the obesity and gas-bloating in humans?

Wheat fed to cattle can kill them. Excess wheat or barley feed can result in a bloating disorder known as wheat pasture bloat, feedlot bloat, free-gas bloat or frothy bloat. Wheat and barley are fed to cattle because they are a cheap source of high protein grains that result in rapid weight gain for finishing cattle off for slaughter. However, if too much wheat or barley is fed to cattle, especially high gluten containing wheat, the cattle die. Their stomach, called the rumen, accumulates excessive gas putting pressure on the heart and lungs leading to death.

My physician wife with celiac disease grew up in rural Missouri and their family had a few head of cattle. When I asked her if she had ever heard of pasture bloat she described how she once tried to help the local vet save one of their cows that developed pasture bloat. The vet punctured the cow's "stomach" to let gas escape but the cow still died. I have patients who tell me they feel like they are dying from abdominal pain and bloating and they wish someone would puncture their stomach to let all the air out. Those who who try a gluten-free or wheat-free diet don't feel that way anymore. After only a few weeks of a gluten-free diet most say their bloating is gone. Many of the family members of my patients with celiac disease go on the diet in support of them and then note dramatic improvements in a number of symptoms associated with gluten and celiac disease though do not necessarily meet criteria for the disorder.

Many of people complain of being unable to lose weight. Yet a careful review of their diet reveals that, like most Americans, they getting more than 20% of their daily calories from carbohydrates containing gluten. If the cattle industry knows that wheat and barley grains rapidly fatten up cattle we shouldn't be surprised at the obesity epidemic in our grain and carbohydrate focused diet. Overweight and obese people who go on a gluten-free diet lose weight.

The low carbohydrate diet, by nature a low gluten diet, has been so successful, in my opinion, because not only do people lose weight but they feel better. They report their headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, brain fog and bloating are better. This along with their significant weight loss motivates them to stick with the diet. My specialty training in gastroenterology taught me to advise people, especially those with irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis, to eat lots of whole grains and to take fiber supplements. The U.S. government's official food pyramid also encourages this recommendation. I eventually stopped recommending fiber supplements and so much grain to my patients because most bitterly complained of increased bloating, gas and abdominal discomfort. Now that I have personal experience after my wife’s diagnosis of celiac and my diagnosis of gluten sensitivity and I have read hundreds of articles and counseled hundreds of patients my expert opinion is that such recommendations are not only unhelpful but harmful.

So, why do they give wheat, wheat gluten, and barley grain feeds to cattle when it has long been known that those grains as a sole source of nutrition are not only inadequate but toxic? Those grains are inexpensive. They produces very fast and dramatic weight gains in cattle for a favorable feed cost per pound of weight gained. However, great care must be exercised in using wheat or barley for fattening cattle because of the nutritional inadequacies and potential side effects. Supplements are required for several reasons. Wheat alone can result in low calcium levels that can cause grass tetany, a form of muscle spasms or paralysis. An exclusive or very high wheat diet can cause a ruminant acidosis (high levels of acid in the blood) that is also fatal to cattle. Excess wheat or barley intake or as a inappropriate proportion of the protein calories can result in fatal wheat pasture bloat or feedlot bloat.

Is your diet consisting of large amounts of calories being derived from wheat and gluten containing carbohydrates? Are you overweight and of constantly feeling bloated, experiencing unexplained muscle cramps and aches, headaches, balance difficulties, and abdominal pain? Maybe we should learn from the cattle industry since the government and the medical establishment is not telling us the whole truth about the dangers of a grain-based diet. Any questions see my previous posts and online articles. Also look at the latest photo of the Food Doc Twinkies Experiment now two weeks old and showing no signs of mold or deterioration.

Copyright © 2007, The Food Doc, LLC, All Rights Reserved.

“A review of bloat in feedlot cattle” Cheng KJ et al. J Anim. Sci 1998. 76:299-308.

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