Exploring the Wheat Belly

This past weekend, I attended a naturopathic medical conference where William Davis M.D., author of 'Wheat Belly', gave an entertaining lecture regarding the adverse effects of wheat on health and why it is such a villainous food today. In short, the reasons are threefold: gliadins, amylopectin A, and lectins. Read the book if you would like to expand your knowledge on this information. These three troublemakers have hit the modern day scene in massive amounts due to the hybridization and chemical mutagenicity of this grain. Whether wheat is bad or good for people, is a relative judgment.

Back in the '50s, Nobel Peace prize winner, Norman Borlaug, developed a bo-hunk grain that in the decades to follow, was responsible for saving over a billion lives worldwide from starvation. Back then, little did people know that this new holy grail of the grain world would turn out to be a monster problem for future gluttonous cultures like our own present North American one.

Like Dr. Davis said, today's wheat is a biochemical opiate, and for many people, this grain leads to food addiction, which has led to sky-rocketing incidences of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, arthritis and a whole host of other problems.

Being a cardiologist, Dr. Davis told this receptive crowd of naturopathic doctors, that in his medical practice now, he rarely sees patients with heart attacks if they are compliant with following his dietary plan. He told us that decades prior, he himself had followed Dr. Dean Ornish' vegetarian diet, high in grains, fruits, and vegetables, then became a diabetic and gained 20 pounds after following what he thought was a healthy diet. He followed his own dietary plan, lost weight, improved his health, treated his patients with his diet, wrote a book, and the rest is history.

When he started speaking out against wheat, it wasn't the wheat lobbies that came out to challenge him, it was the diabetic drugs companies who supported these wheat lobbies that put forth the challenge. The world is a weird place. My naive mind still holds onto the belief that there is no way that people involved in healthcare promotion would willfully wish other people ill health.

When Dr. Davis successfully treated a diabetic specialist and asked the specialist why he had not referred his patients to Dr. Davis, the specialist told him it was because his own patients would get well and consequently the specialist would lose money. I believe this story to be true, but who knows the context of this story? Perhaps the specialist was joking around with Dr. Davis. My naive mind continues to believe that all doctors want their patients to be healthy in the most economical way possible.

Wheat destroys the health of many people. This is not news to the naturopathic community. During Dr. Davis' lecture, Dr. Sussanna Czeranko N.D., a naturopathic physician who has extensively researched the history of naturopathic medicine and is very knowledge regarding its roots, told of a time where the early naturopaths strongly protested the hybridization and chemical mutagenicity of wheat, and were put in jail for recommending dietary changes to their patients.

Naturopathic physicians have encouraged many of their patients to eliminate wheat from their diet for the past many decades now, with consequential dramatic health improvements. In the end, it doesn't really matter who is credited for bringing the issue of harmful wheat consumption to the forefront. It only matters that people are getting well because of its elimination from their diets. I hope Dr. Davis continues to experience great success with his book, because it will mean that more people will become aware of a food substance, that while giving hope to starving people in third world countries, is now putting the lives of the fat cat's of our North American culture at great risk.

Over the years, as a naturopathic physician, I recall many a time when patients would say to me, “Dr. Graham, my family doctor says that going off of wheat has nothing to do with my health”. I would explain that they were intolerant to the grain as seen by their blood work in the form of a Type III hypersensitivity reaction (IgG4 antibody response) or via electrodermal testing, and that they should pay close attention to their symptoms and their general annual blood tests with the removal and reentry of wheat into their diets.  However, there now has been progress in my small town!  Just the other day, a patient said that she saw a poster of 'Wheat Belly' in the office of one of the local MDs. Times they are a changin'!

While there are no scientific randomized blinded clinical control trials that prove that this type of dietary elimination works, it isn't only naturopathic physicians that have seen the light of day when it comes to observing dramatic health improvements when patients eliminate key pro-inflammatory foods. Specialists, like Dr. Davis, are going out on a limb with no solid scientific data or clinical trials to support their position, in order to speak the truth about health, disease, and highly pro-inflammatory foods that create much havoc for so many people.

While I agree with much of what this doctor had to say during his lecture, I didn't agree with everything.

One size does not fit all.

My beliefs are based on my own expert opinion regarding patient cases that I have observed in clinical practice for the past 2 decades.

A large number of people do not tolerate wheat, however, this does not apply to everyone. There are people who can tolerate organic whole grain wheat, who have flat bellies, no presence of inflammatory biomarkers, who have normal blood work, normal blood pressure and no health complaints. These people typically do not show positive for food intolerances via electrodermal testing nor for Type III hypersensitivity food intolerances obtained via ELISA blood testing.

Along with vegetables and some fruits, Dr. Davis' diet consists of large amounts of dairy products, nuts, nut flours, beans, and bean flour.

Dairy is one of the most pro-inflammatory foods I have observed in patients, that also causes a myriad of symptoms and illnesses. Like wheat, dairy products are harmful to the health of many people, yet there are those people that can tolerate dairy just fine, or can tolerate at least some fermented dairy products.

In my experience, if a child is complaining of chronic abdominal pain, and the paediatrician has ruled out disease pathology via physical examination, blood work, urinalysis, stool analysis and radiologic testing , the three most common, concurrent and biggest culprits that will relieve this child's pain when eliminated from the diet are:  sugar, dairy products and food additives/preservatives. In a minority of children, other foods like wheat, gluten, eggs, or nuts, or a combination thereof, may be the culprit(s).  At times, small intestine and large intestine dysbiosis or candidiasis or undiagnosed parasitic problems may also be culprits, often combined with a particular food intolerance.

There are many people who do not tolerate dairy products that would not do well on Dr. Davis' diet plan. A minority of patients do not tolerate eggs, so these patients would not fair too well either. And some people do not do well with beans and bean flour, so these people would also not achieve optimal health on Dr Davis' wheat belly diet plan.  However, for people that do indeed tolerate foods like dairy products, eggs, nuts and beans, the diet that Dr. Davis lays out in his book could very well save their lives, depending on their disease condition.

For Dr. Davis, gluten-free products are also on his hit list. Ingredients like potato starch, corn starch and tapioca starch are even worse than wheat he said, due to their carbohydrate content and glycemic index.

Well, yes and no.

For diabetics and for people who are obese, gluten-free products and wheat are deleterious for the majority of those afflicted with these conditions.

However, for many others, using gluten-free products has eliminated their myriad of symptoms, and has returned their state of health to optimal functioning, including normal blood work and normal physical exams. These people are not just patients with the genetic disease called celiac. These are people who have intolerances to gluten-containing products like wheat, rye, spelt, kamut, barley and triticale. These people have dramatically improved their health with gluten elimination and the introduction of gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, gluten-free oats, corn, amaranth and teff.

Essentially, what Dr. Davis recommends is a no grain diet.

There is no question that people who are overweight and people who are diabetic (not skinny diabetics), would improve fabulously on his diet plan. However, recommending this diet carte blanche to everyone will not work.

One size does not fit all.

Long ago, my family and I tried a no grain diet, similar to the one suggested in 'Wheat Belly', with nut flours, vegetables, minimal fruits, oils, meats, eggs and fish. I could only stay on the diet for 3 months. On the positive side, my weight decreased from 124 lbs to 120 lbs and any miniscule love handles and belly fat that I had on my medium-sized 5'3'' frame, were completely non-existent after only one month of being on the diet.

However, I experienced severe depression during this diet experiment, probably because of the lack of B-vitamins that are plentiful in whole grains and were no longer part of my diet at that time. When I reintroduced grains, the depression lifted and by that time, I didn't mind my 4 pound weight gain and tiny love handles returning.

The other issues regarding a no grain diet is one of feasibility and cost. For convenience, there are lots of gluten-free products on the market to purchase, yet very few nut breads, nut muffins, nut pizza bases and bean flour products. As well, the cost of making products from scratch with nut flours as compared to gluten-free grains, are worlds apart. I have patients who complain about the cost of gluten-free grains. Nut flours would especially not be economically feasible for these patients. For those that mill their own gluten-free grains like oat flour, rice flour and millet flour in order to make foods from scratch, the cost for them is very, very low, especially when buying these grains in whole bulk forms.

I have also observed something that my naturopathic colleagues have also observed on numerous occasions. Some patients who do not tolerate wheat can tolerate this substance when they travel to Europe and eat the wheat in countries across the Atlantic ocean. I believe it has something to do with the use of more ancient grains that have not been tampered by artificial means as has been done in North America. It's just a guess.

Regardless, Dr. Davis has made a stand and an important stand. Today's North American wheat and all of its by-products behave like slow-acting poisons for many, many people.

Even though one size definitely does not fit all, Dr. Davis' message is a message that must be heard.

In his wheat belly blog article entitled “Safe Sex . . . on weekends only”, Dr. Davis writes:

Small LDL particles that cause heart disease are triggered for 10 or more days at a time.  
Large, relatively benign LDL particles persist for 24-48 hours after formation, cleared by the liver promptly. Small LDL particles, triggered to extravagant degrees by the amylopectin A of wheat, persist for an unusually long period, much longer than the larger LDL particles. Once triggered, the human liver does not recognize unnatural small LDL particles, causing them to persist for an abnormally long time and allowing prolonged and repetitive interactions with the wall of arteries to create atherosclerosis (leading to coronary heart disease, heart attacks, stents, bypass surgery, as well as your hospital to boast about its record number of heart attacks treated).”

From the above information, it is clear that even cheating once per week with pizza and Oreo cookies creates accumulative harm to the body for many people.  A big flabby tire around the belly increases the risk of heart disease.

If you have a fat belly, there are many other things that may also help you:  liver and bowel detoxification programs, food intolerance testing for dairy products, the elimination of dietary refined sugar, the complete elimination (or at least marked reduction) of alcohol, and food intolerance testing for gluten, wheat and other grains.

For newbies and mainstream North America, reading Dr. Davis' 'Wheat Belly' book is an excellent place to start. For others, it is exactly what the doctor ordered.