By Franklin Sanders
William Davis, M.D., Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, & Find your Path Back to Health (New York: Rodale Press, 2011. 292 pages with bibliography and index. $10.25 to $20 from www.abebooks .com. I suggest you check with David Smotherman at Winder Binder Gallery & Book Store, our local economy book supplier, in Chattanooga to see if he can obtain it for you (423-413-8999).
Sensitivity to gluten and gliadin found in wheat is not an academic interest with me. In 2008 I was utterly wretched. Every time I ate my stomach rebelled with heartburn and acid reflux, I was bloated, had diarrhea, stomach pain, mental fog, depression, joint pain, itching scalp and skin rashes. I wasn’t worth the bullet to put me out of my misery.
Frantic for relief, in May Susan and I spent nearly a week of testing at Dr. Jonathan Wright’s Tahoma Clinic in Seattle. After a lifetime of eating anything I wanted, perfect digestion and elimination, at age 61 he diagnosed me with gluten/gliadin sensitivity. In loose terms, I was allergic to wheat. Left untreated, the sensitivity can progress into celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and worse.
The treatment? Stop eating wheat. That simple. Symptoms vanish speedily, and stay vanished as long as you stay away from wheat. Eat wheat and all the symptoms instantly re-appear. Want to know if wheat is causing your problem? Stop eating it for four weeks.
“Wait a minute, Moneychanger! I don’t buy that. For 6,500 years humans have been eating wheat, nay, mostly surviving on it. “Bread” and “food” are synonyms. After hundreds of generations have been eating the stuff, how could wheat suddenly cause this reaction?”
It ain’t the same wheat
As Dr. Davis explains in this book, it ain’t the same wheat. After more than 50 years of crossbreeding and genetic manipulation, today’s wheat is not your Granny’s wheat.
“Wheat strains have been hybridized, crossbred, and introgressed to make the wheat plant resistant to environmental conditions, such as drought or pathogens, or fungi. But most of all, genetic changes have been induced to increase yield per acre … more than tenfold greater than farms of a century ago. Such enormous strides in yield have required drastic changes in genetic code, including reducing the proud ‘amber waves of grain’ of yesteryear to the rigid, eighteen-inch-tall high-production ‘dwarf’ wheat of today” (p. 14).
“Modern commercial wheat production has been intent on delivering features
such as increased yield, decreased production costs, and large-scale production of a consistent commodity. All the while, virtually no questions have been asked about whether these features are compatible with human health. *** Small changes in wheat protein structure can spell the difference between a devastating immune response to wheat protein versus no immune response at all” (p. 18).
The peculiar oversight in the flurry of breeding activity, such as that conducted at International Maize & Wheat Improvement Center (IMWIC) [under geneticist Norman Borlaug], was that, despite dramatic changes in the genetic makeup of wheat and other crops, no animal or human safety testing was conducted on the new genetic strains that we created. … [They] were released into the food supply without human safety concerns being part of the equation.
[I]t was assumed that variations in gluten content and structure, modifications of other enzymes and proteins, qualities that confer susceptibility or resistance to various plant diseases, would all make their way to humans without consequence. . . . Analyses of proteins expressed by a wheat hybrid compared to its two parent strains have demonstrated that, while approximately 95% of the proteins expressed in the offspring are the same, 5% are unique, found in neither parent. Wheat gluten proteins, in particular, undergo considerable change with hybridization. … When compared to century- old strains of wheat, modern strains of Triticum aestivum express a higher quantity of genes for gluten proteins that are associated with celiac disease. (Pp. 25-26).
[T]he alterations of wheat that could potentially result in undesirable effects on humans are not due to gene insertion or deletion [genetic modification], but are due to the hybridization experiments that pre-date genetic modification. As a result, over the past 50 years, thousands of new strains have made it to the human commercial food supply without a single effort at safety testing. (p. 29)
How wheat works: the proteins gluten and gliadin
What you know as bread can’t be made from the most ancient strains of wheat, because they lack the gluten. Gluten is the protein that gives dough that sticky, doughy texture. That’s why you can’t make bread from rice, corn, or any other grain flour: no gluten. Also, gluten is essential to bread rising in leavening.
Wheat is about 70% carbohydrates, 10-15% indigestible fiber, and 10 – 15% protein. Of that 15%, gluten contributes 80% of wheat protein. (p 32, 38)
“Gluten” embraces two protein families, the gliadins and the glutenins. The gliadin protein group triggers the strongest immune response in celiac disease. (p 38)
“Gluten from one wheat strain can be quite different in structure from that of another strain *** Hybridization efforts of the past 50 years have generated numerous additional changes in gluten-coding genes in Triticum aestivum, most of them purposeful modifications of the D genome that confer baking and aesthetic characteristics on flour.” (p. 39)
Gluten and gliadin can provoke several immune responses. In celiac disease the small intestine becomes inflamed causing abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Gluten and gliadin are also implicated as culprits in irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Other wheat proteins besides the glutens can provoke allergic or anaphylactic reactions. (p 40)
Wheat starches are the complex carbohydrates that are the darlings of dieticians. ‘Complex’ means that the carbohydrates in wheat are composed of polymers (repeating chains) of the simple sugar, glucose [the simplest sugar, C6H12O6], unlike simple carbohydrates such as sucrose [table sugar] which are one- or two-unit sugar structures. (Sucrose is a two-sugar molecule, glucose + fructose.) Conventional wisdom, such as that from your dietician or the USDA, says that we should all reduce our consumption of simple carbohydrates in the form of candy and soft drinks & increase our consumption of complex carbohydrates.
Of the complex carbohydrate in wheat, 75% is the chain of branching glucose units, amylopectin, and 25% is the linear chain of glucose units, amylase. In the human gastrointestinal tract, both … are digested by the salivary and stomach enzyme amylase. Amylopectin is efficiently digested by amylase to glucose, while amylase is much less efficiently digested, some of it [reaching] the colon undigested. Thus the complex carbohydrate amylopectin is rapidly converted to glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream and, because it is most efficiently digested, is mainly responsible for wheat’s blood-sugar-increasing effect. (p. 32).
The human body digests amylopectin so efficiently, in fact, that it increases blood sugar more than eating a Mars bar or a Snickers – or eating table sugar!
The glycemic index (GI) measures effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar compared to the simplest sugar, glucose. Using glucose’s blood sugar effect as 100, whole grain bread has a GI of 72, white bread 69, Shredded Wheat cereal 67, and table sugar (sucrose) 59. A Mars bar ranks 68 and a snickers 41, so ditch that balloon loaf and eat Snickers for breakfast! (p34).
Where the carbs go
All right, the carbohydrates in wheat raise blood sugar more than almost any other carbohydrate. What happens then?
➤ Higher blood sugar stimulates the body to produce the hormone insulin
➤ Insulin allows glucose to enter body cells, converting glucose to fat
➤ Two hours after the sugar high, the body experiences a sugar low.
That explains the roller-coaster high/low of fullness and craving that eating wheat products induces, not to mention the “mental fog, fatigue, and shakiness” of the low blood sugar bottoms. (p. 36)
The carbs don’t stop there. Over time this cycle deposits more and more fat, building a “wheat belly.” Oh, and don’t forget the insulin resistance that results when your body is exposed to more and more blood sugar, which can lead to Type II diabetes.
If only it stopped there, but it doesn’t. Increased belly fat produces more of the female hormone estrogen, both in men and women. Oh, and it triggers more inflammatory responses, like heart disease and cancer. (p. 36). There’s more still.
For some people wheat is addictive, and for a reason. When wheat is digested it breaks down into “exorphins,” polypeptides which resemble morphine-like compounds in their action on the brain. And yes, they can cross the blood brain barrier. (p. 49). Of all the grains, only wheat produces exorphins.
“So this is your brain on wheat: Digestion yields morphine-like compounds that bind to the brain’s opiate receptors. It induces a form of reward, mild euphoria. When the effect is blocked or no exorphin-yielding foods are consumed, some people experience a distinctly unpleasant withdrawal” (p. 50). So your friend is not kidding when he says he’s addicted to honey buns. And of course, that addiction makes him eat more, and makes him fatter and fatter. Wheat stimulates appetite.
This effect seems confirmed by withdrawing wheat from schizophrenic patients. They showed significant and measurable improvement. Add back the wheat to their diet and the symptoms return (p. 46-47). Removing wheat also improves children with autism, and wheat may contribute to Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
More fun with wheat
The fun with wheat never stops. Dr. Davis points out that the intestinal symptoms of celiac disease may not always be present. “[T]he celiac sufferer might have neurological impairment, such as loss of balance and dementia, yet be spared the characteristic cramping, diarrhea, and weight loss. Lack of telltale intestinal symptoms also means that the correct diagnosis is rarely made. Rather than calling it celiac disease without the intestinal expression of the condition, it would be more accurate to speak about immune-mediated gluten intolerance.” (p. 84)
Following are conditions associated with immune mediated gluten intolerance:
➤ “Dermatitis herpetiformis — *** [An] itchy, bumpy rash that usually occurs over the elbows, knees or back.
➤ “Liver disease – [F]rom mild abnormalities on liver tests to chronic active hepatitis to primary biliary cirrhosis to biliary cancer.
➤ “Autoimmune diseases — Diseases associated with immune attacks against various organs, known as autoimmune diseases, are more common in people with celiac. [They] are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, connective tissue diseases such as lupus, asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, as well as other inflammatory and immune disorders. … [I]ncidence is 68-fold compared to non-celiacs.”
➤ “Insulin dependent diabetes – Children with insulin-dependent type 1 diabetes have an unusually high likelihood for having positive antibody markers for celiac disease, with up to a 20-fold greater risk for developing it. It is not clear whether wheat gluten is the cause of diabetes, but investigators have speculated that a subgroup of type 1 diabetics develop the disease triggered by gluten exposure.
➤ “Neurological impairment — *** [T]here is a curiously high incidence (50%) of celiac markers among people who develop otherwise unexplained loss of balance and coordination (ataxia) or loss of feeling and muscle control in the legs (peripheral neuropathy). There is even a frightening condition called gluten encephalopathy, characterized by brain impairment with headaches, ataxia, and dementia, eventually fatal.➤ “Nutritional deficiencies – Iron-deficiency anemia is unusually common among celiac sufferers, affecting up to 69%. Deficiencies of vitamin B12, folic acid, zinc, and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K are also common.” (p. 87, 88) Combine this with digestive efficiency’s normal age- related decline and you have a recipe for extraordinary vitamin deficiencies.
What does this mean to you?
It has been a long time since I’ve read a book and underlined sentence after sentence — Wheat Belly is one of those.
There’s some repetition, but that’s inevitable in a teaching book. Still, Dr. Davis and his editors have written with admirable clarity, making a difficult subject easy for a layman to grasp. Nor does he overlook ne of the worst aspects of the wheat tragedy: mainstream dieticians and the USDA strongly advocate consuming wheat, so official dogma drives people into eating the very poison plaguing them.
Certainly I wouldn’t contend that every word in this book is Gospel truth, but I believe everyone ought to read it, and not just my little summary. Maybe wheat is not the only culprit in the modern epidemic of auto-immune diseases, heart disease, diabetes, and other painful afflictions, but from my own case I know it can frightfully, suddenly, and agonizingly affect your health.
But don’t take my word for it. Avoid all wheat containing foods for four weeks (that’s a job because wheat appears in most processed foods). Go gluten free. If your symptoms improve, wheat is the culprit.
Whoops, I forgot the other benefit of giving up wheat: weight loss, significant, speedy and permanent.
Is that English muffin really worth the price you might be paying?
Used by permission. Franklin Sanders is publisher of The Moneychanger, a privately circulated monthly newsletter that focus on gold and silver and the application of Christianity to economics, culture and family life. We have subscribed to this newsletter for more than 20 years, and consider it a must read. F$99 a year. Franklin is an active trader in gold and silver (he’ll swap your green Federal Reserve rectangles and give you real money in return). He trades with savers and investors outside Tennessee. Subscribe to his daily price report and market commentary on the website.