Early in my previous posting I suggested I’d return to my childhood interest in diet, to explain whence it came and, indeed, show where it has taken and is taking me. I guess that time has now come – so here goes:
I like cooking good food and I like eating the same. However, there’s for so long also been tensions in this otherwise cosy relationship. Goes back to childhood, of course, but not due to oddball aversions, toxicities or unpleasant experiences at an aunty’s dinner table. This was a rational, scientifically backed family based experiment which became an ongoing feature for ten years or so and entailed eating no wheat, oats, rye or maize, in any form, or any milk or milk products (save butter). The “Gluten free, milk free diet” long before it became more widespread.
Because my mother found American researcher Dr F Curtis Dohan who recommended it to not just improve but cure instances of schizophrenia, with which ailment my father had a few years earlier been first hospitalised and later put on an ongoing programme of powerful “neuroleptic” drugs to “manage” his behaviour. Dohan had developed this theory as a result of a series of carefully controlled research trials on wards of schizophrenic patients in a number of hospitals in several different countries, including the UK and the USA. (1)
Dohan’s results were impressive as was he in person when we all met up with him a few years later – he stayed with us for a few days during a conference we organised to discuss the subject. In order to be fair to my father we all undertook the diet and so it became a lifestyle choice. I was so convinced of it that I maintained it when I went off to university. Bread and cake shops even smelled offputting and I was not tempted to change my regime once
But I did not feel that I was a patient undergoing treatment. I wasn’t but still kept the faith. Marriage, kids and the like, however, broke this down. Well, there was no need for it and even less need to keep the kids to such a restrictive philosophy. Diet remained important but was more generalised to nutrional components – so vitamins, organic products, wholegrain, wholefoods and home grown.
By last Christmas, though, I’d got to feeling not unhealthy but less in control of my physique. I’d known for ages that I ate bread and biscuits too much and too often. I’d become obstinate and ate them despite my still regarding them as a non food. So I stopped. Totally, apart from one or two instances in the first few weeks. After those first months just before Easter I restarted Yoga classes – Iyengar hatha, more intense and thoughtful working – and developed my habitual walking into speedwalking over longer distances.
My drastically reduced diet is wholly sustaining, of course, although I probably consume 50-70% of my previous intake. Vegetables, meat, nuts, cheese, fruits and fruit juices, yoghurt, rice, chocolate even and my recently perfected gluten free banana cake (heavy on ground almonds) and tea and coffee. Initially my weight reduced by around five kilogrammes but, for four months since June it has hardly changed. To recap – I eat far less, exercise far more but consume no wheat or associated grains whatsoever and my weight remains constant. Oh yes, and my waist is reduced so enabling my yogicity to improve beyond my earlier capacities (ie ten or more years ago).
I can only explain this by suggesting that my digestive system has greatly increased efficiency now and that whilst eating wheats I was not digesting food fully or absorbing all the nutrition from it. I think I may indeed have some sub-clinical or otherwise masked coeliac type response to glutens, the wheat proteins.
I attended an early conference on Coeliac Disease in Gallway University on the West coast of Ireland, at the height of my parents’ interest in the wheat free, milk free diet. (2) Chronically ill children, with malabsorbtion syndromes, chronic diarrhea and associated secondary conditions had been found to become symptom free if fed on a gluten free, milk free diet. These are the sufferers of Coeliac Disease, for some reason particularly common in Ireland, hence the conference. A genetic component was discussed and a range of physiological experiments described. Degrees of intensity were suggested but never as a separate grouping.
And then, about six weeks ago in a bookshop in Liverpool I came across “Wheat Belly” a New York bestseller written to describe a solution to alarming health problems now looming literally large in the USA (3) . The problem also abounds in Liverpool and my local neighborhood in North Wales. Large, abounding obesity that is – hence the book’s name. Written by Michael Davis, a Cardiologist, after he realised he himself was grossly overweight by looking at his family holiday snaps. “How can I advise my patients to lose weight?” he asked to himself.
Suffice to say he found the gluten free diet but for me the revelation was Glycemic Index, GI, a value derived for foodstuffs I’d always rather ignored as being a “Yuppie dieting fad thing”. It emerged sometime in the 80s and homed in to glossy lifestyle magazines. Actually it turns out to be a measure of the speed at which your blood glucose levels rise post ingesting a substance. Wheat is higher than neat cane sugar, wheat is higher than almost all other foodstuffs . Wholewheat faster, if anything, than white bread. This leads to high and fast insulin release, glycogen saturation, maximal lipogenisis and still glucose excretion through the kidneys. Yeah, Diabetes.
The curve demonstrating the upsurge in cases of diabetes in the USA is the most alarming graph I’ve seen in a long time. Climbing from 5% of the population in 1980 up to over 25% by 2009, it has of late gone exponential. In five years the whole population will be diabetic. And many grossly obese, too.
The book is great and the result of some deep and detailed reading of the scientific literature including my old friend F. Curtis Dohan, whom he has great praise for, describing his findings in some detail. He also covers Coeliacs but here he adds another new concept. To me a coeliac was a sad figure, wasting away with severe malnutrition until splendidly saved by introducing him/her to this fantastic diet. Dr Davis describes a modern, to me “Type 2”, coeliacs – the obese ones who put on weight, grossly.
There’s not enough detail in the book and I’ve not managed to chase all the literature yet [in no small way due to the increasing difficulty in obtaining any past published papers without paying a hefty sum of money to gain access – even the Science Library seems to lack the actual journals nowadays (4)] however this seems to tie in with my personal experience, as described above. If I wasn’t stupidly active now – and I’ve always been, really – then I’d be putting on weight. If I had maintained the same volume of diet I’d be putting on weight fast.
Davis also describes obese not on gluten free diet coeliacs and a huge cohort of never diagnosed coeliacs – millions in the USA alone – and sub-clinical covert coeliacs, of uncalcualated number. Overall, though, his conclusion is quite simple – we should drop wheat from our diets anyway as it distorts our physiologies and superdoses us with glucose. And, he reckons, to many it is probably addictive as well!
So, yes, he brought me full circle, back to my childhood diet and gave reason to pursue that diet irrespective of any connection with mental illness, irrespective of coeliac status, just because it seems applicable to probably most of the population. As I’d been following the diet for the previous nine months it made for very clear reading – I was already there!Certainly, it seems, no-one should have more than slight and infrequent quantities of wheats, otherwise negative outcomes are almost inevitable.
In this picture I’ve been assembling “Wheat Belly” is that missing puzzle piece and now I can see the jigsaw completed. An awesome sight – an its repercussions are so profound that the whole world can be changed. Reduce wheat flours in the diet and gross, large scale prairie farms lose purpose, reduce wheat flours and breakfast is unrecognisable with the end of toast and cereals and much of the merchandise in your local supermarket is redundant.
But look – the other great changes would be to the health industry as diabetes and obesity would quickly be reduced to minor and infrequent events from today’s chronic logjam of the medical system. Sub clinical and undiagnosed coeliac syndromes will vanish and so the need for the multivarious lotions and potions sold by the pharmaceutapothecaries to their gullible public.
Now where do we start?
(1) “Schizophrenia: are some food-derived polypeptides pathogenic?” F.C.Dohan (1978) in “The Biological Basis of Schizophrenia”, Eds Hemmings and Hemmings, 167-178.
(2) Later published as : “Perspectives in Coeliac disease” eds Nichol, McCarthy and Fottrell (1978)
(3) “Wheat Belly”(2011) Dr William Davis
(4) This issue covered elsewhere in this blog and to be returned to!)
I know this piece contains lose ends – it’s meant to and I shall come back to them in the near future. In the meantime there also is a lot of homework implied to get “up to scratch” on the topics.
Obviously the “Type 2” coeliacs status is a huge (yes, literally) anomaly and I am working on the connection to investigations earlier described on these pages. Suffice to say I will attempt to talk with former doctor Andy and crew.