Part II: Dr. William Davis
William Davis, MD, is a preventive cardiologist whose unique approach to diet allows him to advocate reversal, not just prevention, of heart disease. His book Wheat Belly is a #1 on the New York Times Bestseller. He is the founder of the TrackYourPlaque.com program. He lives in Wisconsin.
Program Transcription Part II
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you are listening to It’s All About Food, and we are in part two of the program today, October 16, 2012. I am really looking forward to speaking with my next guest, Dr. William Davis, the author of Wheat Belly. He is a preventative cardiologist whose unique approach to diet allows him to advocate reversal, not just prevention, of heart disease. As I am looking at this weekend’s newspaper, I am seeing that Dr. Davis’ book, Wheat Belly, has been number one on the New York Times’ best seller list for 25 weeks. He is the founder of the TrackYourPlaque.com program, and he lives in Wisconsin. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Dr. Davis.
Dr. William Davis: Hi. Good to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you for joining me today.
Dr. William Davis: Oh, it’s my pleasure.
Caryn Hartglass: I just finished reading your book, and I found it quite interesting and entertaining.
Dr. William Davis: Well, thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s always good to have a sense of humor, and I enjoyed all of that which was included in reading about wheat. The thing that I found most interesting, which I would like to talk about first, is the history of wheat and how wheat has changed.
Dr. William Davis: Yes, that is a very important point because a lot of people do not know that modern wheat is nothing like the wheat our mothers or grandmothers had. So many people will say things like “humans have been eating wheat for thousands of years, so what’s wrong with it now?” Well it is very different. Modern wheat is an 18 inch tall, what is called, semi-dwarf strain. This is the creation of genetics research which was conducted in the 60s and 70s. It was conducted to increase yield per acre and was magnificently effective. So modern wheat has anywhere from 8-10 fold more yield per acre than the wheat of 1960. The problems, and the genetics people in the agribusiness don’t tell you this……
Caryn Hartglass: Of course.
Dr. William Davis: Right, they won’t tell you that if you change the appearance of something, and in this case, quite dramatically, you change other things. You change biochemistry, genetics, and you change multiple other aspects of this plant, but no questions are asked when these kinds of foods are introduced, so we are unwittingly sold these things with virtually no testing for the effects on humans. It was unleashed on us on a widespread basis in the early 80s.
Caryn Hartglass: What’s interesting is how manufacturers of these products actually talk out of two sides of their mouths. Like you said, on the one side they say “it’s new and improved and yields great. It’s easy to produce.” Then on the other side they say “there’s nothing different about it. It’s the going product.” It can’t be the same but different, but we swallow it, don’t we? As a result…..
Dr. William Davis: That’s right. We swallow it hook, line, and sinker.
Caryn Hartglass: And, I used the pun intentionally, because when we swallow it, there are repercussions. Can we just back up a little bit and get some basic biology because I know a lot of people are confused about hybridization and genetically modified. So my understanding, in terms of semantics, with the modern genetically modified technology that Montsanto, Dupont, and other companies have, they have not genetically modified wheat in the sense where scientists in a lab have gone in and tried to replace one gene in a chromosome with another.
Dr. William Davis: Exactly right. So, modern wheat was created using methods that pre-date genetic modification. So in the language of geneticists, no gene splicing techniques were used to insert or delete a gene as, in say, glyphosate-resistant corn. So modern wheat was created by, as you point out, hybridizations utilizing multiple back crossings where you cross with a different strain over and over again to get the characteristic you want. It was also crossed with very dissimilar grasses to introduce foreign, unique proteins, but there were a whole range of, sometimes bizarre, techniques like rescuing effective embryos, which is commonly done, by the way. Also, techniques of what are called, mutagenesis which is the purposeful induction of mutations. There are three ways to do this. You can do it with chemicals, do it with gamma rays, like making the hulk, or you can do it with high-dose x-ray.
Caryn Hartglass: None of them sound good to me.
Dr. William Davis: No, these are bizarre and very crude techniques to induce mutations. The problem with the techniques, being they are crude and unpredictable, is that they are much worse than genetic modification. So, believe it or not, even though everyone has been in an uproar over genetic modification, this was actually an improvement over the techniques that were being used. So here’s the problem, all the results of the crude techniques that pre-date genetic modification were already on the store shelves and had been there for 20-30 years, and we have been eating them.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, we have a kind of romance, somewhat, with hybridization. It has been going on for so long. Some of it nature has done and some of it has been done by farmers, but still there are genetic modifications even when we do this accepted hybridization.
Dr. William Davis: That’s right. So every time you make a momma plant and a daddy plant, you get some percentage of unique characteristics. In other words you are somewhat like your dad and somewhat like your mom, but you are not a perfect duplicate of either. You have your own unique characteristics, maybe outward appearance, internal biology, etc. Same thing with plants in that the offspring are somewhat unique, and most of the time, thank goodness, if I hybridize two strains of tomatoes, that offspring tomato is likely very safe, but when taken to extremes, such as using many thousands of repetitive hybridizations and using these other techniques that are sometimes bizarre and very unnatural, hybridizing will be unsafe. Let me tell you a quick story, Clearfield Wheat is a strain of wheat that is resistant to the herbicide Beyond. The patent is held by the BASF corporation, the world’s largest chemical manufacturer. It is grown on about a million acres in the Pacific Northwest. So how did they make it resistant to the herbicide Beyond? They exposed the embryo of wheat plants to a chemical called sodium azide which is a highly toxic industrial chemical. If there is an accidental ingestion of this, the poison control people tell you don’t offer that victim CPR because you would die from it too. Also, if the victim throws up, vomits, don’t throw the vomit into the sink because it is going to explode, and that actually has happened. So this is the stuff used to induce mutations in the wheat plant. They did that, making it, after many tries, resistant to the herbicide imazamox (Beyond), and then they sold it. Now it is consumed by a lot of people in the U.S. and other nations, but it was never tested for its suitability for human consumption.
Caryn Hartglass: So there are a lot of strange things going on with our food, and some of them have been going on for a while, some a little more recent, some a little less recent; but, we are seeing problems with wheat, such as wheat intolerance, wheat allergies, and certainly celiac disease. So, you believe that it is a result of all this “playing around” with the wheat.
Dr. William Davis: Absolutely! For instance, there is a protein in wheat called gliadin, and the GLI alpha 9 genetic sequence has been amplified enormously. This is virtually absent in the wheat of 1960, but it is present in, virtually, all modern wheat, and this is the gene that codes for the thing that triggers gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. So we know that celiac disease has quadrupled over the last 50 years. We know that gluten sensitivity, that is the belly aches and irritable-bowel-type symptoms and even joint pains from gluten, have increased; but here’s the problem. Many people say they don’t have a gluten problem. So celiac disease and sensitivity to gluten affects probably 8-10% of the population. I am much more concerned about the other 90% because the celiac experts are telling those people to go ahead and eat wheat. No, no, no because there are problems in modern wheat that go beyond the gluten. So, for instance, this new form of gliadin not only stimulates intestinal problems, it is an opiate which stimulates appetite. So this modern form of gliadin stimulates an increase in calorie intake such that the average person takes in 440 more calories per day 365 days per year. If you do the math, that is a lot of extra calories and a lot of weight you are going to gain just from the appetite stimulant effects from wheat. By the way, your appetite is not stimulated for salmon and beef, it is stimulated for carbohydrates and junk food. It is stimulated for more wheat products like bagels and cookies, chips, and other junk foods. All you have to do is look around us and see the effects from this.
Caryn Hartglass: I just wonder about the wheat growers or the people that use wheat in their products if they are familiar with this? I do remember reading about artificial sweeteners like aspartame which also increases your appetite; so, here is someone having a diet drink with this artificial sweetener hoping to lose weight, but it’s actually making them hungry. There is probably a number of different things that we are eating that trick us and make us do things we don’t want to do, and wheat is a big one.
Dr. William Davis: I think, and this is pure speculation now as I have no proof, that the food industry has known about this for 25 years because I can think of no other reason to explain why wheat is now in every processed food. It’s not just in rolls and pancake mix. It’s in Twizzlers, Lipton Instant soup, Campbells tomato soup, taco seasoning, frozen foods, granola, and virtually all breakfast cereals. You would be hard pressed to find a processed food that does not contain wheat.
Caryn Hartglass: But, that being said, it is possible to avoid eating wheat even though it is in so many products, and that is what you advocate.
Dr. William Davis: It is a return to real, single-ingredient foods. So we know that green peppers don’t have wheat or cucumbers, olive oil, lamb chops or salmon. So it’s a return to real single-ingredient foods that we know food manufacturers have managed to muck up the least.
Caryn Hartglass: You have probably heard what Jack LaLanne used to say, “if man made it, don’t eat it.”
Dr. William Davis: He was way ahead of his time, wasn’t he.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, he was. There are a lot of us in the alternative food movement that are trying to change the current food system. I want to mention Michael Pollan because he recently wrote in the New York Times’ “Food and Drink Issue” saying that he was questioning if there really was a food movement. I also remember him saying a few months ago that he was dubious about the wheat intolerance epidemic. My point here is that there are a lot of us who want to improve the quality of our food, and we don’t agree on everything, but there are things we can agree on, and I certainly think we can agree on people getting back to eating minimally processed, whole foods as much as possible. All of these created, packaged things are high in calories, high in artificial ingredients, high in manufactured substances, high in hybridized substances like wheat that contain things that are not healthy for us. Going to the produce section is where I get most of my foods.
Dr. William Davis: Yes. So there have been criticisms of the arguments I make, but I find it is because people think they understand what I am saying until they actually hear the real arguments and they realized they knew nothing about wheat or what this thing was they are being sold. I have engaged in on-air debates with PhD nutritionists, and what I found was that it was like arguing with children because they knew nothing about what had been done to modern wheat, and the peculiar components that are now present. They thought I was just talking about, for instance, a blood sugar effect. It is not about just that. There are so many other aspects such as this gliadin, the protein in wheat, that stimulates appetite. That, by the way, was quite well sorted out. There are other things. I don’t believe this was intentional. I think it was just a series of incredible blunders, but when you look at this thing and all of it’s components, it’s as if this thing was crafted for maximal destruction.
Caryn Hartglass: I think we have a great movie to come out, The Wheat Monster. Now what about wheat grass, for example. Is that okay?
Dr. William Davis: Probably not. So you raise the issue now of wheat germ agglutinen. We have lymphocytes and antibodies, and all sorts of coomplex mechanisms to protect us from bacteria, viruses, and other invaders. Plants don’t have such things. They have a much simpler protection system called lectin proteins. Lectins are usually benign. Spinach has a lectin and we can eat spinach just fine without a problem, but there are not so benign lectins like Ricin. Ricin is the lectin from the caster bean, and this is highly toxic. It’s a neurotoxin, and, in fact, it has been used in about a dozen terrorist attacks world wide with fatal effects. The lectin of wheat is wheat germ agglutinen which is not as benign as the lectin in spinach, but it is not as destructive as the Ricin from castor beans. It is somewhere in between. So with wheat germ agglutinen if I feed 1 mg, a tiny little speck, of purified wheat germ agglutinen to a laboratory rat, its intestinal tract will be destroyed. It creates changes very similar, but not identical, to celiac disease. Now, humans don’t eat, of course, purified wheat germ agglutinen, but the average person takes in between 10-20 mg per day of wheat germ agglutinen. That does not cause immediate intestinal destruction, it causes chronic low-grade intestinal destruction, and it can be expressed as reflux or bowel urgency, irritable bowel syndrome, or it might be expressed as having Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, but just much worse because this is an intestinal toxin.
Caryn Hartglass: You mentioned a web site growseed.org the Heritage Grain Conservancy. I was happy to read about that.
Dr. William Davis: Yes, well that is directed by Eli Rogosa, a very interesting lady in Massachusetts who came back from Israel where she worked in the Gene Bank project where they were trying to resurrect the ancient grains. They tested these grains to prove what strains they were, and what of things she brought back was einkorn. Einkorn is a 14 chromosome plant and is the great ancestor of all wheat in the world. Modern wheat is a 42 chromosome plant which is a descendent of the 14 chromosome wheat which is the original wheat that pre-dates even Biblical wheat. So she sells that seed now. Now, I’m not an advocate of returning to the older ancient strains of wheat because I do think that when humans as hunter, gatherer cultures first incorporated wild grains there were health prices to pay, such as more dental cavities, more bone disease. So it is not as if the older grains are entirely benign. They are better and are far less harmful than, say, this strain of modern semi-dwarf wheat with 42 chromosomes, but not entirely benign. So my personal view is that if you want ideal health, you don’t consume anything that comes from the wheat family; although, I have to admit that if the world as a whole converted to one of the more ancient strains of wheat that pre-date all of these changes, we would be far better off.
Caryn Hartglass: I remember reading somewhere, I can’t even remember where now, that when agriculture began and we were able to grow grains, we were able to feed more people, but it wasn’t necessarily more healthy.
Dr. William Davis: I think that is the compromise that has been struck. That is, there is no question these high yield crops, whether it is high yield semi-dwarf wheat or high yield genetically modified rice, soy beans, or potatoes, I think there is no question that at least some of these crops help to solve world hunger in some parts of the world. When modern semi-dwarf wheat was introduced in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and rural China, within a year famine was converted to surplus. In fact there are photos of mountains of wheat seed sitting in the square of small villages where no one wanted it anymore because it was too much, where there had been starvation just a year before. So I think there is an aspect of this that did help solve world hunger. The problem is I think we have sacrificed and compromised by selling a very flawed food in that it may solve hunger in the near term but causes very significant health problems in the long term. Compounded, of course, by this ridiculous idea of cutting our fat and eating more healthy whole grains that we get through such education vehicles as the food pyramid, food plate, health candidate message, all those sorts of things.
Caryn Hartglass: You and I know that wheat is a problem, and you have given good reason why that is, but we have done similar things to a lot of other things we grow.
Dr. William Davis: That’s right. The only problem in the world is not wheat, but I think it sits at the top and is the king of kings, the worst of the worst. So if we eliminated all genetically modified corn, lets say, or for that matter all corn, we would have better health such as lower blood sugar and would lose a few pounds. If we eliminated all sugar, we would, indeed, be better off. Many people would lose some weight. Their blood sugar and blood pressure would drop, and they would feel a little better, but I know of nothing that will match the power of eliminating modern wheat because that is where you see, not just a few pounds lost, but 30, 70, 150 pounds lost. That’s where you see so much of a drop in blood sugar that we have diabetics everyday becoming non-diabetics, getting rid of the insulin and drugs. We have blood pressures dropping so much we have to have people supplement with salt and sodium. We have migraine headaches disappearing, acid reflux and the bowel urgency of irritable bowel syndrome all disappearing. People with inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ulcerative colitis, and Crohns having dramatic relief, or cure. We have people with psychiatric illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar illness, eating disorders, food obsessions, and children with ADHD and autism all having dramatic improvement. Not cure, but dramatic improvements in behavior, attention, and other measures of mental health. In other words, nothing can approach the health benefits of removing modern wheat.
Caryn Hartglass: I agree that wheat is a good thing to eliminate from the diet. There are other foods that people are talking about more and more that are problematic. Is there any plan to have some sort of clinical study to match your dietary plan with other diets?
Dr. William Davis: Well, that’s the incredible thing. These data already exist, so it’s not as if I made this up some Tuesday. I have seen this play out in many thousands of patients. I have seen this in a real life setting, both in my office and the social media experience. In other words, online people report to me everyday on the WheatBellyBlog.com the Wheat Belly Facebook page, and other social media. Everyday I will have dozens of stories such as “I have lost 40 pounds in the last 2 months, or I’m off my insulin, I’m off one diabetes drug, I have one left to go.” This is happening everyday, but the formal clinical data already exists. The argument offered by the nutritional community is this: They say there is lots of data proving that healthy whole grains are good for you. What I tell them is, “no there’s not.” There is plenty of data showing that whole grains are superior to consumption of white enriched flour, so when we have the data like the Nurse’s Health Study or the Physician’s Health Study, large studies that compared the effects of consuming whole grains versus consumption of white flour, there is an apparent health benefit. There is no question about that. If you replace white flour with whole grains you get less diabetes, less weight gain, less heart disease, and less cancer. The question I have with those studies is if there is something bad, white flour, and you replace it with something less bad, whole grains, with apparent health benefits, what’s the effect of complete removal? With that, we turn to other studies where there has been complete removal of wheat, and that is where you see incredible turn arounds with health. What has not been done is a large, long-term trial, say ten thousand people over five years. We do need to have that kind of data. Personally, I am not willing to wait to have my acid reflux, diabetes, hypertension, psychiatric illness to get better for that long-term study.
Caryn Hartglass: Dr. Davis, we are out of time, but I could talk about this for a long time. Thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food and for this very interesting information on Wheat.
Dr. William Davis: It’s my pleasure.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, and have a good day. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you have been listening to It’s All About Food. Visit my web site ResponsibleEatingandLiving.com, and have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Ann Dungey, 3/2/2013