Eating Wheat & Cow’s Milk Disrupt DNA Expression & Antioxidant Status

Eating Wheat & Cow's Milk Disrupt DNA Expression & Antioxidant Status

By Sayer Ji

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

Could two of the Western world’s most popular foods – wheat and cow’s dairy – be depleting you of your antioxidants and altering your DNA expression in a harmful way?

A fascinating study sheds much needed light on the topic of why a diet free of wheat gluten and the cow’s milk protein known as casein have commonly been reported to have such a wide range of health benefits, particularly when it comes to gastrointestinal distress and neurological disorders; Or, said oppositely, the study reveals why the centerpiece of the Western dietary pattern — a gluten and casein-rich diet — may participate in an extraordinarily wide range of health problems, many of which we have been documenting extensively on GreenMedInfo’s open access database: see gluten harms and casein harms. We also featured the neurotoxicity of gluten and casein in three previous articles you can review below for a more in depth perspective on their intrinsically harmful nature:

There has been no lack of controversy and debate in recent years as to why a wheat and gluten containing grain-free diet has been found anecdotally as well as in an increasing number of published case studies to have such remarkable benefit for those suffering with autism spectrum disorders and even schizophrenia. Also, many have questioned why cow’s milk-based formula fed infants are at so much higher risk of hundreds of disorders versus breast-fed children? Could something yet to be fully identified within these omnipresent Western foods being harming those who consume them?

While the addictive and/or neurotoxic properties of casein and gluten peptides likely play a role, a new mechanism of action has recently been identified that may help to explain these concerning associations…

Wheat (Gluten) and Milk (Casein) Deplete Our Antioxidant System & Alter Our DNA Expression

Published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry and titled, “Food-derived opioid peptides inhibit cysteine uptake with redox and epigenetic consequences,” researchers discussed the emerging evidence pointing to systemic oxidative stress and inflammation as an underlying factor in neurological disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. Since the antioxidant glutathione (GSH) is often found at significantly lower levels in those suffering from these disorders, and owing to the fact that GSH synthesis depends on the availability of the amino acid cysteine, the researchers pointed out the possible role of cysteine deficiency in these conditions.

The study found that gluten and casein peptides released following the digestion of foods containing wheat and milk reduce cysteine uptake, “with subsequent effects on cellular redox and methylation status leading to global changes in DNA methylation and gene transcription,” i.e. they increase oxidative stress and alter gene expression in such a way that may lead to imbalances/disease. In an already weakened body, the addition of glutathione-depleting and gene regulation altering-gluten/casein to the diet could further interfere with the cellular detoxification process necessary to maintain health.

Many environmental exposures, including heavy metals found in vaccines such as thimerosal (still found in the multi-dose flu shot) and aluminum, directly impact our glutathione system, significantly contributing to its depletion and subsequent ill affects on a wide range of bodily systems, most noticeably the neurological system. Perhaps the addition of a cysteine-depleting gluten and casein heavy diet represents the ‘dietary straw that broke the camel’s back,’ adding to an already overburdened bodily toxic load caused by a tsunami of modern environmental exposures and biological incompatible synthetic ‘foods’ that we are presently all inundated with.

The researchers hypothesized that,

“Epigenetic programming, including CpG methylation and histone modifications, occurring during early postnatal development can influence the risk of disease in later life, and such programming may be modulated by nutritional factors such as milk and wheat, especially during the transition from a solely milk-based diet to one that includes other forms of nutrition.”

CpG methylation, a form of silencing of gene expression, and histone modifications, a mechanism of altering gene expression, are forms of genetic inheritance that do not affect the primary nucleotide sequence of our DNA but, rather, influences the expression of our genes from the ‘outside in,’ as it were, by turning on the expression of some and turning off the expression of others. The result can be exactly the same as a ‘hard coded’ change in the DNA, with the critical difference that some of these ‘epigenetic’ changes can sometimes be reversed through dietary modification, lifestyle changes and/or removal of environmental exposures.

The study found that the digestion of casein (a major milk protein) and gliadin (a wheat-derived protein) releases proline-rich peptides with opioid activity which down-regulate cysteine uptake in cultured human neuronal and gastrointestinal (GI) epithelial cells via activation of opioid receptors. The subsequent decrease in cysteine uptake was associated “with changes in the intracellular antioxidant glutathione and the methyl donor S-adenosylmethionine.” S-adenosylmethionine is a primary mechanism through which the cells of our body silence the expression of genes in a process known as methylation. When S-adenosylmethionine levels are low, it can interfere with methylation and this has been observed in many pathological states, including numerous cancers, e.g. ‘global hypomethylation’ is observed in cells whose cancer genes (oncogenes) have been turned on.

The experimental results, however, were complex. The peptides also induced increased methylation (gene silencing) in important gene regions associated with oxidative stress and the optimal functioning of the methylation system in general:

“Bovine and human casein-derived opioid peptides increased genome-wide DNA methylation in the transcription start site region with a potency order similar to their inhibition of cysteine uptake. Altered expression of genes involved in redox and methylation homeostasis was also observed.”

The study concluded:

“These results illustrate the potential of milk- and wheat-derived peptides to exert antioxidant and epigenetic changes that may be particularly important during the postnatal transition from placental to GI nutrition. Differences between peptides derived from human and bovine milk may contribute to developmental differences between breastfed and formula-fed infants. Restricted antioxidant capacity, caused by wheat- and milk-derived opioid peptides, may predispose susceptible individuals to inflammation and systemic oxidation, partly explaining the benefits of gluten-free or casein-free diets.”

These study results, while preliminary, are provocative. As we continue to unravel the role that foods play in modulating gene expression in the body – nutrigenomic considerations – we come to appreciate how profoundly foods are not only just ‘our medicine,’ but represent informational vectors, capable of ‘informing’ – literally, ‘putting form into’ – our bodies, down to the molecular level of affecting the expression of our genes and the proper conformational folding patterns of gene products, e.g. proteins.

Eons of hard-wired biological practices like breast-feeding and the consumption of ancestral foods (which excluded grains and cow’s milk for at least 99% of our evolution as homo sapiens) has produced our present-day body. When we dramatically alter the types of foods we use as ‘energy’ and ‘material building blocks’ for our bodies, we are also profoundly altering the informational backbone of our genetic and epigenetic blueprint. It may be time to remove wheat/cow’s milk altogether, going back to the foods that have nourished our bodies and minds for millions of years before the advent of the agrarian revolution and animal husbandry. In fact, it is my belief that this may be required to return to optimal health, our birthright.

Further articles by Sayer Ji:

About the author:


Sayer Ji is an author, educator, Steering Committee Member of the Global GMO Free Coalition (GGFC), advisory board member of the National Health Federation, and the founder of – an open access, evidence-based resource supporting natural and integrative modalities. His writings have been published and referenced widely in print and online, including Truthout,, The Journal of Gluten Sensitivity, New York Times and The Well Being Journal.

In 1995 Sayer received a BA degree in Philosophy from Rutgers University, where he studied under the American philosopher Dr. Bruce W. Wilshire, with a focus on the philosophy of science. In 1996, following residency at the Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, he embarked on a 5 year journey of service as a counsellor-teacher and wilderness therapy specialist for various organizations that serve underprivileged and/or adjudicated populations. Since 2003, Sayer has served as a patient advocate and an educator and consultant for the natural health and wellness field.

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  • Name Gary

    Hey Sayer, Love this website and the work you are doing but have ask if the studies on milk your referring to is store-bought, factory-farmed or is it grass-fed raw milk. The first is not real milk. It makes a big difference when these kind of claims are made because factory-farmed milk is bad for health but not so for raw milk. Just spent 6 hours the other day at the Illinois Department of Health hearing meeting and listened to 70+ raw milk drinkers testify ( I was one of them) to the health promoting effects of whole raw milk. Almost all of them or there loved ones, including myself had digestive and other heath problems drinking store-bought milk but improved our health dramatically once we went on raw milk. Raw milk from cows, sheep, goats, camels and mares have been sustaining many healthy cultures for thousands of years.

  • KLM

    I didn’t see anything stating a difference in the GMO grains and cows that are fed GMO’s and injected with Rbst vaccines and those that are as nature intended. This is the real reason we are having problems with our DNA. Why are so many articles ignoring the changes that came about after GMO’s were put into the market place.

    I am old enough to remember when we were healthier and these now common health problems were rare. From my research the changes occurred when GMO’s which are genetically altered and in no way is a part of nature were put into our foods and drinks without our knowledge.

    Yet so many do not acknowledge the differences before GMO’s and after. Most of you are too young to realize the major differences. Everything that was rare in my youth is now common in yours.

    My grandfather who was born in 1889 was a very healthy person and he ate things that people now demonize. However they were not genetically altered or filled with toxic chemicals. He walked five miles the day before he died and was in very good shape. He died of old age which is a natural thing to do peacefully in his sleep between 4am and 5am. He believed if the ingredients read like a chemistry test don’t eat it. He was right.

    And DNA is not the same in everyone so you can’t across the board say everyone can or cannot do something.

    Please start thinking about the fact that it is the Genetically Modified foods, drinks and chemicals that are causing the problems with our DNA.

    • Anna

      THANK YOU!!!!!!

  • Pietrad

    Sayer Ji (Greenmedinfo) quoted here, is another ‘plant based’ person. He quotes studies that used thermolyzed casein ( 180 ° C for 2 hours ! ) isolated from whole milk, and uses these to condemn dairy.

    Colin Campbell did the same in the ‘China Study’ the vegan Bible.

    It’s about time some honesty was demonstrated by those who seek to condemn dairy – Unfortunately raw milk gets condemned by association.

  • Name (required)a2a2 milk

    read the book devil in the milk. Holstein milk is garbage. if you get your raw milk from a2a2 cows guernseys jerseys or goat milk its the only milk to drink

  • What’s interesting is that the article doesn’t mention alternatives to getting cysteine from your diet. Undenatured whey protien (grass-fed, organic) is high in cystine, as is all non-pasteurized milk (goat and cow) and eggs. I can only draw the conclusion that it is modern farming practices that are causing these effects.
    As an RA sufferer, I can tell you, that we too have lower glutathione levels (something I had to research that my doc never told me or addressed).
    Increasing dietary sulphur can help replenish glutathione. MSM is a great supplement for this as well as the whey protien (high in cystine) mentioned above. These are glutathione building blocks.