To Grains or Not to Grains: That is the Question Part I

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To Grains or Not to Grains: That is the Question Part I

If you’ve been coming in to see me lately, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been talking about grains more than I ever did before.

Actually, I haven’t just been talking about grains, I’ve been *thinking* about grains…a lot.

To be more precise, I’ve been living, breathing, sleeping, eating (OK, maybe not always eating), researching, pondering, studying, racking my brains out wondering about, and just in general, obsessed with, grains.

Why? Because over the past few years, I’ve also been seeing a huge rise the number of patients coming in with auto-immune conditions and other “inflammatory” syndromes that all seem to have one thing at their root: digestive weakness.

And many newer sources of research make a pretty darn good argument against eating grains, because of their potential to actually physically damage the digestive tract.

Hidden digestive problems

Now before we proceed, let me make it clear that many times, digestive weakness may not even be showing up as digestive symptoms, but as much more serious issues.

This alone is not a surprise—in Chinese medicine it is common for people to not know that their digestion is weak until we explain all the various connections in their body and how that can be playing out as other symptoms.

Get their digestion working better, and their symptoms start going away.

But what has perplexed me about this is that I haven’t been able to resolve the conflict between how modern holistic nutrition theories regarding digestion and grains corresponds to what Chinese medicine has been saying for thousands of years, which is that grains actually build and nourish the “digestive Qi”.

Well, that is, until now.

So are grains good for us or not?

Let me back up a bit to make all of this a little bit more clear.

If you haven’t heard of “leaky gut”, you may want to run a google search to get yourself up to speed. This is NOT something your typical western doctor is likely to tell you about.

We have a somewhat similar concept in Chinese medicine, when we say that if someone has digestive Qi deficiency, things can “leak”:

  • Blood can leak out of the vessels causing heavy bleeding, nosebleeds, easy bruising, etc.
  • Urine or bowels can leak causing urinary or bowel incontinence or just plain ‘ol diarrhea.
  • Sweat can leak, causing profuse and unwarranted sweating

And just in general, people’s energy gets weaker and weaker and more and more body systems shut down because they simply don’t have the nutrients (Qi) that they need, because their digestion is not absorbing them well.

In addition, if the digestion is not processing things well, they can end up with mucousy, sludgy (what we call “damp”), swollen, and/or inflammatory conditions. All these issues are typically resolved remarkably well with acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

However, in some cases I’ve noticed that I’ll see a dramatic improvement, only to then see patients plateau. While overall they may feel much better, I know we can expect more…I want more than just “so so” health for my patients.

So my question has been: could their plateuing be related to some of the very foods that in Chinese medicine we think of as being “healthy”?

If so, then talk about disturbing, as I’ve been advocating moderate amounts of grains to my weak patients for years.

Ancient and modern collide – who is right?

The problem lies in the fact that in Chinese medicine, many grains are prescribed in moderate amounts for people with weak Qi – we actually say they strengthen the digestive Qi (if not eaten in excess). However, at the same time, grains (namely gluten containing grains but it could be any grains), have now been shown to directly cause leaky gut.

That means, to put it somewhat graphically, they basically tear holes in your intestines. Then undigested food and other pathogens leak out, leading to malabsorption of nutrients, and constant inflammation as the immune system is constantly attacking these “invaders” that should never have made it through the intestines.

Whoa! How can these theories be so disparate?

The Chinese have over 5,000 years on us in terms of testing foods on people and watching the effects they have…how could they not have noticed this deleterious effect? Could they really have gotten something so disastrously wrong?

Thus proceeded my new obsession: figure this one out.

After poring over everything I could find on this topic, and basically being obsessed with this for months, I finally arrived at a theory which I believe ties it all together, and outlines why I believe that in some people, grains may indeed be disastrous for their health, and in others can contribute to an increase in Qi and wellness.

So which one are you? Should you grain or not grain?

Turns out, grains were not eaten in the same way as we eat them today, in traditional China. The amount, the cooking methods, what they were eaten with, and other factors such as medicines and genetic processing of grains, I believe have drastically changed the way our bodies are able to process grains.

Like everything, it behooves us to step back and look at the bigger picture rather than isolate foods and look at their individual effects, apart from a patient’s overall lifestyle and diet, because those things play a huge part in the effects that foods have on our systems.

If you’ve been wondering whether grains are beneficial for you, it’s worth taking a serious look at these factors, because the consequences could literally be the difference between life and death, for example in the case of life threatening auto-immune conditions. While this blog is focusing specifically on grains, it could actually be many other foods, along with grains, that are contributing to progressive inflammatory conditions.

So how can you know if grains are beneficial or damaging for you? After all this research and pondering the issue, am I still advocating the eating of grains for depleted people?

For the cliffhanger of all cliffhangers (I know…my life is so exciting) I’m going to continue this topic in the next post, in the interest of avoiding “article reading overload”. :-)

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this topic, in which I will clearly outline the difference between how we eat grains today verses how they were traditionally eaten in China (and the difference that makes), other modern issues which impact the effect that grains have on us today, and the testing that I’m doing to figure out whether grains, and which ones, might be ones you want to avoid to improve your health and prevent potentially serious issues like auto-immune disorders or chronic inflammatory conditions.