Dr. Mark Hyman: Fellow Wheat Belly-acher

It looks like Dr. Mark Hyman, well known for his popular and insightful books, Ultramind and Ultrametabolism, has jumped onto the Wheat Belly bandwagon with his comments in a recent article on his website.

Some tidbits from his article:

The history of wheat parallels the history of chronic disease and obesity across the world. Supermarkets today contain walls of wheat and corn disguised in literally hundreds of thousands of different food- like products, or FrankenFoods.

The Bible says, “Give us this day our daily bread”. Eating bread is nearly a religious commandment. But the Einkorn, heirloom, Biblical wheat of our ancestors is something modern humans never eat.

Instead, we eat dwarf wheat, the product of genetic manipulation and hybridization that created short, stubby, hardy, high yielding wheat plants with much higher amounts of starch and gluten and many more chromosomes coding for all sorts of new odd proteins. The man who engineered this modern wheat won the Nobel Prize – it promised to feed millions of starving around the world. Well, it has, and it has made them fat and sick.

The first major difference of this dwarf wheat is that it contains very high levels of a super starch called amylopectin A. This is how we get big fluffy Wonder Bread and Cinnabons.

And:
The problems with wheat are real, scientifically validated and ever present. Getting off wheat may not only make you feel better and lose weight, it could save your life.

My personal hope is that together we can create a national conversation about a real, practical solution for the prevention, treatment, and reversal of our obesity, diabetes and chronic disease epidemic. Getting off wheat may just be an important step.

I applaud Dr. Hyman for seeing the light on this huge issue and encouraging “a national conversation.” We differ on one issue: Who should be wheat-free. Dr. Hyman argues that people with positive blood markers (e.g., gluten antibodies or HLA markers) or perceived improvements off wheat should remain wheat/gluten-free.

I argue a bit differently: The adverse health effects are too far reaching, often not perceived by the individual, in ways not fully understood, that nobody should be eating wheat. Too many things happen beneath your surface of perception, including high blood sugars, formation of small LDL particles, lectin-induced release of foreign substances into the bloodstream leading to inflammatory diseases in future.

In other words, this is not gluten-elimination for the gluten-sensitive; this is elimination of wheat for everybody.

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27 Responses to Dr. Mark Hyman: Fellow Wheat Belly-acher

  1. anil says:

    Dr. Davis, I firmly believe the dangers of wheat consumption.

    But I have a huge concern.

    If we eliminate of wheat for everybody, won”t this cause a financial collapse of the world as big agra and big pharma lose trillions of dollars? Won”t we have millions in the world starving? Won”t we have food riots in the cities? Won”t civilized society disintegrate?

    • hitfan says:

      It”s the paradox of our civilization. Without agriculture of wheat, humanity would have progressed at a much slower pace. Our world is built on modern wheat. We are made of this stuff, more or less. But this very thing is also detrimental to health.

      There aren”t enough resources in the world to feed the current world population if it were to collectively give up wheat and other bad carbohydrates. But the overpopulation was created by the green revolution/hybrid dwarf wheat in the first place.

      But by cutting wheat, it”s evident that scarce health care resources would also be freed up. Health care costs are going up mainly because of supply and demand. With an aging population, there will be greater and greater number of people going to see doctors, clinics because of diabetes, arthritis, etc. It”s all because much of our health care is being geared to manage the symptoms of wheat as Dr. Davis has brilliantly pointed out.

      I”ve tried to tell friends and family who also have their own health issues, about the advantages of giving up wheat. But such an idea is too radical for them. They can”t live without their sandwiches or breakfast toast. It”s not just the “fat makes you fat” mentality that needs to be overcome, but the pleasure principle of instant gratification. Bread, crackers, and cornmeal are very CONVENIENT food. It doesn”t take much effort to prepare a bowl of cereal.

      • Dr. Davis says:

        Yup. The conversion away from a wheat-based food system will, undoubtedly, require decades.

        But market forces will provide the answers. My one concern is that wheat is a major export crop that helps maintain the U.S.”s economic strength. What becomes of the balance if/when wheat becomes a minor crop? Will agriculture and agribusiness emerge with solutions that don”t upset this balance?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Hi, Anil–

      Big questions. I think this concept will be embraced gradually over 20-30 years.

      My message is intended primarily to the “early adopters” in diet who have 1) the knowledge and understanding, 2) the ambition, and 3) the means to make this change. Others will follow. Nations like India and Pakistan will convert back to culturally-familiar crops like rice.

      So I do not believe we will have rioting and looting in the streets, but just a gradual shift over decades.

  2. Birgit says:

    Anil, I was thinking about the same thing. Of course the wheat market could collapse at some point, but world-wide many people in the third world will not get the “Wheat Belly” message very soon and when they do a percentage of wheat-growers will have already turned to other crops. Some very large wheat producers in the US are currently exporting most of their wheat (primarily triticum durum) to Asia. This market will be there and will indeed benefit when the wheat price comes down because people who can afford to will make other choices. Of course given the internet maybe I”m wrong and the word is spreading like wildfire everywhere in the world like the map seems to indicate.
    Nevertheless, the one thing that has held me back in the past from embracing a truly low-carb (under 50 g) diet is the fact that large percentages of the world population could never afford it but eat mostly beans and rice or beans and corn. Some of them get away with it healthwise for a while because they lead extremely active lifestyles, others get away with it because their diet contains no refined sugar while ours usually contains a lot of both, making things worse. Right now the price for grains and beans is kept artificially low because of farm subsidies which vegetable farmers don”t get.
    The question is if we should make our decision what we recommend to our friends and family as a healthy diet based on whether it is affordable for everyone. This may sound like a good idea at first, but the more people eat a diet free of grain and buy what is better for their health the faster producers will be financially rewarded for growing other foods and the bigger the supply will get. Of course if the stock of companies like Monsanto went belly-up I wouldn”t be too terribly sad, in spite of the fact that they are probably somewhere in our mutual fund mix ;)
    I also think that the fewer people rely exclusively on the market to provide their food but raise some of their own the better off we are as a country.
    Birgit

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Agreed on all counts, Birgit!

      Market forces will be shaped by our shopping habits. While most gluten-free products are awful (in their current form), the explosion of this market demonstrates how nimble the market can be in accommodating to consumer demand, right or wrong.

  3. Pete Zerria says:

    Interesting “what ifs” here. Lets not forget that if this “secret” about wheat really gets out, we”ll have an overall healthier society, less reliance on prescription drugs, less reliance on an exploding-in-costs health care system. That could help our country climb out of its fiscal hole and would hopefully put investment capital to more productive uses. Some of the land that is now devoted to wheat and other grains could be put to other uses such as grass-fed ranching, free-range chicken raising etc. Although some of those fields may have to be detoxified first.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Imagine the healthcare cost savings alone, Pete. They would be mindbogglingly huge.

      Surely it would offset the disruption in agricultural revenues. An economic analysis that sketches this out would be fascinating.

  4. Pete Zerria says:

    While its great that Dr. Hyman is mostly on board, I was somewhat disappointed as I read his entire piece at drhyman dot com. It reads like an advertisement for “Wheat Belly”, some passages sounded very much like Dr. Davis”, almost word-for-word, yet I did not see one mention of the good doctor or his book. Maybe he is coming to these conclusions about wheat completely independently?

  5. hitfan says:

    Speaking of biblical aphorisms, I”ve always wondered if the following passages from Genesis were an allegory regarding God or nature”s proscriptions against high carb diets.

    4:1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.

    4:2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

    4:3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.

    4:4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:

    4:5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

    4:6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?

    4:7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

    4:8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

    And one can interpret Cain slaying Abel being the result of wheat-induced rage ;)

  6. aerobic1 says:

    Hopefully, the Wizard of Oz (Dr. Oz) will come around too. Maybe even Oprah will give the Wheat Belly Program a try.

  7. Sonya says:

    I have a question. In your article on 2/13, you mention that wheat is NOT ”genetically-modified”. Yet, here, you say: “..we eat dwarf wheat, the product of genetic manipulation and hybridization that created short, stubby, hardy, high yielding wheat plants with much higher amounts of starch and gluten and many more chromosomes coding for all sorts of new odd proteins. The man who engineered this modern wheat won the Nobel Prize – it promised to feed millions of starving around the world. Well, it has, and it has made them fat and sick.” Isn”t this basically describing ”genetic-modification”??

    • Dr. Davis says:

      It”s a word game, Sonya.

      “Genetic modification,” in the language of the geneticists, means the use of gene-splicing technology to insert or delete a gene. It does not include all the other techniques used to change the genetics of a plant.

      So it”s not me using the imprecise terminology. This is simply reapplying the terminology as used by geneticists.

  8. Janknitz says:

    “But I have a huge concern.

    If we eliminate of wheat for everybody, won”t this cause a financial collapse of the world as big agra and big pharma lose trillions of dollars? Won”t we have millions in the world starving? Won”t we have food riots in the cities? Won”t civilized society disintegrate?”

    These are good questions, nicely addressed above. But on a personal level, what”s the alternative? Eat wheat to save the world while sacrificing your own health???

    Not me.

    Tobacco used to be a HUGE business in the US (and may still be for all that). The world economy has survived the gradual decline in tobacco use in the US, and now it”s starting to happen in other countries as well.

    The key is NOT to have a prohibition situation, but to gradually, slowly educate. Just like they educated everyone to avoid fat and eat lots of carbs in the first place. The market will adapt, for better or worse.

  9. Malcolm says:

    Hello:

    I am a “Wheat Belly” fan, but I am amazed with how much conflicting information there is in other books and Web sites. For example, if Dr. Davis is from Mars, then Dr. Janet Brill is from Venus. In her recent book (2011), “Prevent a Second Heart Attack,” she advocates that saturated fats must be avoided, and that eating red meat spikes insulin and causes diabetes. If Dr. Davis says white, she says black. Yet there are many other sources that agree with Dr. Davis, and there are probably just as many that do not.

    Many years ago I read that milk was bad for you. But there were plenty of other articles touting the merits of milk. I wondered how there could be such opposing arguments for something as basic as milk?

    I am 62 years old and very conscious of my health. I’m about 6 feet tall, and weigh 152 lbs. I exercise regularly and eat well. My father had his first heart attack at age 64, and a triple bypass at age 71. He is still alive today at age 93 and doing very well. His mind is sharp, he’s not overweight (not too much anyway), and takes just a few medications. My father was sedentary his whole adult life. He still eats meat every day and enjoys a nice steak dinner when the opportunity presents itself. But he loves his bread, insisting on having it with virtually every meal. His sweet tooth draws him daily to sugary juice beverages and dessert – but he tries to use moderation, and we keep an eye on him too.

    My twin brother developed serious angina in 2008 at age 58 and had quadruple bypass surgery immediately. The angiogram showed 14 blockages, some upwards of 90%. He was not as active as me, but he was no slouch either. I decided to get tested too, opting for less invasive 64-slice coronary CT angiography about 3 years ago. The pictures showed that I too had coronary artery disease with blockages up to 60 – 70%. Yet I still have no symptoms, and I want to keep it that way.

    That’s why I’m very interested in health and I read many books and scour numerous Web sites for the latest information. I get my blood work done regularly and my numbers are good, including hs-CRP, Lp(a), fasting insulin, and so on. The bottom line? I think what Dr. Davis says makes sense, and that is the path I am following.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Hi, Malcolm–

      You are doing precisely what you should be doing: Acquire as much credible information as you can, then make your decisions and take action accordingly.

      If you are interested in a more focused discussion about heart disease, please visit my other blog, the Heart Scan Blog, the blog for the Track Your Plaque program that shows followers how to track, halt, and reverse coronary atherosclerosis.

  10. Malcolm says:

    Hello Dr. Davis:

    You wrote something on your Track Your Plaque site about a CT Heart Scan being the best, reasonably safe tool for tracking atherosclerotic plaque (see below).

    Dr. Frank Shallenberger found a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that measured calcium scores of 6,722 healthy men and women for 3.8 years. If a person’s score was zero, only 1 in 400 would go on to develop a cardiovascular event. So far so good. But get this, for people with a score over 300, only 15 out of 400 would have a cardiovascular event. That’s only about 4% of them, which means 96% that have high calcium scores don’t have anything to worry about.

    In other words, your calcium score is a very poor predictor of a future cardiovascular event, and people who get high scores will worry about it needlessly. It’s probably better not to know your score, based on the New England Journal of Medicine study.

    Best regards,

    Malcolm

    So we are left with semi-static measures of total coronary atherosclerotic plaque like coronary calcium, obtainable via CT heart scans as a calcium “score.” No, it is not perfect. It does not reflect that moment’s blood viscosity, it does not reflect the inflammatory status of the one nasty plaque in the mid-left anterior descending, nor does it reflect the irritating sheer effects of a blood pressure of 150/95.
    But it’s the best we’ve got.
    If anyone has something better, I invite you to speak up. Carotid ultrasound, c-reactive protein, ankle-brachial index, stress nuclear studies, myoglobin, skin cholesterol, KIF6 genotype . . . none of them approach the value, the insight, the trackability of actually measuring coronary atherosclerotic plaque. And the only method we’ve got to gauge coronary atherosclerotic plaque that is non-invasive and available in 2012? Yup, a good old CT heart scan calcium score.

  11. anil says:

    @Malcolm:
    Dr. Janet Brill IS NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR LIKE DR. DAVIS.
    She has a PHD in nutrition.

  12. Geoff says:

    I have been following the wheat free lifestyle since Nov. 2011, have lost 25lbs and feel great. About a month ago I started having intermitant itchiness at various locations on my body. There is no rash or visible irritation. During the day it is not very noticable but at night I am often kept awake. Is this reaction common? Any suggestions as to the cause and possible solutions?
    Thank you

    Geoff

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Great on the weight loss, Geoff!

      The itching probably has nothing to do with the diet, provided you are not restricting fat.

      Allergens? Dry skin in winter?

      • Malcolm says:

        I had a very similar itch problem that Geoff mentioned, although it olny lasted a few days. I wondered whether it was from eating too many nuts. I eat almond butter, some pistachios, cashews and walnuts every day.

  13. Malcolm says:

    What do you think of Serrapeptase. It’s supposed to dissolve arterial plaque. True or False?