DR. MOHLER: ‘Wheat Belly’ is a belly flop | PostIndependent.com

DR. MOHLER: ‘Wheat Belly’ is a belly flop

Phil Mohler, M.D.
Free Press Health Columnist

After I wrote about gluten two weeks ago, an astute reader questioned whether or not I had read “Wheat Belly.” I had not read Dr. William Davis’ bestseller, but over the last two days, I have painfully stomached it.

In full disclosure, I’ve written few book reviews, did my medical education in a state that grows lots of wheat, and learned most of the nutrition I know by sleeping with a wonderful registered dietitian for the last 48 years. In addition, my truck stops frequently at a bakery on Seventh Street.

What makes “Wheat Belly” appealing and overtly credible: The author is a physician, no less a cardiologist; the book includes 295 references; and finally, Dr. Davis has an infectious passion for broadcasting the evils of wheat. This book is not a scholarly evidence-based evaluation of the pros and cons of eating wheat. “Wheat Belly” is a paternalistic treatise, laced with speculation and hyperbole. It is full of enticing clinical stories — including Dr. Davis’ own — where health is restored when the devil wheat is banned.

Where does ”Wheat Belly” go “a-rye?” In my mind, Dr. Davis is guilty of two of the common sins of scientific writing: “confirmation bias” and over-simplification.

“Wheat Belly” is a well- documented book with many references, which are mostly current and from mainstream medical journals. Dr. Davis’ scientific approach evaporates as you watch him repeatedly select data that support his premise and totally ignore visible evidence that argues otherwise. (Confirmation bias — the medical equivalent of politicians “spinning” the facts). For example, he implies that eating wheat increases one’s risk for schizophrenia, but totally ignores the established fact that the prevalence of schizophrenia is consistent across many populations, including rice-eating Chinese and wheat-eating Americans.

Finally, Dr. Davis suffers from the malady of many who write diet books — selling one intervention as the answer to all the woes of the world. Touting a single behavior (to stop eating wheat) for obesity, acne, heart disease, diabetes, schizophrenia and “man boobs” is oversimplification at its worse. All of the illnesses that he claims are “curable” with the elimination of wheat are complex and have many causes. Our understanding of the causes of the triad of obesity, heart disease and diabetes relate to the complicated manner in which sugars and excess insulin are used in the body. Some illnesses are predetermined by our genes. Others are brought on by infections. Wheat is not the answer to all.

I suspect that Dr. Davis has met his goals of selling lots of books, venting his genuine passion for wheat as the new American villain, and helping some patients live healthier lives. My take is that “Wheat Belly” is yet another obstacle to many Americans to understand healthy nutrition. I fear that this book may frighten some readers away from eating a healthy diet that includes a variety of grains.

Dr. Mohler has practiced family medicine in Grand Junction for 38 years. He has a particular interest in pharmaceutical education. Phil works part-time for both Primary Care Partners and Rocky Mountain Health Plans. Email him at pjmohler@bresnan.net.

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