A wheat-free 2010

A Heart Scan Blog reader sent this fascinating description of his wheat-free adventure.

Whenever I discuss this notion of going wheat-free and the incredible health effects that develop, I invariably receive comments or emails saying something like "I eat wheat and feel fine. That can't be true." The problem is that not everybody needs to go wheat-free. 20-30% of people can include wheat in their diet and suffer little more than weight gain, some not at all.

But stories like Michael's (below) are commonplace in my experience. I've had many patients who, at first, refused to believe that wheat exposure might be the underlying cause for health struggles. But they finally give it a try and find that rashes, arthritis, acid reflux, irritable bowel symptoms, mood swings, anger, etc. are miraculously improved or gone.

Anyway, hear what Michael has to tell us:

Dr. Davis,

I want to thank you. I was browsing the web a while back and happened to stumble upon your blog post about wheat belly. The first thing that caught my attention was that I thought you had somehow gotten a photograph of me. The young man you posted an image of looked exactly like me. So I read what you had to say. After reading, I thought "Four weeks isn’t so bad. I think I can handle this."

It has now been nine weeks and all I can say is that I am completely amazed. Let me say first that twice in the past twenty years I have been tested for allergies. The first time I was tested I showed a slight reaction to Timothy Grass, but not enough to cause me any problems. The second testing I did not show a reaction to anything. So, I have always assumed that my chronic sinus problem were due to sensitivities to environmental pollutions. Now I am not so sure. I would like to list for you everything that has happened to me since I eliminated wheat from my diet.

1. I have lost a total of 12 pounds in the last 9 weeks.
2. I have lost 1 ¼ inches of belly fat
3. I have lost a tremendous amount of fat from my neck.
4. My entire life I have had problems with oily hair. I could wash my hair and three hours later I looked as if I hadn’t washed in a week. Now my hair stays clean and soft for two to three days without shampoo.
5. My hair was always flat and stringy. Now it has lots of body.
6. I used to have thick layers of dry skin on my scalp. It would come loose in chunks as large as a fingernail. That dry scalp is gone.
7. I used to have dry flaky skin that seemed to secrete oil. That no longer happens. My skin is now soft and smooth.
8. I have lived with bad acne for at least 35 years. Now it is hard to find a pimple on my body.
9. I have always had to fight dehydration. That is no longer a problem.
10. I used to drink two large cups of coffee every morning just to be able to function. I now have enough energy that I have eliminated caffeine from my diet.
11. I sleep more soundly than ever before and my dreams are clear and vivid.
12. My thought processes are more active and clear than they have ever been.
13. My chronic sinus issue is now a thing of the past.
14. I used to have problems with getting the “shakes” if I had gone more than a couple of hours without eating. It was as if I was suffering from low blood sugar. I would even be afraid that I would pass out. Now all I feel is hunger. I can go all day without eating and never feel in danger of losing consciousness.

Today is Thursday. This past Monday my wife and I were eating out and I ordered a burger without a bun. What I didn’t realize was that the burger would arrive covered in onion rings. I knocked the mountain of onion rings onto the plate but there were still a couple that were embedded in the cheese. I decided, what the hell, a couple of onion rings shouldn’t make that much of a difference. I will not make that mistake again anytime soon. Within 30 minutes I felt like there was a steel spike going through my left eye socket. I don’t remember ever being in that much pain. My sinuses were exploding. This morning, as I write this, I still feel the vestiges of that pain. Just enough that I know it is there. But after two and a half days, I am at least able to function again.

I owe you a debt of gratitude. You may have just saved my life. In the very least you have given me the means to improve my life in ways that I never thought possible.

Thank you so much,
Michael B.

Now, if wheat exposure can do that in Michael, what damage can it do in other people?

Personally, I previously experienced many of the same symptoms that Michael suffered, all gone with wheat elimination.

My advice: If you have any inkling that you might have a wheat sensitivity, make a New Year's resolution to stay wheat-free for 4 weeks and see whether you can feel any difference. Not everybody will, but many will be telling us about the dramatic health turnarounds they experienced.

Comments (22) -

  • Anonymous

    1/2/2010 4:22:52 AM |

    worrisome. with such a dramatic reaction to wheat, should he consider testing for celiac? Should he encourage his relatives to test for gluten sensitivity? should he make the effort to avoid even miniscule amounts of gluten, such as in OTC meds or supplements?

  • Eclecbit

    1/2/2010 4:23:40 AM |

    Wheat-free is the way to be! Before going wheat-free I was taking anti-histamines and decongestants several times a week and my sinuses would still be hurting. My doctor was no help, he would just blame it on allergies. Now that I'm wheat-free I can go for months without a sinus headache and when I do get one I can usually trace it to something that I ate.

    I also haven't had a cold or flu in the 1 1/2 years that I've been wheat-free and the joint pain in my knees and fingers is gone along with my chronic cough. Now I'm just dealing with some linger thyroid issues.

    I see so many people at my work that would benefit from going wheat free, but it's difficult to bring up the subject with them. I guess my New Year's resolution will be to convince at least one person that I know to go wheat-free for at least 4 weeks.

  • elanecu

    1/2/2010 7:21:54 AM |

    Are we to infer that the belly was from wheat and the sinus problem from onions?

  • Dr. William Davis

    1/2/2010 1:40:31 PM |

    I should have mentioned that the majority of people who show positive effects of wheat elimination  are negative for antibodies for celiac.

    While somewhere around 1 in 100-133 Americans have celiac disease (and the Celiac Disease Foundation estimates that only 3% know it), I would estimate that many, many times that have some form of wheat intolerance.

  • Anonymous

    1/2/2010 4:08:11 PM |

    Gluten is poison.

    A good post by Dr. Harris

    "The biggest circle in the Venn diagram encompasses 83% of the population –all the smaller circles plus those who might show evidence of an innate response but in whom testing for antibodies may show nothing, and who therefore would never be known to have been damaged by gluten consumption, even if they had MS, schizophrenia, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Grave’s disease. Lupus, Type I diabetes, Sjogren disease, etc. or any other of the many diseases that travel with celiac as a consequence of leaky gut and ensuing molecular mimicry that occurs when you damage your gut with wheat."

  • JD

    1/2/2010 4:49:15 PM |

    Here is an interesting abstract from Science Daily on the possible cause of irritable bowel syndrome: Breakthrough on Causes of Inflammatory Bowel Disease http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091217094905.htm

    ""All the food that we eat is foreign to our body," Dr Eastaff-Leung says. "In healthy people the immune system has a mechanism to tolerate these foods and not react. But some people do not have enough of these regulatory cells and their body overreacts and goes into attack mode. That is where the inflammation occurs," she says."

    One would think wheat causes varying degrees of inflammation as well.

  • Ryan Koch @ Health Matters to Me

    1/2/2010 5:56:03 PM |

    Great post, Dr. Davis.  I reference your blog frequently to explain wheat's affects on health.  You are doing a great service to many people by promoting such a simple, yet transformational dietary change.

    Thank you!

  • Flowerdew Onehundred

    1/2/2010 8:02:53 PM |

    If your health improves from eliminating gluten grains, why even *bother* testing for celiac?  There's no treatment except to continue eating a clean diet, so what's the point of having an official diagnosis?

    No one demands to see your celiac card to serve you a burger without a bun or a salad without croutons!

    I had pretty random symptoms until I developed what turned out to be secondary lactose intolerance.  I had never had a problem with lactose, but I tried taking lactaid first...and that did absolutely nothing.  I researched why that would be, and I wound up eliminating gluten.  

    In the rear-view mirror, it all makes sense now.  My mystery rash *was* dermatitis herpetiformis after all.  I always felt like a million bucks on Atkins induction and my digestion *improved* - this is not what most people report the first week they do Atkins.  I used to have tinnitus, and if I accidentally eat wheat, it comes back.  I had a very hard time controlling my weight, and now I know why.

    I now only eat almost no grains at all, and I have no desire to go back to the bad old days of being bloated and crabby and experiencing a late-afternoon sleepy spell!

    Oh, and after eight weeks off gluten, the lactose intolerance completely disappeared.

  • Anne

    1/2/2010 9:17:10 PM |

    elanecu - the problem with the onions is they were probably coated in wheat.

    Scientists and doctors try to discovery how to change genes and manipulate the immune system, but the real answer to many chronic diseases may be as close as the food on our dinner plate.

  • Neonomide

    1/2/2010 11:46:55 PM |

    I'm going to try going 100% wheat-free, thanks! But it's easier said than done, as it's everywhere. I seem to have a very different reaction to grains depending largely on what I eat. Often (occasional) piece of bread is OK, but cereals are not. Bloating and periods on excess and unlogical hunger may follow.

    I hate to always talk about how things are here in Finland, but we also have that stupid "eat grains 6-9 times a day" dogma that americans have. Yet I think we have, on average, a bit more choice as rice, oat, barley and rye are just as popular here as wheat. But wheat still exists in so many foods, because gluten is so versatile in food processing and baking.

    If you have an access I beg you to check out this study in GUT on gluten if you haven't yet:


    If a staggering 83% of the population might show evidence of an innate response to gluten, how can we know who is safe from ravages of wheat consumption ?

  • Amy B.

    1/3/2010 12:49:46 AM |

    elanecu - I am Michael B.'s wife - the problem with the onion rings was that they had been battered (with a wheat-flour based batter) and fried.

    I have been on this wheat-free diet along with Michael. The changes that I have experienced are minuscule in comparison to his, but I have experienced an increase in energy and better hydration. As Dr. Davis has pointed out, not everyone will experience such drastic changes. But I have seen first-hand that it DOES work wonders for some people, and even though I haven't experienced any drastic changes, I do plan to continue eating wheat-free along with Michael. And I would like to add my thanks to you, Dr. Davis!

  • Peter

    1/3/2010 1:17:19 PM |

    I wonder about flourless bread made from sprouted wheat, quite popular here in Portland, OR.  It doesn't seem to budge my blood glucose much at all.  If it doesn't raise my blood glucose is it unlikely to be raising small LDL?

  • Susan

    1/3/2010 8:00:00 PM |

    I too thought gluten was fine with me -- right up until I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and no matter how many drugs they threw at me I didn't improve AT ALL until I eliminated wheat. It took a year for me to figure this out, and I'm so glad I did, because my doctors never mentioned it as a possibility.

    I now eat no grains, potatoes, soy, corn, or sugar and I've experienced a dramatic improvement in my condition.

  • Anonymous

    1/4/2010 12:54:09 PM |

    Wheat, barley, rye all contain gluten. Oats are frequently cross contaminated by gluten grains.
    Some celiacs also have trouble with avenin, the gluten in oats.

  • Anonymous

    1/4/2010 1:04:41 PM |

    Flowerdew Onehundred,

    If you have a formal diagnosis of DH, you are considered to have celiac. Getting a biopsy for DH is the easiest way to go for sure, compared to imperfect blood tests, endoscopys, and pathology reports.

    Any one individual may not consider a formal diagnosis worthwhile in the short run, but the health care system is set up differently. Good luck with the pharmacy and the insurance, if you should ever need a gluten free medication. And best wishes should you ever be hospitalized and need a special diet.  

    It can also help family members get the proper screening. All first degree relatives of celiacs should be screened periodically, even if asymptomatic.

  • joe

    1/4/2010 1:49:46 PM |

    For years I was using two inhalers to deal with severe seasonal allergies. When I went on the Atkins diet, I noticed that I didn't need the inhalers, and, in fact, didn't have so much as a runny nose. Through trial and error, I discovered it was the wheat that was triggering the allergies. I haven't used an inhaler in more than 10 years now, and I definitely don't eat wheat, or any other grain for that matter.

  • O Primitivo

    1/25/2010 12:54:11 AM |

    "Britons May Be Avoiding Wheat Unnecessarily, UK" - http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/176895.php

  • Anonymous

    3/29/2010 10:02:45 AM |

    I had a similar reaction to wheat, but genetic testing was negative for celiac disease, putting me in the more common camp of "gluten intolerant".

  • Deb

    7/14/2010 8:49:51 AM |

    I was wondering about the spelt flour used in some health food store breads. Is that wheat free? Or is there an acceptable brand of bread available? I noticed at a yoga center my sinuses were much better due to absence of eggs, meat and I believe also wheat products.

  • Viagra Online

    8/24/2010 5:31:53 PM |

    I always try to take cake myself by I just want to know which could be the perfect diet to be healthier. I'm diabetic.

  • buy jeans

    11/2/2010 8:53:04 PM |

    Personally, I previously experienced many of the same symptoms that Michael suffered, all gone with wheat elimination.

  • Shreela

    3/22/2011 6:03:27 PM |

    I also follow Dr. Scot Lewey, a GI, who posted this:
    Gluten Proven to Cause Digestive Symptoms and Fatigue in Non-Celiacs

    My GP tested my blood for celiac, even though I told him I hadn't eaten any wheat in many weeks, but he looked it up in a lab book which didn't say being wheat free was necessary (I suspect that lab book might have been outdated, but forgot to ask at that time). I was negative.

    Although eventually my 3rd GI figured out I'm most likely intolerant to food additives (which ones are up to me to figure out via my own rule out diets - figured 3 out, but either there's more, or I haven't figured out all the names for the same food additives).

    Well anyway, I went back on wheat since white wheat didn't trigger my "gut attacks" (extreme inflammation), and noticed my sinus problems returned.

    Also, I was able to go much longer without hypoglycemic symptoms (not diabetic, but quite familiar with low blood sugar symptoms).

    So now I "mostly" avoid wheat, and can still tell if I've overdone it (more than 1-2 times a week with a moderate amount). My sinuses act up, and once I had a few days of shakes and light-headedness until I stayed off wheat for a few more weeks.