Stents, knee surgery, narcotics, statins . . . no more!

Mike tells this astounding story of a journey back from Wheat Hell started–of all people–by his orthopedic doctor!

Started the wheat-free diet back in July on the advice of my new orthopedic doctor. So far almost 30 lbs gone.

14 years ago at 37, I had a stent in my LAD (98% blocked) [left anterior descending coronary artery]. Lost 40 lbs on the Ornish diet. 4 years later, having LDL reading in the low 80′s, HDL in the 30′s, I was back for a major blockage of 90%+ in the top of my heart. They opted for 5 bypasses. (I was 41).

Stayed on a moderate diet, low-fat, lean meats, pastas, and moderation. Have been on statins. My back that was always an issue (3 broken vertebra at 19) went out of whack: left leg was paralyzed and bowels stopped, etc. They said I lost muscle tissue in my back and spine collapsed: It was statin-related.

My weight was back up a bit from no activity. A few years later (5 years ago), my Achilles tendon snapped. Again the statins beat me up, but I was told I had to have them. Last summer, I built a 1000 sq ft garage. Working at night and weekends, roof, siding, electric, finishing, etc., my 80-year old dad was moving faster and pushing me to get it done. My knees and legs hurt so bad, I eased up on statins a bit, lost 10lbs and felt a bit better. Week before Christmas, 2011, my right knee popped, tendon behind knee, meniscus torn, acl [anterior cruciate ligament] torn. Local ortho doc scoped it and said it is done: I need a new knee. I opted for some rehab to get by. Left knee then tore, also, but not as bad. I consulted the same doc. He said we need to do both, come back when ready. I got another opinion from a leading knee guy: same thing.

From Easter ’til July, I could not walk up or down stairs; I slid on my butt. I would eat 4-6 oxy’s [Oxycontin tablets] a day to get through work. A few people told me to see a doc who actually went to my high school and was a senior when I was a freshman. I remember him, as he was a great swimmer and I wrestled. Anyway he practiced out of my area but had a satellite location close enough so my insurance would pay. He sent me literature on statin issues and wheat to read while I waited a few weeks to get to see him. Well, I figured: What the hell? I ditched the statins and gave up pasta and pizza as a start, no morning pastry, etc.

In 3 weeks, I noticed I was able to slowly walk up stairs and come down carefully. My wife went to Florida for 2 weeks, being so nervous that I was going to be able to get dressed in the morning (she did my socks for years, as my legs would not bend, nor my back). Another 2 weeks–now it is August–and, wow, I can do steps. I lost almost 10 solid pounds. Felt better, noticed I was not taking any narcotics.

She came home and I proceeded down the stairs (21 of them) with my 2 Siberian Huskies on a leash, pulling all the way to meet her at the car. She was almost in tears and amazed. The following week I saw Dr. Meade and my pain went from a 10 to a 4. He was pleased. He reran the MRI’s for comparison. I also saw my family and heart doc the following week. They were not happy that I ditched the statins. Well, my blood work was the best I had in 10 years: total chol 137, sugar 107. Down 14 lbs since March.

Still, they tried another cholesterol drug but did lower my blood pressure med, since my resting heart rate was 37-40 and BP 115/72. Now pulse is 60 and BP is 127-130/74 with a half-dose. I was at Dr. Meade this week for my knees: NO PAIN. If I do a 5-6 mile hike in the woods, then I get a bit of stiffness.

I went from 294 lbs in Dec 11, to 256 now. My MRI’s show mild to moderate osteoarthritis instead of severe/crippling. ACL is healed, tendon is healing, cartilage looks better in left and stable in right knee. Meade said, well, he will lose vacation money, since I do not need reconstruction, and improved my chances by at least 5 years if I stay on the program. Also, narcotic-free for months. If I drop another 20 lbs, he said I may make retirement on these knees with care.

No wheat diet if a tough choice, but I tried Weight Watchers (did a little), Nutrisystem (did a little), Ornish (almost killed me).

This worked for me. My business partner, who is a cancer survivor, has been on a similar eating path and has done well. This has been the easiest way to lose weight ever. I am active but do not beat myself 2-3 hours a day at the gym or take extra time to work out. I just walk a lot, go back to hiking and doing yard work at the house. My son said he has not seen me be this active since he was a little kid (23 now)

Mike’s story highlights several issues:

1) The extraordinary incapacitation that is possible from wheat consumption, sufficient to generate misery, thousands of dollars of medical bills, surgical procedures, and drugs like narcotics–narcotics!

2) The “high cholesterol” (actually excessive small LDL particles) that develops from wheat consumption is treated with statin drugs, drugs that have been associated with increased potential for tendon rupture.

3) Low-fat diets CAUSE coronary heart disease. All you need do is perform lipoprotein analysis–NOT cholesterol testing–to see the metabolic distortions in people who follow low-fat diets and the remarkable transformations that occur when wheat is eliminated. The distortions caused by low-fat diets are hinted at by low HDL and high triglycerides, a highly atherogenic (atherosclerotic plaque-causing) combination, along with high blood sugars in the pre-diabetic or diabetic range.

I was especially heartened that at least some orthopedists are beginning to appreciate the power in wheat elimination for bone health, as well as the inadvisability of statin drugs. Yes, elimination of wheat is a powerful weight loss tool. But, as stories like Mike’s remind us, it is about so much more than weight loss.

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. Alice

    This is an amazing story. I am particularly interested in the knee damage healing. I have a bum rotator cuff and might face surgery, and being off wheat since May has not resulted in improvement, in fact it’s worse today than ever. I eat a really good nonwheat diet, too…no junk carbs.

    • Kimelah

      I’m not a doctor, only someone who’s read a lot of nutrition books, lately focusing on elimination of wheat (have been wheat-free since Aug 2011).
      I would look at what else you are eating. I would look at dairy, legumes (including peanuts), sugar consumption, and maybe lessening these in your diet, even removing them entirely. I would also look at types of oils being used to cook with. Ideally: coconut oil, lard, tallow. Anything solid at room temperature. Butter tends to burn, so I usually add it after the food is cooked, letting it melt over my hot veggies, and my steak.
      Being wheat free is an awesome first step to regaining your health. Getting rid of other things in your diet is like tweaking an already good choice.

      • Alice

        Thank you Kimelah. The one thing I do “wrong” is that I am a vegetarian, but that’s nonnegotiable. I eat a lot of cruelty free eggs. I do cook mostly with coconut oil, and most of the time I don’t eat sugar except for the occasional splurge like a nice piece of chocolate. No dairy but yogurt twice a week. I also rarely eat legumes. I eat mountains of vegetables, plenty of healthy oils, and no grains but wild rice and quinoa.

        • Janknitz

          A mostly vegetarian diet with only yogurt for dairy is probably very low in Vitamin K2, which is essential for skeletal health. Sounds like you need to supplement K2, since the best dietary source (unless you want to eat fermented soy natto) is grassfed butter.

    • Not only eliminating wheat and what the previous reply post said, but maybe you could also incorporate in your diet something like bone broth (highly recommended by authors Sally Fallon in “Nourishing Traditions” and by Dr. Catherine Shanahan in “Deep Nutrition.” As Dr. Shanahan says, in effect, bones simmered slow and long with some vinegar to help leach the minerals will provide you with all the nutrients for bone and joint health at its most absorbable form. Supplements for bone health do not have the same assurance.

    • Bill

      Joint injuries can heal, but they can take a long time. I have had two that both took about 18 months to totally heal, no surgery. Be patient.

    • JeffD

      Hey Alice,
      You didn’t talk about the details of your rotator cuff diagnosis but it made me think about the problems I had with my shoulder. I hurt myself one afternoon throwing a football with a buddy. We spent way too much time running and throwing. I was positive it was a torn rotator cuff. My shoulder was weak. I could barely throw anything. After years of putting up with it, I let a chiropractor work on it. I didn’t think he would fix it but I took a chance. Well, it was one visit and he fixed it!
      I’m not saying that is your problem, but it is an alternative, before you commit to surgery, you might be able to use.

  2. Anthony D

    This is a great story and as I tell people this is not a weight loss program but a lifestyle change. I think weight loss is a byproduct of wheat elimination. I wish more in my family would listen to this sage advice WHEAT IS KILLING US!

    Dr. Davis what are your thoughts on wheat free paleo?

    • lupo

      The diet Dr. Davis describes in Wheat Belly is quite close to paleo. As there is no strict definition of paleo (dairy? flaxseed and/or olive oil? starch sources? legumes? fatty meat cuts? etc.), it is hard to tell :-)

    • Boundless

      > … what are your thoughts on wheat free paleo?

      As another reader has pointed out, there is no reliable definition for “paleo”, so extra words are needed to position WB vs. that context. The top issues are:

      Paleo isn’t necessarily grain free. The fact that you had to qualify “paleo” with “wheat free paleo” indicates that you figured that out already.

      Paleo isn’t necessarily low net carbs. WB is 50 grams or less per day.

      Paleo is often careless about “natural” saccharides, like honey and agave. WB says: add no high GI sweeteners. Avoid as much fructose as you can. Be careful, therefore, about fruit. It isn’t necessarily your friend.

      Paleo often rules out dairy. WB says fermented dairy is fine for more people.

      Paleo isn’t necessarily high fat. WB says eat all the fat you can.

  3. Greer D.

    Hurray for you! Similar story here. Ditched wheat 11 months ago after my hubbie’s sister died of a heart attack at age 60. Since then, DH’s triglycerides have dropped from nearly 400 to 85. His cardiac risk factors have gone from high to low. Before the diet change, he suffered arthritis pain in his hands, and his big toe joints were so “irreversibly damaged” that he was about to schedule surgery to fuse them. No more! The swelling and pain have almost entirely disappeared! Tendinitis in his forearms has resolved. He has energy to burn and has lost 20 lbs., and is back into the 33″ waist jeans — so at age 59 he wears the same size he wore at age 29.

      • patty

        I wonder if my joint pain is also due to Lyme since I very rarely eat wheat (when out) and never at home for the past 5 years or so. I do not feel better and it is known that Lyme will mimick other diseases, as all the doctors I have seen tried to tell me I had this or that when I don’t. I just hope my joint pain is not too far gone to where it won’t resolve or at least feel a little better.

  4. Sylvia Stone

    Dr Dr Davis,
    I have removed wheat and grains since June 2012 and have felt much better (lost 7lbs) and stomach discomfort greatly improved, joint pains have improved too.
    My acid reflux went instantly, but has just returned. I am wondering if this is due to MSG which I found was in stock cubes/powder I have been using to make tasty soups, (it is soup time here in UK with the start of winter) I make lots of stock with bones but they seemed to need a little more flavour, I didn’t realise the MSG was in the products I was using as they were hidden sneakily by the producers calling them by different names. I feel I have been tricked by this and I’m very angry as I work quite hard to provide nourishing and tasty food and don’t buy processed food. (I make Kombucha and Kefir too)
    What do you think about MSG? It seems to be another sinister thing to avoid and difficult because of the way the ingredients are deliberately hidden from us.

    Many thanks for your excellent book and blog, please keep up the good work!

    • Dr. Davis

      While the data are meager, there are just too darned many complaints from its use.

      I predict that, as the metabolites of bowel flora are better explored, we will find that MSG exerts effects via bowel flora metabolic byproducts.

    • Amanda

      Sylvia I have learned to trust nothing that comes in a package with a label. Use lemongrass, ginger, turmeric, parsley, cilantro, garlic, mint, basil, oregano, paprika, celery, peppers, etc. All those wonderful things to flavour your food, you will discover how good of a chef you are and you will never again use cubes or powder poison.

  5. Janknitz

    Dr. Davis,

    Knowing that you don’t put much credence in measuring LDL-C in general, do you still adhere to the “60-60-60” rule with respect to LDL in particular? In other words, in the absence of an NMR lipid profile, do you believe people should still strive to get LDL-C below 60???

    • Dr. Davis

      No, not any longer. I regret it, since it was so easy to remember!

      As the diet over the years was more and more reduced in carbohydrates, it became clearer and clearer that genuine measures of LDL particles and Friedewald calculated LDL showed increasing divergence. It means that the idea situation with no small LDL particles and a no more than moderate number of total/large LDL particles was often reflected in higher calculated values, a benign condition that appears high-risk.

  6. Kathy Hussey

    I’ve been wheat & grain-free since the end of August, lost, as of today,24lbs and the migraines I’ve suffered with for years have turned into a mildly,sometimes annoying little headache. I’m writing because I was just wondering if anyone else has noticed, not just that you don’t need a lot of medications as before, but how the medications you’re taking are now interacting differently since removing wheat from your diet.I had written before about how the Zomig, Imitrex and other migraine meds made me feel so sick after taking them that even after the migraine was gone ,I just felt so awful the rest of the day I couldn’t even function.I was sick at my stomach,all of my joints ached, and any aches or pains I had were hyper-sensitized. Even a hang-nail hurt more.My thinking was affected by these meds too. It felt like the connections in my brain were disrupted and I would be walking around in a fog most of the day.
    All that has changed since removing the wheat and I want to know why.I take a very small amount of Imitrex (cut in half) when I do get the beginning of a migraine and 15 minutes later it is gone. No after effects, nothing! It’s like it was never there in the first place! How was the wheat causing such a reaction in my body? Anybody else notice a difference? I’m absolutely amazed and I will never go back to eating Frankenwheat! Thanks again Dr Davis!

  7. Dr. Davis: This may appear to be a silly question, but I’m serious. When someone on your wheat-free regimen has exceptional results and reaches his or her weight-loss goal, is there some point where the body decides “that’s perfect” and shuts off its ability to shed additional pounds?

    • Bruce S

      Hi Mike: I think that’s a good question actually and I’d be curious to know that as well. At 6’2″ and 200 lbs I wasn’t obese IMO, but with eliminating wheat I’m now at 187 lbs and am really not wishing to lose more. Thanks for asking something I was thinking about.

    • Dr. Davis

      Yes. It is highly uncommon to become truly underweight following these arguments unless you do something crazy, like start cutting calories.

      Remember: You’ll never hear me saying things like “Cut your calories!” or “Cut portion sizes!” or “Push the plate away!” I say eat real, single-ingredient foods whenever possible, don’t sweat the fats and proteins. Weight generally plateaus at a healthy level.

      Now, that healthy or ideal level may be less than what you thought it was. Others might say so, also. But most people are so accustomed to the world of obesity that surrounds them that they no longer recognize normal!

  8. Susan Moles

    I have been low carb for almost 4 years and wheat free for about 3.5 years of that time. Because I gave up so many things at the same time it took me a long time to realize that it was the wheat that was the main culprit for my aches and pains. Looking back, it seems to me that it was only a week or so after giving up the wheat (I could not find a brand of bread low enough in carbs so I just gave it up) that I noticed that I didn’t have the “Tim Conway” shuffle anymore (think Carol Burnett Show) when I got up at night, my acid reflex was gone, my chronic headache was gone and my skin wasn’t shedding like a snake anymore. Oh, and I have lost 53 lbs during this time. I lost the last 7 lbs when I gave up most of my diary this past summer. My thinking is, if wheat was affecting me in such a horrid way outwardly, what must it have been doing to me in the areas of my body that I cannot see? As much as I like bread, cakes and pie, I enjoy being pain free much more.

  9. pam

    amazing story but it also makes me angry.
    now your TC = 137, & they still want to put you on statin?
    that is sheer insanity!
    the fact that you needed the 2nd surgery in 5 years just showed that it did not work.

  10. Kathleen Correa

    I read Mikes story and it sounds very simular to my Dads health. Only problem, he will only listen to what the “Doctor” says and not me, and then gets frustrated because he is not getting any better.
    I get very frustrated with my entire family because they think I’m some weirdo, yet they are the ones with all the health problems.
    I enjoy coming to the WB Blog everyday because I feel like I’m with family. All the success stories are very much the same as my success stories, I’ve been wheat free for 10 weeks now, and I do have something to add that I haven’t read anywhere on the blog, I had my 6 mo. dental checkup/cleaning and my Dentist was amazed with the lack of plaque build up that I normally have. The checkup was the best ever, and he wanted to know what I have been doing. My reply was, “the only thing i’ve done different is give up wheat”. My Dr. was very intrigued so I recommended your book.
    I have one more comment, its funny but also not funny. My husband has as he calls it “playing along” with my latest “health kick”. He is not wheat free, and thinks it’s ridiculous, but has no choice when eating at home because I cook 100% wheat free and 90% grain free. (don’t worry, I’m working on that too). On Sunday I was not home to cook for him and he went on a wheat binge. He was so proud of himself and boasted about it when I got home. Monday he complained of stomach problems and had diarrhea all day and a head ache. I wanted to feel sorry for him, but I just couldn’t help but to feel smug. When I did laugh, was when he said, ” I don’t know what you’ve been feeding me, but whatever it is, it is not setting well I’m stomach. :)

    • James

      Re dental health:
      I also have to report amazing improvements here. I had a couple of teeth that were sensitive to cold and it bothered for many years. Since there wasn’t any cavity, I just learned to live with it and developed reflexes when drinking e.g. cold water. I was so accustomed to it that I no longer thought about it, even when I felt some pain, you know, like one of those things you are so used to that your brain doesn’t even bother disturbing your awareness … until I went completely cold turkey with wheat and grains (and sugar and starches) 6 weeks ago. After 2-3 weeks, I realized the ABSENCE of pain in these teeth when I was drinking or eating cold stuff, THIS my brain was telling me to pay attention to :)

      Teeth issues: GONE!

  11. Liat

    Reading this story of success after so much suffering brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing this! It is so encouraging,

  12. Louise

    I hear you when you say people start thinking you are weird….I have been sharing the Wheat Belly and they think I am crazy. My co-workers had a cake today for another worker …when I walked by one person said oh I feel bad for her ….we are going to have to get her something to eat. I had raw sunflower seeds for my afternoon snack and felt fine. I love this new lifestyle and I am not going back to Wheat or junk. Never had any health issues…just problem with weight and love handles and a hard stomach that I could not get rid of. Went from a size 9/10 to a size 6 in 2 1/2 months and feel great. Lots of energy, sleep well….can’t ask for anything more. My husband is semi following me..not on full board yet…my children don’t want to hear about it…but all is well. My mother who is 72 is following it as well as she looks good. No more meds for cholesterol ….she can’t believe the energy she has. Thank you Dr. Davis

    • Dr. Davis

      Stick with it, Louise!

      It may only be months before your coworkers come back to you with understanding in their eyes! Too many people are experiencing such dramatic turnarounds in weight and health for them to fail to notice.

  13. Sylvia Stone

    Thanks Amanda,
    I have been looking round for more natural ways to add flavour to my soups and gravies – and I will remember your phrase “powder poison.”

    • Amanda

      Hi Sylvia I was going to mention also that one of my favorite friends now is THAI RED CURRY, is a little spicy but usually if you are able to find a good brand is generally all natural ingredients, and it makes anything absolutely delicious, you can use coconut milk with it and is unbelievable good, I bought a THAI food cooking book and is one of my favorites, they use lots of good ingredients, all natural, sometimes they mention flour, but I just skip that ingredient and also the rice, thai food is very healthy and easy to prepare.

  14. Nicole Grinnell

    I liked Wheat Belly on Facebook not too long ago from a friend’s suggestion and this is the first I’ve REALLY looked at it. I have to say that I’m intrigued, especially by this story. I’m currently struggling with issues with my elbow. I broke it as a kid and didn’t have any issues until I reinjured it July 2011. As of today, I have undergone 2 surgeries and am scheduled for a third one in December. And the prognosis is a bit disheartening. After the last procedure July ’12, I have lost a great deal of motion in my arm (hence the upcoming surgery) and my doctor told me that this very well could be my arm for the rest of my life… and has even brought up joint replacement but let’s face it, there isn’t a doctor that is going to replace my joint at 28. I’m starting to wonder if eliminating wheat might possibly help my arm. Any progress, for me, would be a huge deal.

    • Dr. Davis

      There is nothing to lose, Nicole, by trying.

      Nobody here is spending money on green drinks, meal replacement shakes, or “cleansing” enemas. We are just saying goodbye to wheat!

  15. Boundless

    > … as well as the inadvisability of statin drugs …

    What is the 25-word or less abstract on statins?
    I’m guessing it’s something like:

    Statins artificially alter a couple of cholesterol metrics, introduce a variety of hazardous side effects, enrich the pharmaceutical supplier (and their sponsored MDs), but do nothing to address the real problem: oxidized glycated small LDL particles caused by official (but insane) diet recommendations.

    That might be more than 25 words.