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Our Love-Hate Relationship With Gluten

by Mila McManus, MD

There was a time in history when this conversation was unnecessary, and wheat (our primary source of gluten) would have been included in a healthy diet. Why all the ruckus about gluten[1] now?

The wheat we eat today is not what we ate even fifty years ago. Today, conventionally produced wheat crops undergo super-hybridization as well as chemical and radiological mutations so that it is highly resistant to pesticides. Another way to say it is to describe wheat as a man-made fake food. Wheat is also treated with noxious chemicals twice, including just before harvesting. As a result, when we eat wheat, we are consuming these poisons in every bite. Additionally, processing techniques used in the United States and Australia also increase the gluten content, especially in wheat,  making it even more difficult to digest.

What happens when we eat wheat or other glutinous foods?[2] Even people who do not have a sensitivity[3] to gluten may have a temporary leaky gut and increased inflammation after consuming it.

In the gut during digestion, gluten:

First: Activates zonulin, a protein that regulates the tight junctions of the small intestine.

Second: When zonulin is released, the tight junctions open slightly, allowing larger particles of food, including gluten, to pass through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream.

Third: The body releases anti-inflammatory cytokines to help heal the leaky gut situation. Chronic consumption of gluten makes healing extremely difficult.

Fourth: In the meantime, the immune system, specifically a number of immunoglobulins (e.g. IgG, IgA), move in to attack the larger food particles which are recognized as foe, rather than friend, since they are not broken down properly during digestion. (food sensitivities result, as does inflammation and congestion caused by them).

Specifically, the permeability of the gut barrier and an imbalance of microbiome is a primary trigger of the inflammatory process in the human body.

The truth about gluten is one of our least and most favorite messages to share with our patients. It is a love-hate topic.  Hate, because glutenous foods are all around us and they are some of the most popular, well-loved foods in the world from bread and pastries to hamburger buns and pizza. Love, because we witness over, and over, and over again, the dramatic improvement in gut health and overall health, and weight when it is removed from the diet.

We love you too much to not tell you what you hate to hear. Eat well, Be well.

You can learn more about this topic by reading this article we published in 2017 about gluten:

[1] Gluten is a protein found in specific grains including wheat and its many derivatives, rye, barley, malt, and brewer’s yeast. An excellent resource for sources is found here:

[2] Goodness Lover Pty Ltd. The Inflammation Solution: Top 29 Gut Healing & Inflammation-fighting Foods.2022.

[3] About 2 million people in the US and 1% of the global population have been diagnosed with celiac disease, the  most extreme gluten sensitivity. An estimated 20% of the population has a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. We find most people feel significantly better and experience greater health by avoiding it.

By |2022-07-06T13:02:21-06:00July 7th, 2022|General|

What are Lectins? Should I care?

By Mila McManus MD

The study of lectins is an extensive and emerging area of science with far-reaching implications to both health and healing. Learning about them may be a significant game changer for your health.  The findings may even surprise you.  It is quite possible that lectins are the hidden cause behind many symptoms and diseases.  If you struggle to lose weight, have autoimmune disease, digestive issues, or have stubborn health problems that just don’t seem to improve or resolve, learning more about lectins may be time well spent.

Lectins are a large class of proteins that can be found in all forms of life.  In plants, lectins are the natural defense system that protect the plant from destruction by microorganisms, pests, and insects[1]. Lectins make the plant leaves unappetizing, poisonous to invaders, or signal by color to the animal when a fruit is ready to eat.  For example, during the growing process, a fruit will be green and high in lectins, therefore harmful and toxic to an invader.  Later, the fruit will reach ripeness, turning a bright color, signaling to animals that the fruit is ready to be eaten. At ripeness, the lectin content has dropped and is no longer toxic to the predator.  When the animal eats the fruit, it carries the seeds in the digestive tract to another area, and then defecates the seeds into a new place to grow, thus perpetuating the plant species.  Lectins are in the seed’s outer coating as well as inside the seed on what will become the leaves once the seed sprouts.

Lectins are often referred to as “sticky proteins” because they are attracted to cell surfaces, causing cells to clump together (called agglutination). One extreme example is ricin, a lectin found in castor beans.  It is such a potent lectin that just a minuscule amount ingested can cause death due to massive clotting of red blood cells from agglutination[2]. Another more familiar lectin is gliadin (a.k.a. wheat germ agglutinin or WGA).  WGA is a component of gluten, the most well-known lectin of our time. Again, think of the “sticky” nature of lectins. Lectins bind to cells in the gut, blood, nerves, muscles, and joints, just to name a few. There, they act as chemical messengers, but their message is harmful, not helpful.  It is a message to inflame and a message to wreak havoc. WGA is involved in almost every acute and chronic inflammatory disorder including neurodegenerative disease, inflammatory bowel disease, infections and autoimmune diseases².

Not all lectins are harmful, and some are even beneficial. Our focus today is on the lectins which inflict damage to the human body in the following ways:

  • Lectins from the diet damage the delicate intestinal lining, increasing gut permeability and compromising protein digestion[3].
  • Lectins can be transported across the intestinal membrane into general circulation where they may attach to other tissues (connective, nervous, bladder) causing immune dysfunction and systemic inflammation³.
  • Lectins are chemical messengers potent enough to initiate and aggravate existing inflammatory conditions including autoimmune diseases (e.g. thyroiditis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia) ³.
  • Lectins have a significant impact on metabolism and weight gain. Normally, insulin acts like a delivery truck for excess carbohydrates (glucose) by attaching itself to the insulin receptor site (think loading dock) found on fat cells. Here, insulin tells the fat cell to open the storage room door, so that glucose can be moved into the fat cell for storage.  Once the glucose has been stored as fat, the insulin backs away from the loading dock receptor site, and the fat cell locks up the door to the storage room. In many people, lectins disrupt this process in a significant way.  Remember, the lectins are sticky.  Lectins stick to the insulin receptor site (the loading dock) on the fat cell, mimics insulin by instructing the fat cell to open the storage room door and move glucose into storage as fat.  However, lectins do not back away but instead stay indefinitely attached (stuck) to the receptor site giving a constant message to store fat².

Lectins do present a paradox.  On one hand, plants are essential for good health and small amounts of lectins can be handled and managed by a healthy body. On the other hand, the wrong plants, eaten routinely and abundantly, can result in a cumulative toxic impact to the body over time. The same plant toxins that can kill or immobilize an insect can also silently destroy your health and insidiously impact your weight.  Your current health status, family history, and genetic individuality will determine your body’s ability to recognize lectins as friends or foe.

We now have access to a lab test for lectin sensitivity for those who want to see results in writing before launching into a lectin reduction diet.  Our supplement of the month is another helpful resource, as it works to block lectins from the gut surface and passage through it.

To find out more, read today’s Nutrition Nugget . There, we will address which high lectin foods are most damaging and best avoided, and which lectin foods can be prepared in ways that reduce the lectin content.  For a more in-depth study of lectins, you may want to read The Plant Paradox, by Dr. Steven R. Gundry, MD., where you will also be introduced to his Plant Paradox Program diet.


[1] Peumans WJ, Van Damme EJ. Lectins as plant defense proteins. Plant Physiology. 1995;109(2):347-352

[2] Pierini, Carolyn M. Lectins: Their Damaging Role in Intestinal Health, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Weight Loss. Vitamin Research News. 2007;21(1):1-4

[3] Pierini, Carolyn M. Lectin Lock™:Natural Defense Against a Hidden Cause of Digestive Concerns and Weight Gain. Vitamin Research News.2007;21(2):6

By |2018-09-25T10:12:51-06:00May 25th, 2018|Articles, General|

Ghostly Gluten – You May Think You Know, But We Bet You Don’t

gluten is bad

By Mila McManus, MD and Nancy Mehlert, MS

Gluten can seem like a ghost.  We may not be familiar with all the sources, but most of us have heard the word by now.  You can’t see it like you can see a bottle of Coca Cola or a candy bar.  It hides in other consumables. So it does seem rather mysterious and ghost-like, and thus makes a good topic for October and all things spooky. As we care for ourselves and our families, understanding all we can about gluten is a critical part of making efforts to better health. Let’s try to clear up the mysteries.

Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS says in his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working? (2013): “No single dietary protein is a more potent trigger of neurological dysfunction and neurological autoimmunity than gluten, the protein found in wheat.  We’re seeing dramatic increases in the number of people sensitive to gluten in the United States.  Research shows gluten sensitivity has risen sharply in the last 50 years.”[i]

Gluten is made up of a sticky portion called glutenin and a protein called gliadin. One does not exist without the other and gliadin itself has three more fractions called alpha, omega and gamma. Wheat is the primary source of gluten, though there are other grains that also have gluten including barley, rye, spelt, kamut and oats (unless the oats are properly processed by a certified gluten free method).

The gluten in ancient wheat of a century ago was very different. It was nature’s real food. Today, gluten, and more specifically wheat, has been significantly hybridized, meaning the seed has been altered many times over the years to create a new, man-made wheat, if you will, that appears to trigger immune reactions.  In other words, it is not natural or understood by the human body as a real, nature made food. In addition to this fake wheat, it has also been further altered through a process called deamidation.  The food industry deamidates wheat using acids and enzymes to make wheat water soluble so that it mixes more easily with other foods. And let’s not forget about all the pesticides sprayed on the wheat crops and the chemcials used during the harvesting process! A study published in the European Journal of Inflammation concluded this new compound may be the major cause of hidden inflammatory responses to foods[ii]. These things make wheat a fake, man-made substance that perhaps should not be honored with the name “food”.

Gluten is pervasive in processed foods and products and can be truly hidden under unsuspecting names, often not listed at all, yet very easily present. This makes a gluten allergy or sensitivity extremely difficult to navigate, especially in the world of packaged, manufactured and restaurant food. Few realize that modified food starch, food emulsifiers, food stabilizers, artificial food coloring, malt extracts, and dextrins often have gluten in them.  Even some clarifying agents used in red wine can have gluten. Equally unsuspecting sources of gluten include many deli meats, instant coffee, some ketchups and mustards, beer, soy sauce, imitation crab meat and even your shampoo and prescription medications!

Equally frustrating is that the immune system often does not make good distinction between gluten and other similar proteins and, as a result, attacks not only gluten, but other proteins recognized  to be the same.  Foods that fall into this area include milk proteins, corn, all oats including certified gluten free oats, yeast, millet, and rice.  The immune system can also confuse nervous tissues with gluten and attack the nervous system, resulting in neurologic symptoms or an autoimmune disease such as Multiple Sclerosis. In addition, when the immune system attacks gluten, this attack can break down the blood-brain barrier (the thin lining that protects the brain) and lead to what is called a leaky brain.  This is much like the Leaky Gut Syndrome of the gastrointestinal system.

You can see how important it is to understand that gluten and wheat have a very broad impact on health, not only in the intestines, but the central nervous system and skin. Despite extensive research, many physicians do not understand Celiac disease, much less gluten sensitivity. Most physicians who do have knowledge of it relate it only to intestinal damage and gut issues, ignoring the potentially dramatic impacts on the central nervous system. According to Dr. Kharrazian, the average neurologist has no idea gluten can impact every part of the nervous system from the brain, the spinal cord, and peripheral nerves that extend into the arms and feet, causing any number of neurologic symptoms and diseases.  It also can directly affect our skin, being an underlying cause of such conditions as Rosacea, acne, or keratosis pilaris. And sadly, the criteria and testing for diagnosis of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are outdated, unreliable, and incomplete. The best test is to radically remove it from the diet and see the results.

Gluten sensitivity has been shown to be a significant trigger in a broad host of health conditions including psychiatric and behavioral disorders, autoimmune diseases, hearing loss and restless leg syndrome.  Virtually every part of the nervous system that has been researched has shown gluten to be a clear trigger for diseases of the central nervous system.[iii] If you do not have your health, or if you have an autoimmune disease of any kind, feel that your brain is not functioning optimally, have digestive, neurological, or skin issues or a combination of any of these, you owe it to yourself to learn more about gluten, how to avoid it and eliminate it from your diet.  (Tests are also available).  Here at TWIHW we are well prepared to help you with dietary advice, useful supplements and healing protocols.  Call 281-298-6742 for help today!



[i] Page 158

[ii] Vojdani A, O’Bryan T, Kellermann GH. The immunology of immediate and delayed hypersensitivity reaction to gluten. European J of Inflammation. 2008;6(1):1-10.

[iii] Kharrazian,D. Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, Carlsbad, CA.,Elephant Press. 2013. Page 134.

By |2017-10-31T14:47:38-06:00October 7th, 2017|Articles, General|

Carbo G

carbo G

by Transformation Enzymes

Adhering to a gluten free diet can be challenging when gluten is used as a food additive and even as a filler in some medications. It may be present in the least expected places, especially when eating outside the home. And since gluten sensitive individuals can become very uncomfortable or ill if they consume unexpected gluten, Carbo G offers a helpful solution to both mitigate anxiety and assist with the digestion of unexpected gluten. Carbo G includes enzymes that break down the polysaccharides which encase gluten as well as the DPP-IV protease necessary to digest the gluten proteins. Improved digestion helps to reduce symptoms of bloating, diarrhea, gas and abdominal cramps associated with grain and gluten sensitivities. Our practice emphasizes the avoidance of food allergens and sensitivities and does not promote the use of Carbo G as a way to routinely “allow” consumption of known allergens. Healing and restoration of the gut are key to resolution of the root problem. This supplement is available by special order at The Woodlands Institute for Health and Wellness. We are offering 20% off this Product of the Month for the month of October!

By |2015-10-05T06:44:22-06:00October 3rd, 2015|Articles, General|

Elimination Diet

by Mila McManus MD

Hit your factory reset button with the elimination diet!  Dr. Mark Hyman was interviewed on the Today show this morning discussing this very thing.  We’ve been recommending the elimination diet to our patients for over 10 years now. It’s comical how behind the times the media can be regarding health issues.  An elimination diet is simply taking certain foods out of your diet to see if particular health issues improve.  Perhaps you have “FLC” disorder, quoted by Dr. Mark Hyman this morning, which stands for “feel like crap”.  Or perhaps you have an autoimmune disease or a skin disorder or joint pain or brain fog or depression or anxiety, all of which may improve with eliminating certain foods from your diet.  The most common culinary culprits causing your symptoms include gluten (wheat products), dairy, eggs, soy, and sugar.  I know this sounds scary, but you really can be very satisfied with what you still have to work with, such as fruit, vegetables, avocados, nuts, seeds, lean meats, and so on.  Call 281-298-6742281-298-6742 today to get help with whatever ails you.





By |2014-04-18T08:42:34-06:00April 18th, 2014|Articles, Ask Dr McManus, General|