A review of Dr. William Davis's book, Wheat Belly
I have heard many arguments which go back and forth about whether or not wheat is good for you. The general compromised consensus is that processed wheat is out, whole grains are in. However, Dr. William Davis thinks otherwise. In his book Wheat Belly he writes not only about how wheat can affect your health, but the consequences wheat can have on your immune system, mind, skin, and other areas of your body.
Of course, the book is gaining popularity due to its title and hook to catch the audience with promises of weight loss. However, as you venture further into it, it becomes much deeper than just a way of losing excess fat, or visceral fat (fat which characteristically gathers around the middle and acts as an energy storing agent. Davis writes: “When visceral fat accumulates, the flood of inflammatory signals it produces causes tissues such as muscle and liver to respond to less insulin.”), but rather a means of explaining not just our own ancestral dietary history, but that of the plants which we consume.
He explains how humans, when we reproduce, create a combination of each parent’s 46 chromosomes. However, plants do not. Plants instead add the parents’ chromosomes together. For example if plant A with twelve chromosomes pollinated with plant B that has fourteen chromosomes, the result would be a hybrid plant with 26 chromosomes. This is important because, as Dr. Davis explains, when we first began eating grains, we were eating what was called einkorn, which, as agriculture took hold, was blended and bred with other grasses and became emmer, which evolved and altered further throughout the millennia until we have what we call dwarf wheat. Not only does this show how this grass has evolved far faster than we humans have, but wheat takes on a separate and more interesting roll than other plants. When two types of grass are bred together (pun intended), not only do the chromosomes add up, but the offspring of the two is likely to create new gluten proteins that was not present in either parent beforehand. Davis says, “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 structural change with hybridization.” He writes about other experiments where fourteen new gluten proteins were found which neither parent harbored.
The result of all this alteration of grains leaves our bodies struggling to process it. This does not just apply to those suffering from gluten sensitivities or Celiac Disease. For diabetics, Davis claims that gluten raises blood sugar higher than a candy bar. The explanation is that wheat and similar carbohydrates are complex, thus taking longer for the body to go through and release the energy stored in side. Simple carbohydrates are those foods which give you the quick bursts of energy which are generally short lived. He defines “complex” as repeating chains of glucose, resulting in multiple units of sugar structures, vs. the simple carbohydrates which only has the one or two units of sugar structures – sucrose (glucose + fructose). On top of this 75% of the glucose units is amylopectin, which digests into glucose by the remaining quarter of the chain, amylose. This occurs in other carbohydrate foods, but does not act the same as it does in wheat, as it often depends on its source for an instruction manual. The amylopectin-digesting structure, amylose, is not digested very well itself and often finds itself settling in the colon, undigested. It too is dependent on its source as to how it acts, and is least digestible in beans, which is why legumes have the wonderful link to flatulence. The result of the undigested amylose in the colon is the absorption of the glucose into the blood steam and spiking blood-sugar levels.
The famous part of wheat, gluten, is compiled of two primary families of proteins – gliadins and the glutenins. The former is what triggers the immune response in celiac disease. Glutenins are similar to amylopectin in that they are repeating structures, polymers. The book tells about Dr. Christine Zioudrou who found that gluten, when applied to stomach acid, degrades to a polypeptide mixture. She then isolated the strongest polypeptide and applied it to rats and found that the polypeptides not only broke the blood-brain barrier, but would fix themselves to morphine receptors, very much so like opiate drugs do. These polypeptides were named by Dr. Zioudrou as “exorphins”.
Her findings meant that gluten acts as a drug essentially, causing the consumer’s brain to release the feel-good chemicals upon consumption and also causing the consumer to crave more, thus becoming addicted to gluten. Gluten even responds to morphine-blocking drugs such as naloxone and naltrexone, just like opiates.
In later chapters, Davis writes about how wheat can alter the body’s pH, which balances at 7.4, and has no room to falter. Grains are the only plants which generate acidic by-products, which threaten to throw off that balance, and wheat, he claims, is the one of the most potent sources of sulfuric acid. As a result, this eats away at the health of the bones and joints, causing arthritis – more specifically, osteoarthritis, which is the loss of cartilage in the joints. Due to the rise in blood sugar when glucose is consumed, Glycation occurs which is an irreversible modification of proteins in the joints, body tissues and bloodstream. Joint cartilage is “uniquely susceptible to glycation…cartilage cells are extremely long lived and are incapable of reproducing. Once they're damaged, they do not recover.” Cartilages that become glycated are abnormally stiff, which causes it to become brittle and eventually to crumble.
The topic then shifts to heart disease, and explains how small LDL particles are more often than not the cause of heart disease. Very low-density lipoproteins, or VLDL (essentially how the liver bouquets various proteins and fats (mostly trigylcerides)), are stored in the liver and released into the bloodstream. From VLDL particles come the small and large LDL particles. It depends on the changes which occur in the bloodstream as to what VLDL will be converted to – large or small LDL. Eating wheat can actually determine the size of the LDL particle, and it is usually the small, heart-disease –causing LDL particle that is picked.
Small LDL particles aren’t very well recognized by the liver unlike the large LDL particles which are disposed of through the liver. The result is the small LDL particles stay in the blood stream longer and cause atherosclerosic plaque. White blood cells which respond to the inflammation of this atherosclerosic plaque, take up the small LDL particles, which enhances the growth of said plaque. “Small LDL particles are formed when there are plentiful carbohydrates in the diet; carbohydrates also increase blood glucose that glycates small LDL. Foods that increase blood glucose the most therefore translate into both greater quantities of small LDL and increased glycation of small LDL.”
Dr. Davis has far more to say about the effects of wheat, moving on to how it affects the mind, causing encephalopathy, the symptoms of which are similar to stroke – loss of control over one side of the body, speech problems, or inability to see clearly. He summarizes a Mayo Clinic study which had thirteen patients that were freshly diagnosed with celiac disease and dementia. They performed frontal lobe biopsies on each, of which their brains “failed to identify any other pathology beyond that associated with wheat gluten exposure”. Before the biopsies, the most common symptoms were the inability to perform simple math, memory loss, confusion and changes in personality. Due to the progressive impairment of brain function, nine of the thirteen died. “Yes,” Davis writes. “fatal dementia from wheat.”
From here he moves onto the effects of wheat on the skin, claiming that it causes oral ulcers, cutaneous vasculitis, acanthosis nigricans, erythema nodosum, psoriasis, vitiligo, Behcet’s disease, dermatomyositis, icthyosoform dermatoses, and pyoderma gangrenosum.
Because wheat is can be inflammatory, Davis suggests that hair loss can be attributed to wheat as well. The follicle of the hair becomes inflamed and thus the skin rejects the hair, causing general hair loss. Though he does stress that hair loss can be due to a great many every-day occurrences as well.
After this mounting evidence of the evils of wheat, William Davis wraps up Wheat Belly with suggestions on how to avoid wheat and its relatives, reminding the reader that just because it is a wheat alternative, does not mean it is any better. He expresses that many starches which are used in gluten-free products are just as harmful, such as potato starch, rice starch, tapioca starch, and so on. He even is so kind as to include an example of a seven day meal plan and a section of wheat-free recipes to get the reader excited and more comfortable about the possibility of a wheat-free life style.
I sped through the book quickly, for the first time in a long time very enthralled in the reading material. While the content was well researched and made sense, I would have liked for there to be a less biased viewpoint, a book that educates the reader as to both sides of the picture so that the reader can make an informed opinion. Without both sides of the debate, the information is essentially just propaganda. However, the point against wheat was very well made, propaganda aside, and I have found myself inspired to try the gluten-free life style to see if I myself, can shed my own wheat belly.
Linda on August 02, 2014:
Read wheat belly . April 2013. Went grain free . Stigmatizm in my right eye improved 100 point yes 100 point in 4 mos. Had to buy new glasses !!! Lost 35 pounds . Low blood pressure is now normal ,type 2 diebictic no more ,after one year and a few mos healthy happy no more brain fog , and thankful for dr Davis exposing the removal of the Chromosomes from wheat to help with world hunger. I am not hungry every hour now .
BobMonger from Carlin, Nevada USA on April 25, 2013:
Ok, so now I've tried being "gluten free" for over 3 months and all I've got to show for it is an increased food bill. I don't feel any different that I did before, just a bit silly for paying over 5 bucks for bread that didn't taste or digest any different than the "industrial" variety. I'd already cut out a lot of processed foods, not out of concern for my health so much as they just tasted like crap. Frankly I'm beginning to wonder if this whole "gluten free" business isn't just another urban myth. For a while there it was "stone ground flour," until people realized that eating bits of rock dust was bad for your insides. Maybe I'll start making my own again.
Rebecca Furtado from Anderson, Indiana on April 24, 2013:
Americans consume far too much of everything. I would imagine if we truly had diets higher in fruits and vegetables, a small amount of wheat in our diet would not matter. Nuts and seeds can provide more than enough fiber. Big bellies are kind of a new thing for most Americans.. very few people were significantly obese before the processed fast food crazed 1960s.
Ruchi Urvashi from Singapore on April 21, 2013:
Good information about wheat. I too have read books about being gluten free. This article inspired me to be again become gluten free and say no to inflammation.
C from Denmark on January 29, 2013:
I have been thinking about reading this book for a long time.
I am still not sure where I stand on the whole wheat situation, but I think your review did a good job on covering the book and I think I will have to get on to read it sometime soon so I can form my own opinion.
Rationality on December 24, 2012:
Every three years or so the nutrition establishment trots out a new bad guy... fat, eggs, soy, nuts, meat, dairy, and now wheat. It's all driven by the desire to secure grant funding for research projects that will help them further their careers. The truth is, all these foods are very good for you in moderation. They're high in proteins and in their less processed forms are a good source of essential vitamins. Health problems that are supposedly attributed to wheat and/or gluten are really caused by overconsumption and an imbalanced diet.
Vegans and people who don't eat any wheat and/or gluten are some of the sickliest people I have ever seen in my life. Not to mention their grocery bills are astronomical.
Nicola Thompson (author) from Bellingham, WA on August 07, 2012:
Thank you for taking the time to read my review! It most certainly is worth a read, and I hope you do enjoy it. I tried gluten free for four or five months, but didn't see many results, personally. Though that isn't to say that other people won't. But I enjoyed the perspective the experience allowed me to gain.
BobMonger from Carlin, Nevada USA on August 07, 2012:
Good review, ThompsonPen. You put the book's points in an objective light while letting the reader make up their own opinions on their validity. Because of your review I am now reading said book to see what, if anything, useful I can get out of it. I'm always willing to learn something new.
The Owl on March 12, 2012:
My own impression, upon reading Wheat Belly, was that Dr. Davis presents what appears to be a good case for at least considering that wheat, especially the form we've been eating for the last half century, might be contributing to one's health problems. Having tried eliminating wheat, along with other gluten-containing grains, I can say that so far my own health has indeed greatly benefited from that step.
That being said, I also have to admit that the rhetorical tone of the book is, at times, less than objective, which is probably what the author of this review was sensing as "propaganda." It reminds me of other dietary movements and how their advocates can get downright zealous about promoting their diet as the one true solution to all that ails you. Whether it's vegan, paleo, wheat-free, or whatever, I'm just looking for information about my health, not a movement to join.
I would definitely recommend giving this book a read and giving it a try, but read with your critical-thinking cap on. I also personally do not advocate using Truvia or other corporate lab-made "sweeteners." Rather, learn to decrease your need for daily sweetness and make sweet treats just that: occasional treats, using real food ingredients.
aretemis entreri on March 12, 2012:
I think freaking out about the word "propaganda" is a bit of a troll. The review is concise, well written, and gets the point of the book across without sacrificing readability. It's a review, thus the author is entitled to her own opinion. I intend to read the book and decide for myself whether I agree with the good doctor, the reviewer, or (most likely) both.
Jane on March 10, 2012:
Wow, that's some good content. It's explained so well too. I have a couple friends that have read the book, maybe I'll see if I can borrow it. I would love to know more about wheat. Just a heads up, there are a couple typos, but other than that, a very interesting review.
And she is right, propaganda is just telling one side of a story to be convincing. Even Dr. Andrew Weil, a well respected Nutritionalist and MD advocates for wheaf, so there must be some posatives to it.
Gyrobob on March 10, 2012:
Dr. Davis DOES present both sides.
1. Wheat and other grains are bad. Wheat has all kinds of detrimental substances in it. It and all other grains cause blood sugar spikes that cause arthritis, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
2. Being wheat and grain free (not gluten-free) creates a list of benefits too long to list here. It is much more than a diet. Being wheat/grain/sugar free sends you bod back 20 years, and improves your quality of life like nothing you've every tried before.
Besides, it is hardly propaganda. Valid findings from robust research is not propaganda. What the Wheat lobby spews is propaganda. They make baseless claims for marketing purposes and erroneously label it as fact.
Being wheat/grain/sugar free is the healthiest thing the human race can do.
Nicola Thompson (author) from Bellingham, WA on March 10, 2012:
"Propaganda" is arguing to convince the audience of one side without conveying the whole story. It is propaganda. I'm not saying it is incorrect the information, but he does not give the full story. There is a debate: while yes it does have all these outstanding negative side effects, wheat is still rich in nutrients, such as B-vitamins, fiber, magnesium, selinium, zinc and a few others. By adding these details in he could have strengthened his argument.
lynette on March 09, 2012:
That Dr. Davis doesn't share "both sides of the story" doesn't make it propaganda. That's silly. That's what our "news" programs do and it's hideous. There are no facts anymore, just two sides, and "you decide." Davis is presenting HIS research and experience. If you want to seek out "other sides" yourself, feel free. They're certainly out there, as are the pro-grain propaganda sites. The most interesting thing to me is the correlation between the shocking increase in overweight and obesity in the US and the advent of the pro-grain campaign here. Interesting, too, that the Grain Foods lobby was formed to beat back information about low carbohydrate eating plans that were gaining popularity in the early 2000s. They were so successful in getting people to increase their consumption of grain products, that they're moving on to Washington to continue their lobbying efforts.
If you don't think it's possible that an industry could continue to push products that are unhealthy just to make a profit, look at what happened with tobacco. That should be sufficient to give any sentient human being reason to consider Davis' premise.
Suzi on March 09, 2012:
There is no other side to this. Wheat & other 'healthy whole grains' are not good for you.
Lynda on March 09, 2012:
It is wheat free NOT gluten free, big big difference!!
Crohnsdad on March 09, 2012:
There is another side to the debate? When measured by the yardstick of evolutionary biology, wheat and other grains look pretty bad. They are at the root of almost every chronic disease. www.crohnsdad.com