Once again, I am way ahead of schedule. No more last minute rushing about. No more fighting traffic. Thanks to the glory of Internet shopping I can enjoy the holiday season. And this season I am passing on to my friends and colleagues one of the best pieces of health and wellness I have come across in 30 years in medicine.
It has been known for nearly a century that Western diet produced health problems. In the 1920s Weston A. Price – a dentist, and founder of what became the research arm of the American Dental Association – traveled the world studying aboriginal cultures and the impact of diet on teeth and facial bone formation. In the process he came to believe that not just teeth, but general human health was adversely affected by the Western diet.
He noted specifically that peoples as varied as the Marori and isolated Swiss villagers, who ate their traditional diets, had broader faces with straight teeth free of cavities. But they were also healthier in many ways, having less deformity, less tuberculosis and other diseases of modern civilization.
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When Dr. Price analyzed the foods eaten by these isolated natives, he discovered they contained at least four times the calcium and other minerals and ten times the fat soluble vitamins from animal-rich foods. For the rest of his life, he promoted "real food for real people" – the idea that man-processed foods were to be eschewed in favor of natural, aboriginal-type diets.
Others have written along these lines, including Gary Taubes in his book "Good Calorie, Bad Calorie." He notes that in Africa, prior to the introduction of the Western diet, diseases of modern civilization – hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and cancer –were rare. His excellent book, which focuses on obesity and the cycle of disease again reiterates the fact that diseases of modern civilization show up in an aboriginal culture, on average, 17 years after the introduction of a Western diet. He ascribes the effect to four foods – white processed flour, white rice, sugar and beer.
Since the time of Weston A. Price, in spite of various food fads and nonsense propagated by outmoded "official" food agencies, we have been drilling down closer to the truth. Recently, Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist, has published "Wheat Belly," which is one of the most eye-opening and best books on the issue. Although this appears to be about weight loss, it is much, much more. In short, the major culprit in the Western diet responsible for the majority of the problems we see today is wheat – a major staple of the Western diet estimated to be nearly 75 percent of the "average" American diet.
What's wrong with wheat? Well, in a nutshell, everything. Wheat (after digestion) is the only food to cross the blood brain barrier and bind with opiate (morphine-like) receptors. Wonder why you have food cravings? Wheat is an addictive substance. And it is an unnatural substance that we were not genetically designed to ingest and metabolize. Besides being nutrient poor on its own right, it has the unusual property of damaging the tight junctions between cells in the gut, thereby disturbing the body's ability to properly absorb nutrients from other foods. This is most obvious in persons with so called "Celieac Disease," who get overt diarrhea with wheat, but to a certain degree many if not most people have some lesser degree of digestive disruption.
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In his excellent book, Dr. Davis takes us through every body part and outlines the damaging effects of wheat. Who knew that some people develop wheat-induced antibodies that cause degeneration of the white matter in the brain?
For Christmas I gave out 35 copies of the book to my doctor friends, whose nutritional training (like mine) was woefully inadequate and 30 years out of date.
In upcoming articles we will discuss the other important foods to avoid – such as vegetable-based oils and excititotoxins, the point of vitamin supplementation and exercise that makes sense. But for now, for a healthy 2013 and beyond, this doctor's prescription is a copy of "Wheat Belly" to begin a wheat free lifestyle.