What? Wheat Belly?

Answer by Jae Won Joh:

I’d argue there is no evidence/data that adequately backs the book.

The English language does not allow me to adequately express in words my complete and utter contempt for physicians who publish their so-called “research” in highly publicized books for consumption by laypeople rather than submitting a proper research paper for review by those scientifically and medically trained.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if a physician or scientist publishes a book meant for general consumption, it means their work is almost certainly too faulty to pass peer review. It means the physician chose the path of least resistance (and most money) rather than actually contributing something meaningful to the scientific/medical canon.

Disclaimer: I have not read this book, but I feel there is little need to, as the article/video in the question details provides enough data on its contents to allow outright dismissal. Let’s analyze his claims. *deep breath* Here we go!

Claim #1: “It’s not wheat. It’s an 18-inch tall plant created by genetic research in the ’60s and ’70s.”

What? Gee whiz, by that logic, bananas aren’t bananas, corn isn’t corn, rice isn’t rice, and…well, the list goes on and on. There is nothing in agriculture that hasn’t been bred for better size/yield/taste/shape/color/[insert attribute of your choosing here] in the last 2000+ years, and if that means the product becomes bad, then somehow it seems unlikely that we would only be noticing it now.

Let’s clarify one thing here: the “genetic research” in question was done by none other than incredible genius Norman Borlaug:

What a glorious, handsome man. RIP, you spectacular human being, you.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his achievements. Why the Nobel Peace Prize, as opposed to some more scientific award? Because no one thinks Borlaug pioneered genetic research. Frankly, there was nothing particularly novel about his methods, given that he was mainly breeding plants for the traits he wanted, and the creator of that technique died millennia ago. Borlaug was honored because his meticulous dedication to his craft helped him breed varieties of wheat that had such good yields that they prevented death by starvation of millions.

If that’s “genetic research”, then, by all means, let us continue.

Claim #2: “This thing has many new features nobody told you about, such as there’s a new protein in this thing called gliadin”

False. There is nothing to indicate that gliadin only started appearing in wheat starting in the 60s and 70s. Gliadin is a component of gluten, and we’ve known about gluten for about as long as we’ve been making bread. A brief look at Wikipedia’s history of bread shows that’s…a long time. 30,000 years, in fact.

Claim #3: “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.”

Actually, gliadin was classified as an opioid only because some early research in the 1980s showed that Naloxone (a compound that binds opioid receptors) could prevent blood cells from binding to gliadin. It was assumed that because an opioid binder blocked gliadin from binding, gliadin must also be an opioid binder.

On the surface, this makes sense, but the logic of this convention is questionable. Think of it this way: Crestor is a statin drug that blocks elevation of a person’s cholesterol. I can also block elevation of a person’s cholesterol by physically preventing them from eating a poor diet; however, this does not make me a statin drug.

Even if we concede that gliadin binds to opioid receptors…so what? In the human body, a compound binding to a receptor is only the tip of the iceberg. The cascade of cellular events that it sets off is the key. The exact same receptor in one part of the body frequently does something completely different in other parts of the body.

I am unable to find a single source substantiating his claim that gliadin stimulates appetite. I am, in fact, having an easier time finding sources that claim the opposite.

Claim #4: “If three people lost eight pounds, big deal, but we’re seeing hundreds of thousands of people losing 30, 80, 150 pounds.”

Congratulations. You have shown that decreasing caloric intake causes people to lose weight. This is something every medical student learns within a few months of starting medical school. Actually, I take that back; we learn it as pre-meds in college when we take physics and learn the laws of thermodynamics.

Claim #5: “Diabetics become no longer diabetic; people with arthritis having dramatic relief. People losing leg swelling, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and on and on every day.”

Seriously? This guy is claiming to have solved entire classes of disease. This makes no sense…

  • Diabetes mellitus: Go on, tell me more about how the type 1 diabetic who will die without insulin should simply eat less bread.
  • Arthritis: So the people who are suffering from pain due to the lack of adequate joint cartilage are just going too heavy on the soy sauce?
  • Leg swelling: Please feel free to educate me on how diet can reverse all these causes from MayoClinic.com.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease: I was unaware that diet could magically cure a weak esophageal sphincter.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome: So…by corollary, this would imply that IBS is more or less the same as Celiac’s…which, basically every scientific paper published in the last decade or so would disagree with…
  • Depression: …ok this is absurd. Davis is claiming that a serious mental condition that leads thousands every year to commit suicide is simply because they went a bit overboard with the Wheaties. On behalf of all those affected by depression and its devastating effects: up yours, brah.

Claim #6: It’s really a wheat issue.”
Let’s be honest: if anyone could legitimately prove that wheat causes weight gain and health problems independent of all other variables, this person would be a strong candidate for the immediate next Nobel Prize in Medicine. Given that this book was published in 2011 and Stockholm didn’t come knocking at Davis’s door, I remain unimpressed.

It is my sincere opinion that Dr. William Davis has published a book of so little scientific/medical value that it is not worth the paper it is printed on. I welcome cogently argued refutation of my belief, and am open to arguments from the other side, but at this current point I find little to convince me that the book is even remotely worthwhile.

Where is the science and data behind Dr. William Davis’ Wheat Belly book?