Opinion by Laurence Harris
Duvall, Washington, USA

An article I wrote for MDDI in 2003

5 April 2008

I am convinced, from my lifetime of experience, that not all people want to know about unpleasant realities.

Once I engaged in a market research survey of attitudes regarding nuclear radiation. The company I was with at the time was producing a very inexpensive nuclear radiation detector, and wondered about market potential. Our study was not particularly scientific, but yielded surprising information: most people felt they were better off without knowing about nuclear radiation. Odd, we thought, since the consumers we were talking to actually lived downwind of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant that leaked radiation and sent the citizenry into a panic, with many evacuating the area.

But the typical attitude was that if it was invisible, and not detectable without an instrument or some kind of little box that plugs in and clicks, they were happier letting it stay invisible and unknown.

So much for logic.

I have seen a surprising number humans, who most likely have serious gluten intolerance, exhibit a similar attitude about the subject.

I remember the course of my discovery of my own gluten intolerance, and my absolute astonishment. It was quite a rude awakening, particularly since I knew so little about it when my physician of the time made the pronouncement. She was intelligent and observant, and apparently could look at the world outside of herself without bias or preconceived notions. (Unfortunately she and her husband moved away to Montana.) (That is a talent that many learned, educated and experienced people seem to lack.) So I was willing to believe what she told me, although it seemed totally amazing at the time.

The entire sequence of events that led up to my ultimate discovery of my condition was pretty mundane. Around the beginning of 2001 I wanted to lose about thirty pounds. (I was employed at the time in an engineering position doing medical device development and put in long hours sitting at a desk, with too little exercise.) A friend suggested I try the Atkins Diet. Not one to just jump on some fad diet bandwagon, but trusting my friend's opinion, I researched it and found a six month study that found no harm coming from total elimination of carbohydrates from the diet, along with improvement in the subjects' cholesterol ratios. I even checked with my doctor, who thought it would be okay to try this diet. So I undertook a complete elimination of carbohydrates from my diet.

After a year and a half of living that way and enjoying the gradual weight loss, I finally reached my target weight and thought I should reward myself with a pizza and beer. Four of us went to a local excellent source of pizza, and had a wonderful time. The next day I had cramps, flu-like symptoms, and thought maybe I had food poisoning. It was pretty awful. I checked with the others that had gone there with me, and they were fine, no problems, so I supposed I had encountered a bug some other way than through bad food.

After about six weeks, during which time I continued my carb-free living, I had recovered enough to want to try a pizza again. This time the aftermath was worse, more of the same, but more severe. THIS time I went to see the doctor. And the doctor, after listening to the circumstances, said it seemed that I was most likely reacting to wheat, and that I should avoid it. By eliminating all carbs from my diet to lose weight, I had eliminated wheat, and this was what was behind my present reaction to the pizza and beer.

I am NOT one who can sit back and accept such a bombastic pronouncement without attempting to understand how this could be true. So began a journey where I devoted many evenings every week, and significant time on weekends, studying everything I could lay my hands on. (Isn't the internet wonderful?) Since I was doing medical device engineering development, I had access to our company library full of medical knowledge. But even better, I had access into a website for medical professionals: "Medscape." That proved to be a rich resource of free access to a wide array of medical journals which were putting their content onto the web. I spent several years operating this way. (I did take up bicycling with my friend so that I would not be a total vegetable.) The research paid off.

I began to see patterns reported in medical study after medical study. My own collection of autoimmune disorders helped to focus my attention on some parts of the patterns I was seeing reported, and there gradually emerged the picture of my present understanding of gluten intolerance and its relationship with autoimmune disorders. I was voraciously poring through a goldmine of data, correlating what I read in one study with things I read in other studies. I was doing this just for myself, just so I could understand what was going on. I was so awed at what I was learning, that I plowed through information from many different medical fields of specialization, and supplemented it with expanding my knowledge in microbiology and biochemistry.

Then I realized that I was treading into areas of understanding and reaching conclusions that went beyond anything I had ever read. The annoying, frustrating even, aspect of this was that I had not taken careful notes, had not kept references for every article I read, and now might have difficulty explaining how I know all of it fits together the way I know it does.

In my favor, however, is the personal accomplishment, that I would liken to what a college student experiences when learning new subjects. College students read widely on a number of different topics, taking courses that present detailed information. They don't usually keep a record of everything they read, but absorb knowledge and gain new understanding and insights into the working of the world and life that they did not possess before. Yet when they finish, they have no problem with credibility, since they have gone through a process where they are led down paths that others have followed many times.

So the process was similar, but perhaps more like what graduate students do when they tackle new studies. They are supposed to learn enough about their chosen field that they can reach new understandings and make new conclusions that nobody else had previously. NOW, I am faced with the task of going back to as much of what I plowed through over several years and document my sources carefully so that I can lead others along the same paths. I am beginning that process, and will add much to this website as I proceed.

Now that I know a few things about the effects of eating wheat, barley and rye, and perhaps even oats, I see more than many others do who lack the education and understanding that I have achieved.

Mostly what I observe about people is that there are many who are suffering autoimmune disorders, and who could benefit from gluten elimination, who think it is too much to ask of them. "I couldn't do that!" they say. In spite of the possible benefits, they see wheat as far too intertwined with food to ever think of living without the wheat.

Another observation is that so many medical people pre-diagnose patients without listening to them. Many seem to have the attitude that they are the authority here, and what patients say is not to be trusted, so they tune out otherwise valuable input. I think some of these physicians feel they have "paid their dues" by going through medical school, so they can stop the learning process. (If they didn't teach it in medical school, then it can't be important.)

These doctors seem to hold opinions about gluten intolerance that class it with every kooky fad that ever existed. Celiac is a European problem, we don't have it here! Besides, it couldn't possibly be real, it's a cult thing over there, a group psychosis, that we don't suffer from since we have real science on our side. "Everybody knows that in America our science is much better than anywhere else." (But it really is not.)

So America seems to have the problem instead of the Europeans. The problem is head-in-sand ignorance, science that seems to have become mired in preconceived notions, and extensions of this to lengths you would have thought only possible in fantasy tales.

I know I am not dumb. I have a good brain, have studied and learned all my life, have accomplished much (including having created the high reliability DSP software that runs a heart pump with a magnetically levitated impeller, that is saving many lives now) and have worked hard on the study of gluten intolerance. I know I have reached an understanding that few others have achieved, and reached conclusions that, to me, seem inescapable. But if you haven't looked at as much as I have, you may not see what I see, and you might choose to believe differently. That would be sad, but it is your loss.

Our American fantasy has resulted from lack of appropriate study by too many medical researchers. One aspect of this is that there has been a learning curve that was preceded by posturing of physicians who pretended to knowledge that they didn't possess. It amounts almost to a sort of a cult thing, a secret society dedicated to making the uninitiated believe that the medical profession knows all, sees all, and that if there is a problem they don't correct or cure, it is your fault, not theirs. But as the medical professions extend the boundaries of real knowledge, they have the burdensome legacy of a history of pretending and of downright deceit that clouds all. That seems to have been the engenderment of the Celiac-is-only-European myth, and that has mislead researchers for decades now. It has brought us Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Fibromyalgia instead of real science about wheat gluten protein being a kind of poison.

So for ten thousand years humans have been consuming increasingly greater amounts of wheat without realizing it is the source of tremendous human misery. One time I went to a university book store and read through parts of a handbook on toxicology, looking for any references to gluten intolerance or its "delayed type hypersensitivity" immune reaction. Toxicologists, it seems, aren't there yet. When you and I both know that wheat is not good food for us, and we both know that for us, eating it elevates our risk of lymphomas and Adenocarcinomas, I am led to wonder how these people could have missed this.

And that even makes incredible any scientist's claim that they can know that some particular foodstuff is safe for human consumption. I will not go into genetically modified food crop plants, but I suspect we are on even rougher waters with claims made about their safety. Of course, the more I have learned, the more I am able to see where others need to learn and have not.

My biggest curiosity remaining regards just how pervasive the wheat gluten problem really is for humans. My suspicion is that it affects all of humanity. People with autoimmune disorders have merely made an unlucky choice of parents, since autoimmune disorders are the result of cell surface tissue type markers similarity to fragments of gluten protein. But are ALL the effects of wheat gluten activating the immune system ONLY happening as autoimmune reactions?

I think that it is possible that these funny little bits of peptide, these indigestible pieces of protein, might have a slow cumulative neurotoxic effect on all humans. More studying needed on this topic, but decades ago there was a recognition that some wheat derived peptides exhibited characteristics similar to our own brain neurotransmitters known as endorphins. That could lead to speculation regarding people getting a 'high' from eating bread! Oh, my.

More about me:

I designed the DSP software that operates this heart pump:
Terumo Heart which has saved lives.

A Rant from 2004... Time to Bite the Hand that Feeds us?