A University of Toronto physician speaks out about the Fifth Estate production that purports to have debunked the Wheat Belly arguments:
To the producers of the above named show.
I did not find that you presented the issue fairly to the public. The show was basically about which guru people should follow—Dr. Davis and a host of glamorous hucksters or the skeptical debunkers. A debunking of a popular movement always feeds into people’s cynical nature and makes good, entertaining TV and a smug audience.
Unfortunately, the truth took a big hit. So did an opportunity to educate Canadians to some important issues Dr. Davis raises in his book.
I read the book some time ago but here are some points I think it would have been worthwhile to have discussed:
- Bread is basically “empty” calories with no nutritional value beyond the calories, so in the presence of other sources of calories, it is not an essential food and fair game for risk analysis. This is a simple point and should have been the take-off point of the show: given it provides no value, what evidence is there for harm? And then proceed to look at the risk of harm. But the discourse in the show did not address a single such point.
- The large number of calories consumed from baked goods make a huge contribution the epidemic of obesity and its complications such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular de-conditioning, obstructive sleep apnea, acceleration of atherosclerosis, increased risk for surgery, childbirth, and many more. If one looks as the secondary effects of each one of these, such as the complications, for example, of diabetes, and so on, Dr. Davis’s statement that wheat is killing more humans than all wars combined is very poignant. I felt he was ridiculed for this on the show.
- Baked products, including all breads are highly glycemic resulting in unnaturally large glycemic surges (high rises of blood sugar after meals) which are known to stress the insulin producing cells, and possibly lead to their exhaustion and the person becoming diabetic. The blood sugar surges result in widespread damage, including to hemoglobin. The tests on the hemoglobin are universally accepted as indicators of blood sugar control in diabetics. Other cells in the body are damaged as well, as Dr. Davis points out in his book, with scientific citations. You did not raise or examine this issue in the program.
- There is no question that the amino acids from the breakdown products of the gluten are biologically active. They may induce allergic responses, act as neurotransmitters or have other unintended effects. This is a very legitimate concern. The quality of your show would have been much greater had you chosen to examine this issue rather than spend the time telling the audience which famous gurus advocate what.
The fact that this-and-that association has not ‘endorsed’ Dr. Davis’s contentions is neither here nor there. All of these organizations mentioned are slow, cumbersome, and take years and years to take any stand and continue to endorse positions long abandoned by advanced, and even mainstream, practitioners. They have never been idea leaders, and they won’t be so now. So little should be read into their ‘failure’ to endorse Dr. Davis’s concepts. Yet on your show you emphasized this as validating your ‘debunking.’
Good TV, perhaps, but otherwise did not serve the public discourse.
No, I have no conflict of interest: I have no axe to grind; I am not a food faddist: I eat a wide variety of foods including meat and do occasionally eat baked goods and pasta. I write this email because my wife didn’t want me to just tell her what I thought of the show—’tell the producers.’ So I did.
In summary, I think Dr. Davis has begun a needed dialog in our society. I feel being the publicly funded broadcaster, your show should have followed up by providing a forum for this dialog. Sorry, but none of your ‘debunkers’ addressed the real issues. I was totally unconvinced by the show.
Joseph A. Fisher M.D. FRCP(C)
Department of Anesthesiology, University Health Network
Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Candada
Senior Scientist , Division of Advanced Diagnostics, Cardiovascular,
Toronto General Research Institute
Chief Scientist, Thornhill Research Inc.
Ah, thank you, Dr. Fisher. The producers of The Fifth Estate chose a peculiar and misleading path, as Dr. Fisher points out. Rather than examine the arguments, they found supposed “experts” who were nothing of the sort–a chemist?–who essentially just said, “There is no such evidence” while not even looking for the evidence nor exploring the questions raised by Wheat Belly.
That is among the most eye-opening aspects of the Wheat Belly arguments: There is plenty of evidence that, at the very least, should give us pause in considering whether or not we should consume wheat, particularly modern semidwarf wheat, or other grains at all. (There are 40 pages of scientific references in Wheat Belly Total Health–just a sample.) As Dr. Fisher points out, the producers completely ignored the issue of the extravagant blood sugar raising potential of the amylopectins of wheat and grains: this alone is a huge issue and beyond contention. (The original study exploring the glycemic indexes of foods came from Dr. Fisher’s institution, the University of Toronto, first published by Dr. David Jenkins’ team in 1981, corroborated thousand of times since.) Fill a diet with wheat and grains and you will experience high blood sugars with each episode of consumption, a process that leads, over time, to insulin resistance, visceral fat accumulation, inflammation, and the phenomena of endogenous glycation, i.e., irreversible glucose-modification of proteins that leads to cataracts, hypertension, coronary heart disease, accelerated skin aging, cancer, and dementia.
And what about the published evidence that:
Wheat gliadin initiates the intestinal permeability that starts the process of autoimmunity? Nearly 200 autoimmune conditions have been found to be associated with wheat consumption.
Wheat gliadin is associated with neurological diseases such as cerebellar ataxia, temporal lobe seizure, and peripheral neuropathy in people without celiac disease?
Wheat and grain phytates are the second most common cause for iron deficiency anemia in the world (according to the World Health Organization)?
And I love that Dr. Fischer understands that the “official” providers of dietary advice are deeply flawed. How long, for example, have the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, as well as Health Canada, advised us to limit dietary cholesterol and total fat–only to retract that advice just a few weeks ago, even though the evidence was weak in the first place, retraction coming only after 30 YEARS of evidence to the contrary?
Ignore the science, then claim there is no science, but looking to official sources of dietary advice as arbiters. Thankfully, there are thinking people like Dr. Joseph Fischer who do examine the evidence and come up asking some tough questions . . . including why The Fifth Estate would bungle a production so badly.