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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.

Mainely Tipping Points 42: What’s Wrong With Grains?

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Mainely Tipping Points 42:  May 9, 2012

Part II:  The Paleo Diet 

What’s Wrong With Grains?

 

Paleo Diet advocates argue that humans are genetically wired to eat meat, foraged vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.  Paleo peoples, they argue, did not eat grains, legumes, or dairy and were, as described in Part I of this series, superbly healthy.

What is it about grains that makes so many, varied researchers (see Part I) forbid us to consume grains or caution us to prepare them properly if we do?

First, we’re eating too many grains on a daily basis.  Luise Light, M.S., Ed.D, wrote WHAT TO EAT, in part, to make the case that Americans are eating way too many grains.  As detailed in Tipping Points 12, Light was hired by the USDA to produce the 1980 food guide.  Light’s team of scientists concurred that two (women/children) to three (men) daily servings of whole grains were optimal.  A serving is usually one piece of bread or one-half cup of grains.  When Light sent the new food guide to the office of the Secretary of Agriculture (a political appointee), it came back changed:   grain servings now numbered six to eleven.  Light was horrified, furious, and feared, especially, that the alteration would increase national risks of obesity and diabetes.    

William David, M.D., a preventive cardiologist who recently published WHEAT BELLY, a “New York Times” bestseller, describes how many feet grain products occupy in the average grocery store (pg. 13).  How much of your grocery store does the bread aisle, the cereal aisle, the pasta aisle, the cracker aisle, the cookie aisle, the chip aisle, the baking aisle, the wheat products in the fresh and frozen food cases, and the store bakery occupy?  How many servings of grains are you eating daily?

Secondly, grains are mostly carbohydrate.  Wheat, David writes, is “70 percent carbohydrate by weight, with protein and indigestible fiber each comprising 10 to 15 percent” and with a tiny bit of fat rounding out the package (32).  Today, a host of American nutritional “experts” promote eating whole-grain products as they are complex carbohydrates, unlike simple sugars. 

But, David writes that the carbohydrate in wheat is split between amylopectin A (75 percent) and amylose (25 percent).  Amylopectin A is “efficiently digested by amylase to glucose, while amylose is much less efficiently digested, some of it making its way to the colon undigested.”  Amylopectin A is the most digestible of the amylopectin forms found in plants, which means that wheat increases blood sugar more than other complex carbohydrates.  In effect, “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.” (32).  Indeed, the glycemic index of whole grain bread (72) is higher than sucrose (59) or of a Mars bar (68) (pg. 32). 

Third, grains, like all plants, have developed powerful—and mostly underestimated– chemical properties in order to carry out their life agendas.  Rob Wolf, in THE PALEO SOLUTION, notes that if you eat a grain, “that’s it for the grain.”  But, grains don’t go down “without a fight” and  grains are “remarkably well equipped for chemical warfare” (88).

Wolf does a really good job of explaining the adverse impact on humans of the chemicals in grains—information that is both widely available and, for the most part, ignored.  This subject is complicated:  I can only try to summarize the highlights.  Hopefully, you will investigate more deeply, especially if you are having digestive problems, arthritis, diabetes, neurological problems, or infertility.     

All grains, writes Wolf, contain a variety of proteins, called lectins.  These proteins cause more damage when derived from the gluten-containing grains—wheat, rye, barley, and oats.  Lectins are “not broken down in the normal digestive process,” which leaves “large, intact proteins in the gut.”  Grains also contain protease inhibitors, which “further block the digestion of dangerous lectins “ (85-99).

Serious problems occur when undigested proteins “are transported intact through the intestinal lining.”  For one thing “these large, intact protein molecules are easily mistaken by the body as foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, or parasites,” so the body begins to create antibodies to attack them.  In addition, the undigested lectins damage the intestinal lining during passage, which allows “other proteins to enter the system,” and the body creates antibodies for them.  These antibodies can attach themselves to organs and, even, your brain.  Attachment causes a “wholesale immune response” that destroys the tissue of that organ (85-99).

When the intestinal wall is damaged, writes Wolf, the “chemical messenger, cholecystokinin (CCK) is not released—so the gall bladder and the pancreas malfunction, which results in nondigestion of the fats and proteins we have eaten.  Removing the gall bladder is the mainstream solution, but this procedure is akin to “killing the `canary in the coal mine.’ “  Wolf believes removing grains from the diet and allowing the gut to heal is a better solution.

Grains, notes Wolf, also contain antinutrients, like the phytates, which help prevent premature germination of the grain.  Phytic acid, in humans, binds to calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron, which means your body can’t absorb these minerals.  Malabsorption is one reason ancient peoples who started settled agricultural lives “lost an average of six inches in height” (93-94). To partially mitigate the impact of phytic acid, the Weston A Price Foundation advocates grains be soaked, sprouted, or fermented.

Nora T. Gedgaudas, CNS, CNT, in “Grains:  Are They Really a Health Food?:  Adverse Effects of Gluten Grains” (May/June 2012, “Well Being Journal”), notes that grains contain goitrogens, which are substances that inhibit the thyroid.  She also notes that “chronic carbohydrate consumption, in general, depletes serotonin stores and greatly depletes the B Vitamins required to convert amino acids into many needed neurotransmitters”—which may be a cause of today’s “rampant serotonin deficiencies, clinical depression, anxiety, and some forms of ADD/ADHD in our populations” (3). 

Fourth, grains are addictive.  Wolf says grains “contain molecules that fit into the opiate receptors in our brain….the same receptors that work with heroine, morphine, and Vicodin” (96).  Gedgaudas says the morphine-like compounds in gluten-containing grains, called exorphins, are “quite addictive” and leave “many in frank denial of the havoc that gluten can wreak” (5).  She calls gluten a “cereal killer” (4).  Davis agrees and writes that grains can produce the same vicious circle of addiction and withdrawal that crack cocaine does (44-45).   

Fifth, and maybe the most important reason of all, as Davis explains in WHEAT BELLY, is how since the 1950s the wheat that humans have eaten for the past several centuries has been radically changed by industry to increase yield and to allow patents.  These changes have introduced gene changes that “are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of genes apart” from the pre-1950s wheat (22).  Wheat now contains a new “protein/enzyme smorgasbord” that has never been tested on humans (22). 

Davis warns that if you eliminate wheat for several weeks and try to eat it again, you will likely have extreme reactions.  In his clinical practice, however, eliminating wheat has consistently produced weight loss, the loss of the dangerous “wheat belly,” and the cessation of many chronic conditions. 

In Tipping Points 32, I discussed Konstantin Monastyrsky’s 2008 book, FIBER MENACE:  THE TRUTH ABOUT FIBER’S ROLE IN DIET FAILURE, CONSTIPATION, HEMORRHOIDS, IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME, ULCERATIVE COLITIS, CHROHN’S DISEASE, AND COLON CANCER.  Monastyrsky believes one should eliminate grains gradually as the body has to adjust, which is what I am doing—though I am having severe reactions when I eat wheat these days.  Swedish Bitters, a tonic made from greens, helps with any constipation that ensues with the cessation of eating a lot of grain fiber.