Book Review: Wheat BellySusannah Kent July 1, 2012
Author: William Davis, MD
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers, Ltd.
Book Publication: 2012
Consider this health advisory: “Wheat consumption in all forms poses potentially serious threats to health.” Cardiologist Dr. William Davis believes it would be a good thing if the US Food and Drug Administration, which regulates tobacco, required such a warning on wheat-containing products, much as they do for cigarettes.
In Wheat Belly, Dr. Davis makes the argument that the over-hybridization of wheat during the last fifty years has resulted in a product which can be linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, intestinal and immunological disorders such as Crohn’s, celiac, colitis, irritable bowel, and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as neurological disorders like dementia, ataxia, and Alzheimer’s. So if you blithely assumed your morning bagel or bowl of breakfast cereal was a safe and healthy way to start the day, reading Wheat Belly will quickly disabuse you of that notion.
The history of wheat unfolds in the early pages of the book as Davis explains in detail how its genetic makeup has changed from ancient grains like einkorn to the present-day dwarf variety. He even conducted his own experiment by consuming bread he made himself with einkorn wheat one day, and modern whole wheat the next. With the einkorn bread he found that his blood sugar did spike, but reports there were no other side-effects – “no sleepiness, no nausea, nothing hurt.” On the other hand, after eating four ounces of whole wheat bread, his blood sugar doubled, he felt nauseated, had stomach cramps, slept poorly that night, and had trouble concentrating the next day.
Subsequent chapters examine the frightening effects of wheat. There is the widely acknowledged wheat/obesity connection (particularly the dangerous visceral fat deposited around the middle, hence the title of the book), with numerous studies now demonstrating the advantages of low carbohydrate diets for weight loss. And as wheat is the most predominantly consumed carbohydrate, it is difficult to find fault with Davis’s advice to “lose the wheat, lose the weight.”
Dr. Davis next presents evidence of the close link between eating wheat and insulin resistance, summarizing his findings as follows: “Carbohydrates, especially those such as wheat products that increase blood sugar and insulin most dramatically, initiate a series of metabolic phenomena that ultimately lead to irreversible loss of the pancreas’s ability to manufacture insulin: diabetes.”
Heart disease, the aging process, pH levels, and even the skin come under Davis’s scrutiny as he demonstrates, through careful documentation, wheat’s destructive path. However, the one wheat/health connection Davis makes that many readers may find surprising, not to mention deeply disturbing, is the one with our brains. In the chapter titled “The Addictive Properties of Wheat,” Davis reveals that “Digestion [of wheat] yields morphine-like compounds [polypeptides known as exorphins] that bind to the brain’s opiate receptors. It induces a form of reward, a mild euphoria.” He goes on to say: “Wheat is one of the few foods that can alter behavior, induce pleasurable effects, and generate a withdrawal symptom upon its removal.” (No wonder it seems impossible to say no to that third or fourth slice of pizza.)
But that is not the end of the story of our brains on wheat. According to Davis, wheat can even cause neurological damage such as cerebellar ataxia with its accompanying symptoms of imbalance, loss of coordination, and incontinence.
If, at this point, you have decided that it might be best to lose the wheat, but cannot imagine what to replace it with, Davis offers an entire chapter of suggestions of viable and healthy alternatives – including hot coconut flaxseed cereal for breakfast or zucchini pasta with baby bella mushrooms for dinner; for snacks he suggests raw nuts, cheeses, and dark chocolates – along with an appendix of recipes.
In spite of the seriousness of the topic, Davis manages to include welcome, lively alliterative quips, and amusing commentary. Nonetheless, his condemnation of wheat, and the corporations (Big Food) and government agencies who continue to promote its healthy attributes despite evidence to the contrary, comes through loud and clear.
The information in Wheat Belly is as extensive as it is disconcerting, and should make us stop and consider the possible dire consequences of reaching for that doughnut, bagel, or bowl of supposedly “heart healthy” breakfast cereal.