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Books, Documentaries, Reviews: WHEAT BELLY

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Books, Documentaries, Reviews:  July 21, 2012

WHEAT BELLY

by

William Davis, MD

William Davis, MD, a preventive cardiologist in Wisconsin, published WHEAT BELLY in 2011.  The book became a New York Times best seller (No. 5) right away and continues to sell strongly.  Davis has put more than 2000 patients on a wheat-free regimen and claims he has seen “extraordinary” results in their health.  Many of these patients were really sick with a wide range of health problems, including neurological problems.

Davis defines a “wheat belly” as “the accumulation of fat that results from years of consuming foods that trigger insulin, the hormone of fat storage” (4).  This wheat belly fat is “visceral” fat that is “unique” in that “unlike fat in other body areas, it provokes inflammatory phenomena, distorts insulin responses, and issues abnormal metabolic signals to the best of the body.  In the unwitting wheat-bellied male, visceral fat also produces estrogen, creating “man breasts.”  Wheat consumption can “reach deep down into virtually every organ of the body, from the intestines, liver, heart, and thyroid gland all the way up to the brain” (4).  Wheat consumption “is the main cause of the obesity and diabetes crisis in the United States” (56).  And the fat of the wheat belly lies over organs that have, themselves, become abnormally fat, which makes the body struggle.

Davis argues that modern wheat is the root cause of much of the chronic health conditions people are experiencing today.  Modern wheat, he claims is NOT wheat at all–but “the transformed product of genetic research conducted during the latter half of the twentieth century.”  Two ancient forms of wheat were crossed hundreds of years ago, and that wheat has been eaten by humans without many of the health effects that today’s wheat produces.  (The Paleo diet folks would disagree with this premise on, I  think, good historical and medical grounds.)

Wheat has the rare, in the plant world, ability to transfer ALL of its genes when crossed–unlike other plants which might only transfer some of the genes from each parent.  When scientists started to breed wheat to increase its yields and to make it shorter (so it would not blow over as easily), they created a “law of unintended consequences”–in that they produced a product that is “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of genes apart from the original einkorn wheat that bred naturally” (22).  (Like modern corn, modern wheat cannot grow on its own in the wild.)

Assumptions were made:  “With wheat it was likewise assumed that variations in gluten content and structure, modifications of other enzymes and proteins, qualities that confer susceptibility of resistance to various plant diseases, would all make their way to humans without consequence” (25).

Modern wheat has a higher carbohydrate component than ancient wheat, which has more protein.  The specific carbohydrate in wheat is amylopectin A, which is so easily digestible in our bodies that eating “two slices of whole wheat bread is really little different ,and often worse, than drinking a can of sugar-sweetened soda or eating a sugary candy bar”–information that has been known since 1981 when the University of Toronto “launched the concept of the glycemic index” [GI] which compares “blood sugar effects of carbohydrates” (33-34).

Davis posits that many people today are dealing with what he calls “immune mediated gluten intolerance,” and celiac disease would be a subset of this condition.  Because this response can damage the gut so that it leaks food particles, the body forms antibodies that began to circulate in the blood stream.  If these antibodies lodge in particular organs, they can produce problems in that arena.  These antibodies can also breech the blood-brain barrier, so that some neurological conditions that seem like MS or Parkinson’s actually can be effects of this disorder.  This array of conditions has served to mislead doctors from the true cause of the problem:  immune mediated gluten intolerance caused by modern wheat.

Davis uses Denise Minger’s analysis of T. Colin Campbell’s THE CHINA STUDY to show the correlations between wheat and human disease.  Minger showed, by recrunching Campbell’s data, what Campbell missed because of his belief that consuming meat produces disease.  Minger’s analysis shows the “astronomical correlations wheat flour has with various diseases”–prompting Davis to ask if the “staff of life” is really the “staff of death” (160-165).

Davis discusses how addictive wheat is and how it is an appetite stimulant–along with many other seriously bad effects of wheat on the human body.  He illustrates his argument with case studies from his practice and with clinical studies.  The picture Davis draws of the downsides of wheat are much more involved, serious, and intense than I can repeat at length here.

So what grains have gluten?  Rye, barley, triticale, spelt, bulgar, and kamut share a genetic heritage with wheat.  Oats can cause some people problems as it “will cause blood sugar to skyrocket.”  Quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff, chia seed, and sorghum “are essentially carbohydrates without the immune or brain effects of wheat.  While not as undesirable as wheat, they do take a metabolic toll.”  Eat them in moderation only after weight has been normalized (212).  Avoid “gluten-free” foods as “the only other foods that have GIs as high as wheat products are dried, pulverized starches such as cornstarch, rice starch, potato starch, and tapioca starch”–all used heavily in “gluten-free” products (63).

There are critiques of WHEAT BELLY.  As near as I can tell, they are coming mostly from the Paleo folks.  The book’s cover pitches it as a “diet” book–“lose the wheat, lose the weight”–and the Paleo folks argue that cutting out wheat won’t do that trick and that eating wheat has far more dangerous implications.  The Paleo folks aren’t wrong, but Davis does a good job of showing that wheat consumption–especially in the amounts Americans are eating it–is very dangerous–and something Luise Light, who was hired by the USDA to create the 1980 food guide, cautioned against, saying we should only eat 2 to 3 servings of grains a day.  ( A serving is 1/2 cup, and women and children should only eat 2 servings.)

I can tell you that since I cut out wheat, I have lost my own “wheat belly.”  I can also tell you that like Davis, when I eat wheat, the impact on my body is immediate and not very nice.

So, do you have a “wheat belly”?  Most Americans I see out and about today do.  If so, you may want to take a longer look at what Davis has to say about losing the wheat and regaining your health.

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