Wheat Belly and Grain Brain #2
The last post we discussed the claim that wheat and the gliadin protein have undergone substantial and serious genetic change since modern hybrid wheat was developed. We showed that wheat isn’t isolated and that chicken has had more than eight times more genetic changes than wheat has.
The second claim from the foreword to the paperback is “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.”
Other parts of the book state that wheat causes chronic inflammation due to two related conditions, celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis. However there are no scientific studies quoted that show non-celiac disease inflammation. All the discussions of intestinal problems look only at celiac disease. This is like doing a book on the danger of strawberries by only analyzing people who are allergic to them. He does report two individual cases that he claims are non-celiac inflammation, and we can look at those.
The first case is that of Dr. Davis himself, who relates his own personal experience eating wheat products. He bought some einkorn wheat and tried eating it to compare his response to it to modern wheat. He baked a loaf of bread from both and felt good with the one and bad with the other. He admits freely that this is an unscientific result.
The book’s other case is a single patient, Wendy, who had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis but resolved her symptoms by eliminating wheat from her diet. This was a woman whose disease was so severe that she was told that she needed surgery to remove her colon. This patient’s case is reported as a never-before-diagnosed disease, but it is also possible that it was a misdiagnosis. Another part of the book explains how one is tested for celiac disease: “Biopsy of the jejunum, the uppermost part of the intestine, is the ‘gold standard’ by which all other tests are measured.”
Yet this patient, Wendy, does not have any note that she had this test. She had three colonoscopies and was “tested for celiac disease” according to the book. It seems more likely to me that this patient had a misdiagnosis and had celiac disease. According to a study by Dr. Salmi published in the Journal, Gut in December, 2006, 8% of all biopsied celiac patients have negative antibody tests. When he looked at the patients who had negative tests, they were more likely to have advanced disease, which seems clearly to be what Wendy had. So a reasonable explanation of Wendy’s case is that she had severe celiac disease, which is why the treatment for ulcerative colitis was not working for her. She had not had a jejunal biopsy and since this was never done she had never before tried a gluten free diet. When she did, she got better and didn’t need surgery! It’s great for her, but not surprising in the grand scheme.
The other part of the sentence, “an astounding array of mind effects,” is of course true. All of our food has an astounding array of mind effects. Depriving someone of food can make one have the effect of hunger, which can certainly affect the mind in dramatic ways. But if the lack of food alters the mind, of course the presence of it does as well. Certainly there are mind effects to foods like lavender, spices like nutmeg and many other foods. Yet those effects mean we should try to understand them. We should make sure eating those foods is safe and does what we want. It’s not a specific reason to avoid the food.
The book is concerned about chemicals from wheat called exorphins which he claims mimic the effect of opiate drugs like morphine and Percocet. This is what it says:
So this is your brain on wheat: digestion yields a morphine-like compound that binds to the brain’s opiate receptors. It induces a form of reward, a mild euphoria. When the effect is blocked or no exorphin-yielding foods are consumed some people experience a distinctly unpleasant withdrawal.
He references a study by Dr. Zioudrou at the National Institutes of Health that subjected several foods to digestion and looked at the components. They found exorphins in several foods, not just wheat. If Wheat Belly is accurate, then people should be avoiding all these potentially dangerous opiate foods. The foods that contained exorphins in her study were cow’s milk and wheat. Yet the book recommends unlimited consumption of some dairy products at the same time it warns of the dangers of addictive wheat. Apparently a cheese addiction is fine, but a wheat addiction is intolerable. But the exorphin world is much broader than just wheat and dairy. In a landmark study done in 2003 by Dr. Teschemacher published in Current Pharmaceutical Design, there were opiate-like chemicals found in the digestion products of milk, wheat, rice, meat and spinach. Yet the book never mentions these as concerns. In fact, it recommends unlimited consumption of cheese, meat and spinach.
Again, the bigger picture is distorted to villainize wheat. A more complete view of the terrain would suggest that exorphins are not necessarily that bad of a thing, the book isn’t called Spinach Belly. But you can’t have it both ways. If the exorphins found in dairy and meat are safe and can be consumed in unlimited amounts (which is what the book recommends) then why are the ones from wheat so dangerous? A more balanced picture would suggest that some foods may have properties that cause you to eat more of them than other foods. A simple look at American billboards would suggest that wheat, meat and cheese all contain those properties. Even more telling, most people eat all three at 2 of their 3 daily meals. So let’s keep an open mind about those issues while we examine this book more.