I am starting a series of blog posts reviewing the books, Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis, MD and Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter, MD. Dr. Davis practices “preventative cardiology” and Dr. Perlmutter practices “integrative neurology.” Both books seem very similar in cover art, writing style, informational content and in message, even though they were published by different publishing companies. Both are clearly intended to be read by a general reader, engage in amusing metaphors and use highly emotionally charged language.
After reading my blog post series, readers will be able to see through the tricks both writers use to hide the basic truths of the general scientific consensus regarding grains and chronic disease. In my own clinical practice I have surprisingly read notes from my colleagues that suggest to patients that they read these books to gain information about how to be healthy. I dismissed the books previously as not worth spending time on since they were so clearly off base, but after coming across several colleagues who seem to have been taken in by these ideas, I am going to discuss at length both books.
Both books are national bestsellers and both doctors have appeared on the Dr. Oz TV show. Both books identify correctly that something has gone very wrong with the modern western diet and that chronic disease is largely caused by the foods and drinks we choose to consume. However, both books very starkly recommend a diet that has been scientifically discredited. It seems as if there has been very little attention paid to this fact, so I will do my best to make sure that after reading this series everyone is aware of exactly what the facts are regarding grains, diet and health.
Let’s set out the main ideas from the first book, Wheat Belly. I’ll start with a quote from Dr. Davis from the foreword of the paperback edition:
Modern wheat has undergone change in several crucial components, such as the gliadin protein and others; 2) These changes have been associated with various effects on humans, such as intestinal inflammation outside of celiac disease and an astounding array of mind effects; 3) Direct connections between wheat consumption and conditions such as diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, had been conclusively made … but virtually nobody had collected the data into one place nor dared question conventional advice that advocates essentially unconstrained consumption of the new modern strains of wheat.
Now these are strong statements, and when I read this in the foreword I imagined that all of his claims would be extensively backed up by data presented in the book. So let’s dig into the book and see what is given to back up his statements.
On Dr. Davis’ first claim, which will be the focus of this blog post, “Modern wheat has undergone change in several crucial components, such as the gliadin protein and others”, Dr. Davis references a study done in 2009, that showed there were differences in 5% of the proteins in modern hybrid wheat compared to the emmer wheat that was the previous strain. But what does that signify for human health? Are there changes in the proteins of other foods we eat commonly? Is Dr. Davis worried about them as well? I want to quote Dr. Davis here directly from Chapter 2 of his book:
So intent were the efforts to increase yield, so confident were plant geneticists that hybridization yielded safe products for human consumption, so urgent was the cause of world hunger, that these products were released into the food supply without human safety concerns being part of the equation.
Dr. Davis then sees the fact that the proteins differed 5% as a stunning indictment of wheat growers and the federal government acting cavalierly with the health of the American public. Dr. Davis states that this 5% protein change has created a monster that is causing most chronic disease and obesity in the United States. But a little digging shows that wheat isn’t the only common American food that is expressing heretofore unknown proteins.
Dr. MK Doherty published an article in the July, 2004 edition of the journal, Proteomics that showed that modern broiler chicken muscles have only 57% protein similarity to chickens that are raised to lay eggs (egg laying chickens are more closely related to ancestral chickens). Not only that, broiler chickens expressed 11 new proteins that were previously unknown to modern science.
The wheat hybridization experiment was done in 2009, so both studies were available for Dr. Davis to review prior to writing his book. If a 5% variance in wheat protein is concerning and should have required testing before assuming wheat was safe to eat, shouldn’t a 43% variance in chicken have caused Dr. Davis even more concern? Yet Dr. Davis doesn’t mention this concern about eating chicken once in his book. In fact he recommends eating a diet with lots of chicken in it, with over fifteen recommendations to eat as much chicken as you want.
If Dr. Davis is concerned about exposing people to new proteins that haven’t ever been tested, he must not have been aware of the chicken study. If you take the arguments made by Dr. Davis about major changes in protein components seriously, chicken should be avoided completely!
Modern agriculture has changed lots of different organisms and I’m sure that we are just beginning to learn what those changes are. There are genetic changes in beef, turkey, fish, cheese, other dairy products and other common foods. Dr. Davis could have written about this, but he didn’t. He tunneled in on wheat and paid no attention to the bigger picture. You will see more of this technique from him as we continue to review the books.