I listened to the audio version of Wheat Belly this week during my daily commute and walks. Dr. Davis lays out an argument against the use of wheat containing products in any of its various forms. He contends that wheat (especially the hybridized form developed for high yield in the 1960’s) is the single source of almost all of the current medical ills. He links wheat intake to the obvious and common problems of Celiac disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, elevated cholesterol levels, and metabolic syndrome. He extends the linkage to other disorders such as acne, allopecia areata, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia.
Dr. Davis describes his theory using a few very interesting studies on dietary intervention on biochemical markers such as serum glucose and cholesterol levels. He adds to this a substantial amount of anecdotes, both personal and professional, and never passes up an opportunity to turn a sarcastic phrase to describe the evils of wheat ingestion.
I think Dr. Davis provides some very intriguing ideas concerning the changes in wheat consumption in the modern American diet. His description of the genetic modification that occurred in the 1960’s is compelling as the single factor that changed to spark the growing incidence of Celiac disease and diabetes. He also provides one of the simplest explanations I’ve read about the connection between a high carbohydrate diet and the biochemical changes in the cholesterol metabolism pathway.
In the end though Dr. Davis is simply promoting his own hybridization of a low carbohydrate diet and a paleolithic diet. He advocates to avoid all wheat products given their reported disastrous effects on the human body but in practice he recommends a low carbohydrate diet of at most 100gm/day and for many he recommends 50gm/day as the maximum. He argues that the pancreas has been so abused over the years from a high wheat (read: carbohydrate) diet that it can no longer tolerate a higher carbohydrate diet. For all intents and purposes, a low carbohydrate diet reduces or eliminates the majority of wheat consumption anyway.
Overall I thought the book was okay. From a scientific stand point I wish there were more references to studies and actual evidence as wheat as the culprit. I think the evidence for his low carbohydrate intake is sound although he doesn’t necessarily prove that in his book. I wish too that he had toned down his use of anecdotes. One of my favorite medical cynics, Mark Crislip, MD is often heard saying “The plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data.” Telling compelling stories about successes on a wheat free, low carb diet are good to hear and we want to rejoice with the individuals who now have better health but the don’t provide much in the way guiding public health.
Lastly, I’ve taken some time and looked through his two websites www.wheatbellyblog.com and www.trackyourplaque.com. In several of his blogs he expounds on a style that is much more subtle in the book. He often describes the average working physician as someone rather uneducated about the higher matters of science. He comments frequently on how hard it is to find a physician who actually knows any of the ‘real’ medical facts. I think most of us who are actually seeing patients hurting and suffering from modern diseases are desparately trying therapies to help them. We want facts though, not stories. We want to be able to tell our patients more than the traveling snake doctor would tell his customers. “Come try this tonic! Why, a man down the road used it and it cured his ills!”
I’ve often said that difference between alternative medicine and true medicine is the fact that alternative medicine by definitiion lacks evidence. Once an alternative therapy has been studied it moves out of the alternative medicine realm into the tool box of true medicine useful in treating patients.