Monday, January 30, 2012

Overweight African-Americans May be Addicted to Opioids in Wheat-Gluten

One of the most puzzling public health issues of our times has been the skyrocketing obesity rate among African-Americans.   In tackling this issue as an applied historian, I have uncovered a clue, nestled beneath the topsoil of agricultural history.
In comparing nutritional patterns of African-Americans from the turn of the twentieth century to the present day,  my research found that a radical shift in the diet of blacks from rice consumption to wheat-gluten has correlated with the surge in obesity rates.  Such a correlation would not necessarily suggest a causal relationship were it not for two facts.  Firstly, recent studies have linked mild gluten intolerance to opiate-like food and sugar cravings, which lead to obesity and such weight-related diseases as high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, and heart disease.   The mechanism may parallel that of alcoholics, who crave the one substance their bodies cannot metabolize efficiently.

Healthcare practitioners, unaware of the possible link between wheat gluten and black obesity have advised their African-American patients to eat more whole-wheat products, oatmeal and other gluten-based cereals and less rice. In pressing erroneous nutritional advice on blacks unwittingly, they may be contributing to the community's health problems.   It has taken decades for well-meaning health practitioners to stop pushing dairy products on black adults, who are more than 80% lactose-intolerant. The health risks associated with obesity are far too dire for the medical community to flounder around for a few more decades, ignoring the obvious.   Their information is drawn from the glycemic index and the newer concept of glycemic load (GL).   These indices are inaccurate, because the universal paradigm upon which they are constructed is flawed.  Most people of Northern European origin will experience a rapid rise in blood sugar from eating highly processed white bread, but not whole wheat bread.  A significant majority of African-Americans will experience the same blood sugar spike from eating all types of wheat and any other foods containing gluten.   

It is also indisputable that rice served as the principal staple in the diet of black Americans from their earliest arrival on U.S. shores as slaves.  To be sure, it also formed the core foodstuff in the West African diet of their farming ancestors. South Carolina plantation owners often refused to purchase slaves at auction unless traders could certify that these enslaved men and women came from the "Rice Coast" of West Africa and were thus adept at rice cultivation.   In short, people of West African origin have evolved digestive systems that metabolize best those grains and foodstuffs that formed the core of their ancestral diets – rice, sorghum, millet, cassava, yams and poultry.

      

Even though my work classifies people into ancestry groups, it repudiates the notion of "race."   West Africans and East Africans are both considered black.  The former is 85% lactose-intolerant, while the latter is closer to 5%.  West Africans could not breed cattle because of the presence of trypanosomiasis carried by the tsetse fly.  This was not a problem for East Africans. Thus one regional population (East Africans) had a high exposure to dairy products, while the other (West Africans) had none.

The stereotypes associated with the "slave-time mammy"  -- perpetually good-natured, loving  and more loyal to the master’s family than to her own -- were dehumanizing and false. However, her depiction as being of  robust proportions was no stereotype.  It was real.  Their bodies’ mild intolerance to the foods they prepared in the kitchen for the master’s family and themselves, triggered uncontrollable food cravings, which led to obesity.  Plantation field hands, on the other hand,  ate a diet of rice, collard greens, black eyed peas, corn bread, okra, herbs, and poultry, which also mirrored their ancestors’ West African dietary patterns.  Scholars have understandably overlooked such issues, not wishing to paint slavery as being less brutal than it was.

Further research needs to be done.  However, it would be irresponsible for health care practitioners to overlook the possibly lethal  tie between wheat-gluten and obesity in the African-American community.