Wheat: Scourge of Civilization

Very quick. Cardiologist William Davis reports on the unexpected benefits his patients achieve after some months completely wheat free.

First, the expected benefits.

A patient would come to the office, for example, with a blood sugar of 118 mg/dl (in the pre-diabetic range) and the other phenomena of pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high inflammation/c-reactive protein, low HDL, high triglycerides, small LDL), and the characteristic wheat belly. Eliminate wheat and, within three months, they lose 30 lbs, blood sugar drops to normal, blood pressure drops, triglycerides drop by several hundred milligrams, HDL goes up, small LDL plummets, c-reactive protein drops.

And now, the unexpected ones.

--Improved rheumatoid arthritis--I have seen this time and time again. Eliminate wheat and the painful thumbs, fingers, and other joints clear up dramatically. Many former rheumatoid sufferers people tell me that one cracker or pretzel will trigger a painful throbbing reminder that lasts a couple of hours.

--Improved ulcerative colitis--People incapacitated with pain, cramping, and diarrhea of ulcerative colitis (who are negative for the antibodies for celiac disease) can experience marked improvement. I've seen people be able to stop all their nasty colitis medications just by eliminating wheat.

--Reduction or elimination of irritable bowel syndrome

--Reduction or elimination of gastroesophageal reflux

--Better mood--Eliminating wheat makes you happier and experience more stable moods. Just as wheat is responsible for a subset of schizophrenia and bipolar illness (this is fact), and wheat elimination generates dramatic improvement, when you or I eliminate wheat, we also experience a "smoothing" of mood swings.

--Better libido--I'm not sure whether this is a consequence of losing a belly the size of a watermelon or improvement in sex hormones (esp. testosterone) or endothelial responses, but more interest in sex typically develops.

--Better complexion--I'm not entirely sure why, but various rashes will often dissipate, bags under the eyes are reduced, itching in funny places stops.

Of course, one would do well to just eliminate all grains, sugar, and industrial vegetable oils.

Comments

  1. Mike Kesthely says:

    I don't know if you'd be interested, Richard, but Robb Wolf goes into some depth (as much as one can in a 1-day seminar) on the auto-immune actions of gluten in his Crossfit Nutrition seminar, and said auto-immunity seems (in theory) to be the root of a TON of chronic conditions. If there's ever one in your area, I highly recommend attending. Well worth it.

  2. whitney613 says:

    I <3 Dr. Davis.
    Been reading his blog for a year now.

  3. @Brock

    Richard can certainly defend his own assertions, but in the meantime, take a look at these posts on grain wonderfully/cogently argued by Stefan

    http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2008/07/g

    http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2009/01/h

    To wit:

    1) We are not evolved to eat grains.
    2) They contain significant amounts of anti-nutrients such as phytic acic
    3) Cultures that do eat grain healthfully, generally tended to treat grain products (such as fermenting them) before ingestion.

    My personal experience with eliminating grain has been nothing short of amazing. This is after I was tested for a grain and/or gluten allergy and was reported to have none.

    Yet, when I avoid grains I am in a better mood, I lose weight and suffer no more migraines.

    Coincidence…maybe, but I doubt it.

    • So let me play the devil's advocate here :-)

      1) We are not evolved to eat grains.

      We are not evolved to eat starch either, at least not raw.

      2) They contain significant amounts of anti-nutrients such as phytic acid

      Raw starch will get you as well with its own set of problematic compounds.

      3) Cultures that do eat grain healthfully, generally tended to treat grain products (such as fermenting them) before ingestion.

      Ah yes, treatment. Just like we have to “treat” starch before ingesting (with cooking). Fundamentally its the same thing. I don't know of any healthy culture who ate grains as a staple in their diet who didn't treat them in some way, including…ahem…refining.

      This is why I have a tough time with the “eating what we evolved on argument” as an across the board statement. Since we are able to take foods and make them useful for our nutritional needs, this argument, while an excellent starting point for some (cuz if taken seriously you will immediately get rid of nearly all the problematic compounds in the modern diet), in my opinion doesn't carry much water.

      And it is just a flat out terrible argument when it is used to argue for a low carb diet. Dr. Stephen has done a good job in dismantling that bogeyman (as has the Primal Wisdom blog). I even posted his (Stephan's) Kitava series on my blog with a new title called Slaying the Low Carb Dragon, where the Kitavans (and others) unquestionably consume a high carb (but no grain) diet.

      As I will be writing in my postscript to that series in a few days, the common element of highly protective diets is the abundance of saturated fat even when carbs are high and total overall fat is low. And I mean lots of saturated fat as a percentage of the diet. Higher than what most people eat on a high fat diet in the west.

      A lot of people can achieve amazing health by eliminating grains, but so often the arguments fail to make any real distinctions, and those distinctions do matter.

      Disclaimer: I rarely eat gluten grains but I do eat starchy tubers. If I do eat any grains it is normally like the Thai – white rice – as a constituent in my coconut milk loaded soup.

      Michael
      Nutrition and Physical Regeneration

      • As I will be writing in my postscript to that series in a few days, the common element of highly protective diets is the abundance of saturated fat even when carbs are high and total overall fat is low. And I mean lots of saturated fat as a percentage of the diet. Higher than what most people eat on a high fat diet in the west.

        I don't see how this squares. How can overall fat be low at the same time saturated fat is “lots” and “[h]igher than what most people eat on a high fat diet in the west”?

        At any rate, sure, I also do not believe that restricting to only paleo foods is necessary or even desirable for all. Dairy is a prime example. That said, I do think cooking is totally paleo, perhaps even essential to our evolution, as I posted about here:

        http://freetheanimal.com/2009/03/is-it-the-meat

        So, I also don't ascribe to the notion that true paleo is only that which one could eat raw if they had to.

        This is all why my approach is this: embrace the Paleo Principle and apply it imperfectly, listening to your own body over time. For some, this will mean no grains, dairy, etc., others may do fine by both in limited quantities, some only by treating grains (soaking sprouting, fermenting, etc. and/r treating dairy (various fermentation practices for cheeses, yogurts, etc.).

        Overall, I'm not in to the total dogmatic position.

      • I don't see how this squares. How can overall fat be low at the same time saturated fat is “lots” and “[h]igher than what most people eat on a high fat diet in the west”?

        Sorry about that. It was very late and I was writing quickly rather than inputing actual numbers. But going back to the example of the Kitavans, they have what we would consider an overall low fat diet in the west (21%) but 80% or more of that is saturated fat, which as a percentage of the diet in terms of saturated fat puts them about 10% higher than the typical high fat western diet.

        From what I can tell, that seems to be true of most “traditional” lower fat cultures. The lower overall fat intake is more than compensated for by the higher saturated fat intake.

        So, I also don't ascribe to the notion that true paleo is only that which one could eat raw if they had to.

        Yup, I know that. I have been reading your stuff for awhile (thanks to Karen DeCoster I think) even though I didn't comment much until the health care thread. Which is pretty amazing since I have studiously avoided the subject nearly every where else I am hanging out on the web. I hope I didn't make it sound like it was something you believed in.

        I was simply trying to point out that even most paleos “treat” their food to make it more useful, so in principle treating grains so that they can be included in the diet is no big thing. I didn't have the general raw versus cooked distinction that some paleos make in mind at all.

        This is all why my approach is this: embrace the Paleo Principle and apply it imperfectly, listening to your own body over time. For some, this will mean no grains, dairy, etc., others may do fine by both in limited quantities, some only by treating grains (soaking sprouting, fermenting, etc. and/r treating dairy (various fermentation practices for cheeses, yogurts, etc.).

        Overall, I'm not in to the total dogmatic position.

        Yes in the end I think that everyone has to figure out what works for them.

        On a personal level I tend to just try and point out the pitfalls of a given way. For example the use of fresh wheat must be very fresh as studies show within several days it degrades and develops problematic compounds. Price used freshly ground wheat not the “whole grain” stuff people consume today, and as far as we know he only used it with those particular children. Given the circumstances he was working with that was probably the best choice.

        But for the average person who is not willing to jump through the hoops of fresh grinding as a baseline and then if necessary fermenting and/or refining (as did some of the African tribes), it is probably best to just give wheat up.

        I also tend to stay away from the dental comparisons because for all practical purposes the differences are quite modest (as you noted). And the best teeth belonged to groups who did have a moderate but significant amount of carbs in their diet (but no grains).

        Michael
        Nutrition and Physical Regeneration

      • @Michael

        Your comment is a non-sequitur. Contrasting raw starch with wheat is nonsensical.

      • Not at all. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Contrasting untreated tubers with untreated grain is right on the money. Both starches require some kind of treatment in order to be made useful in many cases. The non-sequitar is lumping all grain into the same category whether or not it is properly “treated”. Although even that distinction might be dubious because a traditional use of starchy tubers is to soak or ferment them before cooking, which puts them both in the same treatment detail as needing a two part process to render them “optimal”.

        Michael
        Nutrition and Physical Regeneration

  4. I wonder how many of these people were tested for gluten problems, or tried wheat again later without problems? If they were gluten intolerant this would be expected. But I bet there are many people who might go wheat-free to no benefit. The Sikhs of India consumed a great deal of wheat and expressed marvelous health over multiple generations. My other bet is that he's not taking them off wheat so much as replacing “processed American white flour” with stuff that's got nutritional value – and that fresher varieties more traditionally prepared would be equally effective. In fact, this is exactly what Weston A. Price did back in the 20s and 30s – he put people on fresh ground wheat gruel (with vitamins, broths and vegetables) and they quickly recovered all with health. With wheat as the major component of their diet!

    It's just not as simple as you present, Richard. Simple is easy, but it's wrong. You don't want to be the “Easy to understand, but wrong” guy, do you?

    This is a major blind spot with you Richard, and puts paid to your “I'm a purely rational thinker” assertions. I'm disappointed. I'm not disappointed when Dean Ornish says something dumb (my expectations are very low), but you've got a brain as far as I can tell. Use it more, and lose the (untrue) hyperbole.

    And lastly, any problems with wheat in no way suggests getting rid of all grains. They're all different, and we all react to them differently. Many cultures express health surpassing yours and mine on diets dominated by corn, rice, quinoa, rye and (yes) wheat.

    • Appreciate you expressing the complaint, Brock.

      That said, part of what I do here is hyperbole, for fun. I think regular readers can ferret out what's really no-shit from what's partly entertainment value.

      I come as someone who tried Atkins about a half-dozen times going back to 1991. The best I ever did was about 6 weeks to a month. Know why? The focus was on low carbs. I had absolutely no awareness of problems with food types. I lost weight but didn't feel particularly better, none of my allergic issues went away, etc.

      You know the rest of the story. Eliminating all grains has been a godsend, not only for myself, but for every single person of my direct acquaintance who has done likewise, including my mom. She watched her diabetes slowly get worse year after year even though she was always doing low carb (but not cutting out grains). She finally cut out all grains and got off insulin within just a couple of months.

      Sure, some people can tolerate them, but I do not believe for a second that:

      1. Health will be OPTIMAL with grains, and that seems to be born out by Price; of all the populations studied, only two had grain in the diet, and those two had the highest (by magnitudes) tooth decay — though it was very modest in its own right.

      2. Health can't be improved by replacing grain calories with meat, natural fat, veggies and fruit.

      3. That anyone who does 2 will see a degradation of health.

      So, while I understand and agree that grains are not articulately damaging for many people, they are for significant numbers of people. Accordingly, my formal position is that grains are not OPTIMAL nutrition for anyone, acceptable for some, and a total menace for some.

      They're all different, and we all react to them differently.

      I'll just toss another piece of meat on the barbie, thanks.

      • No one can prescribe the perfect diet for someone else; only self-testing can reveal the optimal foods. What frustrates me to no end, however, is how so few people will even try an alternative like a paleo-diet even though they can clearly observe the dramatic benefits in their close friends (read: yours truly). Some people are just so stuck in their ways that it's a hopeless cause.

  5. @Patrik

    I am with you on this. I was skeptical at first myself, but having eliminated obvious wheat in my diet for 2 weeks now, I am a believer. I've lost around 6 lbs and have done practically nothing in the way of physical activity. My night time heartburn is gone. Completely. Headaches I was getting that I attributed to stress are gone – even with my most stressful annual week of work just this week. Hive-like breakouts I would get on my arms and legs have not surfaced in this time period. I'm definitely less grumpy, too.

    People can argue the commonly accepted benefits of wheat all they want but the simple fact is that there is nothing wheat provides that I can't get from other sources. Most likely in greater quantity. I see no compelling reason to consume wheat at all.

  6. marcfeelgoodeating says:

    Richard,
    FWIW, my dad's gout has been eliminated (completely) by no longer consuming grains and eating paleo/primal. When he falls of the wagon…..hey at age 76 habits are hard to change……the gout usually returns.

    Marc

  7. donmatesz says:

    I found a great use for wheat…it makes great cat litter. Nontoxic, flushable, pleasant odor, and my cats took to urinating on it with no cajoling.

    Some studies show 70% of randomly selected people display intolerance signs or symptoms, despite NOT testing positive for gluten intolerance.

    42% of us have genes for gluten sensitivity; 29% show gluten antibodies in the stool; 11% have gluten antibodies in the blood; only 1% have full blown celiac. Rarely do labs test for stool antibodies.

    A recent study found that celiac prevalence has increased 4-4.5 times since the 1950s, and that undiagnosed celiacs have a 4-fold increased risk of death compared to non-celiacs.

    Nope, I have no apologies for wheat.

    Wheat is one of those monocrops that destroys topsoil very efficiently. If we turned every wheat field into a pasture managed like Polyface farm, we would have a lot more grass fed meat and I would rejoice, even if I couldn't get it for my cat litter.

  8. Richard.

    You stated

    “–Better libido–I'm not sure whether this is a consequence of losing a belly the size of a watermelon or improvement in sex hormones (esp. testosterone) or endothelial responses, but more interest in sex typically develops.”

    IMHO this statement is very much like one of those “Swimmers have long muscles” arguments: In reality; It's not that eating paleo gives you better libido, it's more along the lines of eatong paleo and high intensity training makes you more attractive to the opposite sex, and so……

    • It may be a bit of both,but I agree that probably the weightier factor is an improved sense of well being.

      I was talking with someone the other day, remarking that seeing an unattractive body in the mirror every day must take its toll over the years.

Trackbacks

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