Wheat and the Distorted Views of William Davis

William Davis, a cardiologist, author of Wheat Belly, claims that “modern wheat is a perfect chronic poison”. He claims that modern wheat causes diabetes, inflammation, heart disease and high blood pressure and that eliminating wheat will cure these problems.

Davis recommends the avoidance of foods such as corn, rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, beans and potatoes – even though they do not contain wheat or gluten.

Davis’s inconsistencies would be amusing if they did not have such serious health consequences.

Wheat

Maize, wheat and rice are the most commonly grown cereal crops.

Common bread wheat, Triticum aestivum, has one of the most complex genomes known with 6 copies of each chromosome (that is, a hexaploid variety) and approximately 5 times the number of genes of humans.

The history of wheat evolution is complex without a universal agreement on how wheat developed.[1] [2]

Common or Bread Wheat

Triticum aestivum, a hexaploid species which is usually called “common” or “bread” wheat. It accounts for 95% of the wheat grown. Bread wheat is was probably formed 9000 years ago in southeast Turkey from a hybrid of a variety of Durum wheat, Triticum turgidum, and a related grass, Goat grass, Aegilops tauschii.

Pasta or Durum Wheat

Triticum turgidum var. durum, a tetraploid (four chromosomes) species is gown in the Mediterranean regions and adapted to hot, dry summer conditions. This accounts for most of the remaining 5%.

Einkorn

Cultivated Einkorn is a diploid (two sets of chromosomes, one from each parent) wheat variety, Triticum monococcum var. monococcum. The origins of wheat varieties are disputed. South-east Turkey, the northern part of Tigris-Euphrates, the Balkans and Jordan near the Dead Sea is considered as a likely region. Wild Einkorn, Triticum boeoticum, is a different species.

Emmer

Emmer wheat is also known as Farro, is a tetraploid (four set of chromosomes) variety, Triticum turgidum var. dicoccum – a variety of pasta wheat. Einkorn wheat and emmer wheat were the first crops domesticated in the Near East where it grows in grassland and woodland areas from Israel to Iran.

Spelt

Spelt (Triticum aestivum var. spelta) is considered to be a variety of common wheat. It appears to originate in the southern Caucasus Mountains region of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.[3]

Khorasan

Khorasan or Oriental wheat, Triticum turgidum ssp. turanicum, is similar to Emmer. Kamut is its registered name. Khorasan is a region that includes regions in Afghanistan, north-eastern Iran, southern Turkmenistan and areas of Uzbekistan.

Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. Glutens are classified as either prolamins or glutelins.

There is more of a similarity with wheat, barley and rye glutens than oats. This is why some people who react to wheat, barley and rye are able to eat oats. There is the added complication that oats may be contaminated with other cereals.

The table classifying glutens is based on Schalk et al 2017.[4]

GlutenCollective name a number of proteins found in cereals
GlutelinsComplex proteins - insoluble in water and alcohol
GluteninsWheat
SecalinsRye - different fractions of secalins are also prolamins
HordeinsBarley - different fractions of hordeins are also prolamins
AveninsOats - different fractions of avenins are also prolamins
ProlaminsSimple proteins - (normally) soluble in alcohol
GliadinsWheat
SecalinsRye - different fractions of secalins are also gluteliins
HordeinsBarley - different fractions of hordeins are also gluteliins
AveninsOats - different fractions of avenins are also gluteliins

Gluten creates the elasticity of the kneaded dough which is important for making bread, pasta and other wheat-based products.

According to Davis:

It becomes clear that grains have always been a problematic calorie source, with problems amplified by changes introduced by genetics manipulations and agribusiness. Cutting-edge research, for example, has revealed that consumption of modern wheat is the first step in triggering autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. As powerful as wheat elimination — or even better, all grains — can be, there is more to address as part of an effort to establish ideal health. [5]

Davis makes no support for his claims that wheat is associated with the diseases that he mentions other than anecdotal evidence. I have addressed the conditions that Davis raises in other posts.

  1. Type 1 diabetes The problem with cow’s milk
  2. Rheumatoid arthritis Rheumatoid arthritis – An autoimmune condition
  3. Multiple sclerosis Multiple Sclerosis and Roy Swank

According to Davis,

Modern wheat is a perfect, chronic poison.

[Wheat today] is an 18-inch tall plant created by genetic research in the ’60s and ’70s. This thing has many new features nobody told you about, such as there’s a new protein in this thing called gliadin. It’s not gluten. I’m not addressing people with gluten sensitivities and celiac disease. I’m talking about everybody else because everybody else is susceptible to the gliadin protein that is an opiate. This thing binds into the opiate receptors in your brain and in most people stimulates appetite, such that we consume 440 more calories per day, 365 days per year. It’s really a wheat issue.[6]

Davis makes the claim that gliadin is not gluten. Incorrect. As shown in the previous table, gliadin is relatively simple protein that is a component of gluten.

Gliadin is present in all wheat – from ancient grains to modern varieties. It is also present in even greater amounts in the “ancient grain” Khorasan wheat.[7] Gliadan is definitely not a creation of modern wheat breeders.

Davis relies on the following paper to support his claim that gliadin is an opiate. However, the paper states that cow’s milk, cheese and dairy products as well as haemoglobin also bind with opiate receptors.[8]

A simpler explanation of the rising rate of obesity is that we are eating more and whilst the amount of fat as a proportion of food has dropped from an average of 40% to 33%, the total amount of fat has actually increased.

Even the so-called Subway Diet has been associated with significant weight loss.  The core component of this diet was whole-grain Subway sandwiches without the cheese or mayonnaise.

Whole-grain bread is (or was in the 1960s) an important part of the diet in the Greece and the Mediterranean regions of Spain and France comprising of 30-40% of energy intake. Bread consumption was less in Italy because “they eat so much pasta”.[9]

Increased whole-grain wheat consumption has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes[10] and obesity[11].

Dr. P. J. Cammidge had pointed out, in 1923, that “one of the commonest causes of a seeming progressive failure of carbohydrate tolerance was a conscious or unconscious increase in the fat of the diet”.[12]

In 1927 (yes, 1927) that high fat diets increase insulin resistance. Healthy, young medical students were divided into four dietary groups. For two days they were fed an improbable diets:

  • high-carbohydrate diet consisting of sugar, candy, syrup, baked potatoes, bananas, and oatmeal, rice, and white bread
  • high-fat diet consisting of olive oil, butter, mayonnaise, egg-yolks, and cream
  • high-protein diet consisting of lean meat, lean fish, and egg-whites
  • the fourth group was placed on a fasting regime

A glucose tolerance test (GGT) was performed on the morning of the third day. The only group that had a healthy response to the GGT was the high-carbohydrate group. The high-fat group and fasting group showed a significant abnormal result. This was after only two days.[13] [14]

It was not until the 1990s that the reason was discovered. Some of the papers published included:

  • Association of Increased Intramyocellular Lipid Content With Insulin Resistance in Lean Nondiabetic Offspring of Type 2 Diabetic Subjects.[15]
  • Effects of Intravenous and Dietary Lipid Challenge on Intramyocellular Lipid Content and the Relation With Insulin Sensitivity in Humans.[16]
  • Intramyocellular lipid concentrations are correlated with insulin sensitivity in humans: a H NMR spectroscopy study.[17]
  • Overnight lowering of free fatty acids with Acipimox improves insulin resistance and glucose tolerance in obese diabetic and nondiabetic subjects.[18]
  • Mechanism of free fatty acid-induced insulin resistance in humans.[19]

These papers are stating that increased insulin resistance is caused by an increase in fats in muscle cells and this condition results within a few days of a high-fat diet. An increase in insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

Consumption of whole-grains has been shown to correlate to weight reduction, not weight gain.

An eight-year study of men showed, “an increase in whole-grain intake was inversely associated with long-term weight gain”.[20]

Similarly, a study of 74091 US female nurses aged 38–63 years in 1984 were assessed in 1984, 1986, 1990 and 1994. This showed that, “weight gain was inversely associated with the intake of high-fiber, whole-grain foods.” That is, the more whole-grains consumed, lower the weight gain.[21]

Whole-grain wheat has consistently been shown to reduce inflammation in patients who are NOT suffering from CD.

Whole-grain consumption over a 4–8 week period resulted in a 4 times increase in serum dihydroferulic acid (DHFA) and a 2 times increase of fecal ferulic acid compared with subjects that did not change their diet. There was also a reduction of plasma tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) after 8 weeks and increased interleukin (IL)-10, a marker of immune response, after 4 weeks.[22]

Intakes of whole grains and bran were associated with significantly decreasing trends of C-reactive protein (CRP – a marker of inflammation) and tumor necrosis factor-α receptor 2 (TNF-R2).[23]

Whole grain is related to lower levels of PAI-1 and C-reactive protein inflammation markers).[24]

According to Esposito & Giugliano, “fiber content of a high-carbohydrate meal may influence plasma concentrations of adiponectin and interleukin 18 (IL-18): the greater the quantity of fiber in the load, the greater the inhibition of plasma IL-18 and the stimulation of adiponectin. IL-18 is a potent pro-inflammatory cytokine that may be important in the process of plaque destabilization.”[25]

Davis claims that gliadin, which is found in wheat, is the culprit. However, he advocates eliminating not only wheat – both traditional and modern, but rye, barley and oats. If gliadan was the culprit, then oats, barley and rye would be safe to consume.

Davis fails to explain why the elimination of foods such as corn, rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, beans and potatoes is so important – after stating that gliadin is the monster that created our current health crisis.

According to Davis, dairy, eggs, ham, pepperoni and bacon wrapped chicken breasts are allowable foods – just stay away from “unhealthy” grains.
Davis claims that, “pepperoni bread just looks unhealthy. After all, this ‘bread’ is really just made of ground nuts, coconut, cheese, eggs, and pepperoni”.[26]

Approximately 5% of the population has some kind of issue consuming wheat or gluten products. For the remainder of the population, large-scale studies have shown that the consumption of grains provides a significant health benefit.

Footnotes

  1. Brouns, F. J. P. H. et al. (2013) Does wheat make us fat and sick? Journal of Cereal Science. 58 (2), 209–215.
  2. Stallknecht, G. F. et al. (1996) ‘Alternative Wheat Cereals as Food Grains: Einkorn, Emmer, Spelt, Kamut, and Triticale’, in J Janick (ed.) Progress in New Crops. Alexandria VA: ASHS Press. pp. 156–170.
  3. Cubadda, R. & Marconi, E. (2002) ‘Spelt wheat’, in Pseudocereals and Less Common Cereals. Springer. pp. 153–175.
  4. Schalk, K. et al. (2017) Isolation and characterization of gluten protein types from wheat, rye, barley and oats for use as reference materials Karol Sestak (ed.). PLOS ONE. 12 (2), e0172819.
  5. Davis, W. (2017) Dr. William Davis | Cardiologist & Author of Wheat Belly Books [online]. Available from: https://www.wheatbellyblog.com/(Accessed 15 October 2017).
  6. Cochran, A. (2013) Modern wheat a ‘perfect, chronic poison,’ doctor says – CBS News [online]. Available from: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/modern-wheat-a-perfect-chronic-poison-doctor-says/ (Accessed 26 June 2018).
  7. Brouns, F. J. P. H. et al. (2013) Does wheat make us fat and sick? Journal of Cereal Science. 58 (2), 209–215.
  8. Möller, N. P. et al. (2008) Bioactive peptides and proteins from foods: indication for health effects. European Journal of Nutrition. 47 (4), 171–182.
  9. Keys, A. & Keys, M. (1975) How to eat well and stay well the Mediterranean way. Doubleday, Garden City, NY. p38
  10. de Munter, J. S. L. et al. (2007) Whole Grain, Bran, and Germ Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Prospective Cohort Study and Systematic Review Leif C Groop (ed.). PLoS Medicine. 4 (8), e261.
  11. Liu, S. et al. (2003) Relation between changes in intakes of dietary fiber and grain products and changes in weight and development of obesity among middle-aged women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 78 (5), 920–927.
  12. Cammidge, P. J. & Howard, H. A. H. (1923) New Views on Diabetes Mellitus. Henry Frowdw and Hodder & Stoughton. p 467
  13. Sweeney, J. S. (1927) Dietary Factors that Influence the Dextrose Tolerance Test. Archives of Internal Medicine. 40 (6), 818–830.
  14. Sweeney, J. S. (1928) A comparison of the effects of general diets and of standardized diets on tolerance for dextrose. Archives of Internal Medicine. 42 (6), 872–876.
  15. Jacob, S. et al. (1999) Association of Increased Intramyocellular Lipid Content With Insulin Resistance in Lean Nondiabetic Offspring of Type 2 Diabetic Subjects. Diabetes. 48 (21), 1113–1119.
  16. Bachmann, O. P. et al. (2001) Effects of Intravenous and Dietary Lipid Challenge on Intramyocellular Lipid Content and the Relation With Insulin Sensitivity in Humans. Diabetes. 50 (13), 2579–2584.
  17. Krssak, M. et al. (1999) Intramyocellular lipid concentrations are correlated with insulin sensitivity in humans: a H NMR spectroscopy study. Diabetologia. 42 (1), 113–116.
  18. Santomauro, A. et al. (1999) Overnight lowering of free fatty acids with Acipimox improves insulin resistance and glucose tolerance in obese diabetic and nondiabetic subjects. Diabetes. 48 (9), 1836–1841.
  19. Roden, M. et al. (1996) Mechanism of free fatty acid-induced insulin resistance in humans. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 97 (12), 2859–2865.
  20. Koh-Banerjee, P. et al. (2004) Changes in whole-grain, bran, and cereal fiber consumption in relation to 8-y weight gain among men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 80 (5), 1237–1245.
  21. Liu, S. et al. (2003) Relation between changes in intakes of dietary fiber and grain products and changes in weight and development of obesity among middle-aged women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 78 (5), 920–927.
  22. Vitaglione, P. et al. (2015) Whole-grain wheat consumption reduces inflammation in a randomized controlled trial on overweight and obese subjects with unhealthy dietary and lifestyle behaviors: role of polyphenols bound to cereal dietary fiber. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 101 (2), 251–261
  23. Qi, L. et al. (2006) Whole-grain, bran, and cereal fiber intakes and markers of systemic inflammation in diabetic women. Diabetes care. 29 (2), 207–211
  24. Masters, R. C. et al. (2010) Whole and Refined Grain Intakes Are Related to Inflammatory Protein Concentrations in Human Plasma. Journal of Nutrition. 140 (3), 587–594.
  25. Esposito, K. & Giugliano, D. (2006) Whole-grain intake cools down inflammation. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 83 (6), 1440
  26. Davis, W. (2017) Dr. William Davis | Cardiologist & Author of Wheat Belly Books [online]. Available from: https://www.wheatbellyblog.com/ (Accessed 15 October 2017).

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