If you have read Wheat Bellyby Dr. William Davis then you are already familiar with the concept of the ‘green revolution‘, specifically one very important aspect of it, which was Norman Borlaug’s intense crossbreeding of wheat in Mexico, which resulted in a high-yield dwarf variety of wheat that helped prevent mass famine in both India and China. This was, on a scientific and humanitarian level, a great achievement, and in addition, it appears that, from what I have learned about him, Borlaug was a pretty amazing human being, who did prevent a lot of people from starving.
But unfortunately, Borlaug’s contribution to the ‘green revolution’ (a high-yield dwarf wheat) also produced unintended consequences that appear have had severe ramifications on human health.
Even though Norman Borlaug had, without a doubt, the noblest of all intentions, for which he was recognized by winning the Nobel Prize for his work with wheat, it appears that the product which he helped develop– high-yield dwarf wheat– is very toxic to human health, and these effects are outlined in accessible details by Dr. Davis in his excellent book, which I have recommended over and and over again since its publication.
But as if the health consequences of this new strain of wheat were not enough what’s worse is that large companies, in particular those that wield an enormous amount of influence on our government and its policies regarding food and health, benefit and profit from dwarf wheat. Why wouldn’t they? They have, in their hands, and extraordinarily cheap product (made so, in large par,t by government subsidies of grain) that seems to be highly addictive, and also seems to be potent stimulus to overeat. This addictive property of wheat appears to be due in large part to gliadin (part of the gluten protein) in wheat. It a win-win situation of a large corporation that sells wheat products.
Doctor Davis makes his case both passionately and eloquently, and as a result he has stirred up a lot of controversy. Some of it has been from the Grain Foods Foundation, which makes sense. Certainly, if grains were my livelihood I would not be happy with Dr. Davis’s assessment of wheat as a severe toxin to human health and just about every level.
Likewise, Dr. Davis questions the logic of relying on this strain of wheat over the long term. The fact is, the vast majority of wheat that is grown in the world is this dwarf wheat, which is a very concerning issue because this wheat is highly dependent on fertilizers and pesticides for its survival. This means that should there be problem with the fertilizer/pesticide supple (many of which are derived from oil), a total failure of the wheat crop is possible, which could be devastating to the world’s food supply . Ecologically, this also raises an equally, if not more important question: how long can we use these products within a system of industrial monocrop agriculture and not cause severe harm to our ecosystems and planet, which could have equally devastating implications?
And so, as would be expected, those whose livelihood depends primarily on wheat in some major way try to defend their turf so to speak, with all sorts of tactics and techniques, which obfuscate the fact that wheat is not a necessary component of a healthy diet in any way shape or form. The dwarf wheat which has been so heavily and intensely crossbred to improve its yield, was not created to help people be more ‘healthy’ but to help prevent a catastrophic mass starvation. The pressure of preventing famine outweighed any consideration that this wheat was not healthy. I understand that.
And I understand that Norman Borlaug was a good and decent man. He was, and he saved a lot of lives, and that is a great and honorable legacy to have. I certainly do not blame him for trying to prevent starvation, feed people and succeeding at it. Adn this blog entry is not an attempt to villify his work in any way. The point is that with this intense crossbreeding of wheat, which resulted in significant genetic modification, more calories were provided, but not necessarily more health, and appears to even work against it. This needs to be addressed because this crossbreeding/genetic manipulation is still going on without much oversight.
To me, this is a hugely important point because I don’t think people would stand for the type of intensive crossbreeding that is been done to plants if the same thing were done animals. In fact, it already kind of is if you really think about it. Let’s take the example of dogs. As many dog lovers know, dogs have been selectively bred over the last hundred years or so to produce variations that people will enjoy, and pay top dollar for. As a result of all this selective breeding (and importantly, inbreeding) dog lovers know that certain pedigrees of dogs are coming down very severe health conditions such as seizures, cancers, and pathologic fractures.
Most people can relate to that argument, even if they don’t particularly like dogs. So it’s surprising to me that some of Dr. Davis’ most vociferous critics are scientists and doctors, who in spite of their feelings that he may be right, still criticize and in some cases castigate Dr. Davis because he’s not scientific enough. I find this line of argumentation both specious and intellectually dishonest. Having read Wheat Belly more than once, and actually checking out several of his references, I find the book to be an exceptional read, and my personal feeling is that a lot of people in the scientific community don’t like the book because of simple jealously.
The fact is wheat has been under our noses for a long time as a major culprit in the development of obesity and obesity related diseases for a long time. We eat a ton of bread and bread products in our society, and for some reason we think that it is a good thing and necessary for good health. We also have known for a long time that bread is pretty damned hard to give up. If you don’t believe me, then ask someone if they will or have tried to give it up. See what happens, and see the reaction you get.
Sometimes great advances are not made by making something new, or observing something totally new, but realizing the context and the meaning of what has been right under your nose the who time. I think Dr. Davis would be the first to say he hasn’t figured out anything particularly new, but what he has done is realized its importance in terms of human health, and has subsequently, spread the word in a clear, concise, and compelling manner to those who will listen.
I, as a doctor, certainly commend him on this because as a doctor you have to be able to communicate information in way that is understandable and works. It is what I call the in vivo reality of medicine. We all read journals and articles and textbooks that tell us this and that, or how to do this and that, and that represents an in vitro, or theoretical reality. A doctor must be able to translate that into an in vivo reality that connects and works where the rubber meets the road, and I really think Dr. Davis accomplished this well in Wheat Belly.
I would agree with perhaps not all of the things that Dr. Davis writes in Wheat Belly are subject to scrutiny and worthy of criticism. But the general gist of the book is spot on. And like I have said, it is a well written book, not a journal article. It is actually readable, and it communicates its ideas and points, which are accurate, very well. It is a hallmark of a good doctor, and a good thinker, which Dr. Davis appears to be.
I appreciate that type of person in medicine, and I wish there were more.
Lord knows, we need them to lead the charge for ideas and health and open, honest information, and not minions of the dispensary.