[Note from Katie: I am so excited to post this interview with Dr. William Davis who wrote the book Wheat Belly:Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health.
William Davis, MD, is a preventive cardiologist whose unique approach to diet allows him to advocate reversal, not just prevention, of heart disease. He is the founder of the Track Your Plaque program.
He started recommending a wheat free diet with his patients because wheat products raise the blood sugar more than a snickers bar. Besides blood sugar improvements, he was surprised to see his patients also experience: "weight loss of 25 to 30 lbs over several months, marked improvement or total relief from arthritis, improvement in asthma sufficient to chuck 2 or 3 inhalers, complete relief from acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, disappearance of leg swelling and numbness. Most reported increased mental clarity, deeper sleep, and more stable moods and emotions."
Check out Dr. Davis' Blog Here]
Enter Dr. Davis:
1. How did you come to the conclusion that wheat is harmful in its current form?
I learned just how bad wheat was when I asked patients in my cardiac practice to remove it from their diet. I did this because 80% of people I’d meet for the first time were diabetic or pre-diabetic, situations that double or triple heart disease risk. In an effort to minimize this situation, I applied a very simple fact: Two slices of whole wheat bread raise blood sugar higher than 6 teaspoons of sugar, higher than a Snickers bar. (Most people are unaware that the glycemic index of whole wheat bread is among the highest of all foods.)
So I asked everyone to remove wheat to observe the blood sugar effects. People would come back after a 3-6 months and, indeed, their blood sugars and HbA1c (a measure of prior 60 days blood sugar) would be much lower, even to the point at which some diabetics were no longer diabetic. But people told me plenty more: They lost 30 pounds, lost 4 inches from their waist, felt better than they had in 20 years with more energy, less moodiness and deeper sleep. They told me how they experienced complete relief from acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches, hand and finger arthritis and joint pain, sinus congestion and chronic sinus infections. They told me about how their asthma improved so much that they threw away three inhalers, their rheumatoid arthritis was so much better they were in the process of reducing medication, their ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s had improved so much that no medication was required any longer, their leg edema had disappeared and rashes were gone.
At first, I dismissed it as pure coincidence. But the effects became so frequent and consistent that the conclusion became unavoidable: Wheat was the underlying cause for an incredible array of health problems and weight gain, and that eliminating was key to astounding health.
And note that this was not gluten avoidance for the gluten-sensitive; this was wheat avoidance for everybody, as it was a rare person who didn’t experience at least some measurable improvement in health, if not outright transformation. I now recommend complete wheat avoidance for all my patients, as well as anyone else interested in regaining control over health and weight.
2. How is wheat consumption linked to heart health?
Wheat consumption causes heart disease. It’s not cholesterol, it’s not saturated fat that’s behind the number one killer of Americans; it’s wheat.
The nutrition community has been guilty of following a flawed sequence of logic: If something bad for you (white processed flour) is replaced by something less bad (whole grains) and there is an apparent health benefit, then a whole bunch of the less bad thing is good for you. Let’s apply that to another situation: If something bad for you—unfiltered Camel cigarettes—are replaced by something less bad—filtered Salem Cigarettes—then the conclusion would be to smoke a lot of Salems. The next logical question should have been: What is the health consequence of complete removal? Only then can you observe the effect of whole grains vs. no grains . . . and, from what I witness every day, you see complete transformations in health.
Consumption of wheat, due to its unique carbohydrate, amylopectin A, triggers formation of small, dense LDL particles more than any other common food. Small, dense LDL particles are the number one cause for heart disease in the U.S. The majority of adults now have an abundance of small LDL particles because they’ve been told to cut their fat and “eat plenty of healthy whole grains.” This situation of excessive small LDL particles can appear on a conventional cholesterol panel as higher levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, along with low HDL cholesterol and higher triglycerides that often leads to statin drugs. When more sophisticated lipoprotein testing is obtained, then the explosion of small LDL particles becomes obvious.
Compound this with the increased appetite triggered by the gliadin protein in wheat that acts as an appetite-stimulant, and you gain weight. The weight gained is usually in the abdomen, in the deep visceral fat that triggers inflammation, what I call a “wheat belly.” Wheat belly visceral fat is a hotbed of inflammation, sending out inflammatory signals into the bloodstream and results in higher blood sugar, blood pressure, and triglycerides, all adding up to increased risk for heart disease.
Say goodbye to wheat and small LDL particles plummet, followed by weight loss from the wheat belly visceral fat. Inflammation subsides, blood sugar drops, blood pressure drops. In short, elimination of wheat is among the most powerful means of reducing risk for heart disease.
3. What other conditions have you seen to be associated with wheat consumption?
A shorter list might be what conditions have not been associated with wheat consumption.
Gastrointestinal consequences of wheat consumption include the common conditions of acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms of gas, cramps, and diarrhea. People with inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease experience improvement and, sometimes, complete relief from cramps, pain, diarrhea, and bleeding.
Brain and nervous system effects range from mood disruption, such as depression, to behavioral outbursts in children with ADHD and autism, to triggering of hallucinations in people with schizophrenia and mania in people with bipolar illness. Wheat can also inflict direct damage on the brain and nervous system and show up as a condition called cerebellar ataxia, the progressive loss of balance and bladder control, and peripheral neuropathy, the loss of feeling, usually in the feet and legs. A British research group, for instance, has found that 50% of unexplained peripheral neuropathy can be blamed on wheat. There’s also the recent detailed description of gluten encephalopathy, or dementia from wheat by the Mayo Clinic; diagnosis is usually made at autopsy.
Joint pain and swelling are common accompaniments of wheat consumption. The most common form involves the wrist and fingers. Others experience relief from back pain and hip and knee pain with eliminating wheat, especially if weight loss from the abdomen develops, since this belly fat serves as a repository for inflammation; lose the wheat belly, inflammation subsides.
Skin conditions commonly improve or disappear with wheat elimination. Common conditions like acne improve, as well as a long list (enough to fill four pages) of other skin conditions from granuloma annulare, to allergic dermatitis, to gangrene.
From the head down to the toes, there is no body system not affected by consumption of wheat.
4. What are the most important things to understand when it comes to wheat consumption?
I believe one of the most crucial aspects of the wheat conversation for people to understand is that the gliadin protein in wheat acts as an appetite-stimulant. People who consume the gliadin protein in wheat consume, on average, 400 more calories per day. People who eliminate the gliadin protein of wheat consume 400 calories less per day, even if calories, fat grams, or portion sizes are unrestricted.
I think that this fact has been used to advantage by Big Food. Put wheat flour, and thereby gliadin, into every product you can, you increase appetite, increase consumption, increase sales. I believe this explains why wheat flour can be found in the most improbable places like tomato soup and licorice.
The gliadin protein in wheat exerts this effect on the human brain because it is degraded to a group of compounds called exorphins, or exogenous morphine-like compounds; these effects that can be blocked with administration of opiate-blocking drugs. Yes, the appetite-stimulating effect of wheat can be completely disabled by administering the same drugs that heroine addicts take to block their “high.” Studies in volunteers have demonstrated that people administered opiate-blocking drugs have much reduced desire for cake, cupcakes, and cookies. A drug company filed its application in early 2011 for the drug naltrexone for weight loss; in clinical trials, naltrexone was successful, with participants losing 22 pounds per month by reducing calorie intake 400 calories per day.
As long as wheat remains a part of your diet, you will not have full control over impulse and hunger. Calorie consumption is higher, especially for carbohydrate foods. Weight accumulates, particularly around the middle. Eliminate wheat, on the other hand, and you regain normal physiologic control over hunger.
5. If a person decides to eliminate wheat, should he/she turn to “gluten free” alternatives or what type of diet have you found to be optimal?
First, I believe we should return to real, unprocessed foods as often as possible. It means eating vegetables, raw nuts, meats, fish, eggs (including the yolks), cheese, healthy oils like extra-virgin olive and coconut. I do not believe that we should count or limit calories, especially after we’ve eliminated the potent appetite stimulant, wheat. If you miss baked goods, I provide recipes in the Wheat Belly book, as well as on The Wheat Belly Blog (www.wheatbellyblog.com). These recipes for chocolate chip cookies and cheesecake, for example, are wheat-free, nearly sugar-free, low-carbohydrate and are generally healthy enough to eat anytime with none of the adverse health consequences like weight gain or bloating.
I strongly urge people to avoid commercial gluten-free products. This is because, in place of wheat flour, these products, such as gluten-free whole grain bread, are made using cornstarch, rice starch, tapioca starch, and potato starch. These powdered starches are among the few foods that increase blood sugar higher than even whole wheat. It means these foods trigger weight gain in the abdomen (“gluten-free belly”), increased blood sugars, insulin resistance and diabetes, cataracts, and arthritis. They are not healthy replacements for wheat.
6. Ok, a tough one… can you give us a 10-15 second elevator speech that can help us explain the reasons to avoid wheat to doubting friends and relatives?
Sure. The American public needs to be aware that agribusiness and Big Food companies have sucker punched you. They have learned how to use this Trojan horse, wheat, harboring its hidden gliadin protein that increases appetite.
Wheat is a weak opiate. Eat wheat, you want more wheat, you want more carbohydrates. The gliadin of wheat is converted to exorphins, morphine-like compounds that can be blocked with opiate-blocking drugs.
Even worse, we’re advised by our own government agencies like the USDA and Health and Human Services that whole grains are good for us and we should eat more. Eat more “healthy whole grains,” we eat more, we gain weight, we acquire all the health consequences of wheat and weight gain such as hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis, acid reflux, and diabetes. Big Food makes out, Big Pharma makes out; we all pay the price.
The epidemic of diabetes and obesity has been blamed on us. We’re told that Americans are overweight and diabetic because we are gluttons and we’re lazy. I don’t buy it. I believe the majority of Americans are fairly health-conscious and try to get at least some exercise. I do not believe we are that different from, say, the people of 1950 or 1960. I think we’ve been duped into blaming ourselves, when all along a big part of the blame should be placed on this corrupt product of genetics research, propagated by agribusiness, and put to profitable use.
If you haven’t already, check out Dr. Davis’ book Wheat Belly. I’ve found that is a great resource, especially for friends and relatives who have trouble grasping how “heart-healthy-whole-grains” could possibly be bad.
Have you read Wheat Belly? Noticed any health improvements after removing grains? Share below!