Archive for the “News and Reviews” Category

Dr. Malcolm Kendrick is the Mark Twain of medical writers, wielding his own pen warmed up in hell. Hell, in this case, is a modern medical system designed to persuade doctors and the public that nearly everyone with a pulse is abnormal and in need of treatment.  In fact, I can summarize Kendrick’s latest book Doctoring Data by paraphrasing Twain himself:  “If your doctor doesn’t read the medical literature, he is uninformed.  If he does read the medical literature, he is misinformed.”

I first became aware of Kendrick when Dr. Mike Eades recommended his book The Great Cholesterol Con.
I ordered a copy and expected to be educated.  I didn’t expect to laugh my ass off while being educated, but that’s Kendrick’s style.  He attacks nonsense with facts and logic, yes, but also with a razor-sharp wit.  (If you don’t read his blog, you should.)

As Kendrick has made clear many times, he’s not anti-medicine.  He is a doctor, after all.  Take surgeries and the true wonder drugs out of the picture, and many of us would be far worse off, if not dead.  I’d be limping around on a ruined knee, deaf in one ear, and unable to raise my left arm above chest-level.  So much for doing farm work and playing disc golf on weekends.

But Kendrick is very much against the nonsense that pervades much of preventative medicine these days.  The nonsense is driven by what he calls doctored data.  In a nutshell, the system works something like this:

Even though you’re probably fine, you undergo a lab test at your doctor’s insistence, and lo and behold, you’re diagnosed with a previously unknown “disease” … which was discovered just in time to coincide with the approval of a new wonder drug … which was approved based on suspicious data … from a study designed and run by the drug-maker … which paid key opinion leaders to sit on a government committee that wrote the treatment guidelines … which instruct your doctor to prescribe the new wonder drug … which produces nasty side-effects … which must be treated with more wonder drugs. Oh, and you also need to stop eating anything that tastes good.

Here’s how Kendrick describes the situation in the book’s introduction:

It has become exceedingly difficult to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Lying in the sun… “Do not do that, or you will die of skin cancer.” Eating a bacon sandwich… “You mad fool, the saturated fat in that will raise your cholesterol levels and you will die of heart disease.” Putting salt on food… “That raises blood pressure and you will die of a heart attack or a stroke.” Drinking an ice-cold gin and tonic after a hard day’s work… “If you drink more than 15 units a week you risk dying of cancer and liver failure.” Hey ho, what jolly fun.

At the same time we are being cajoled to undergo ever more screening tests to pick up the early stages of cancer and numerous other diseases. As if this were not enough, your GP will be haranguing you to have endless measurements of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, to name but three. As if good health is only really possible through constant monitoring by the medical profession.

As for the elderly, it has become virtually impossible to find anyone taking fewer than four or five separate medications. One of my jobs is working in Intermediate Care where I help to look after elderly people, many of whom have suffered an injury or fracture of some sort. When patients enter this unit, the average number of medications taken is ten. That is ten different drugs, to be taken each and every day, some of them three or four times each day. I suppose it saves on buying food.

At the same time, the boundaries that define illness have narrowed inexorably. When I first graduated from medical school in 1981, a high cholesterol level was anything above 7.5 mmol/L. Over the years, this level has fallen and fallen to the point where a ‘healthy’ level is now 5.0 mmol/L. I suspect it will soon be 4.0 mmol/L. Anything above this figure, and you have an increased risk of heart disease – allegedly. Considering that over 85% of the adult population in the western world has a cholesterol level higher than 5.0 mmol/L this is a quite amazing concept. I will admit that I have never been that brilliant at statistics. However, it seems to me that attempting to claim that more than 80% of people are at high risk of heart disease stretches the concept of ‘average’ to breaking point – and well beyond.

The sad truth is that most of the advice we are now bombarded with varies from neutral to damaging. In some cases it can be potentially very damaging indeed. Advising people with diabetes to eat a low fat, high carbohydrate diet, for example. As a piece of harmful idiocy, this really could hardly be bettered.

How about frightening people to stay out of the sun, or slap on factor 50 cream at the first suspicion that a deadly photon may sneak through 10 layers of protective clothing? Not necessarily a good idea, because without vitamin D synthesis in the skin, from exposure to the sun, there is a significant danger that we can become vitamin D deficient, which can lead to all sorts of other problems.

And later in the introduction:

So you trust the experts… right?

No, I do not think that would be the best way to go. In fact, long sections of this book are dedicated to an exploration of the role of the ‘expert’ (chapter six). The bottom line is that experts are just as prone to grasping the wrong end of the stick as anyone else, then hanging on for blue bloody murder. Far more so, in many cases.

If truth be told, my view of medical experts has become extremely jaundiced. At times I feel they are like those highly decorated generals in North Korea with the funny hats. They look splendid and important, but the only point of their existence is to suppress dissent and keep an idiotic regime in place. In reality, you are not likely to get much nuance from an expert. You are more likely to be ‘educated’ on the party line. Room 101 lurks.

I don’t have to convince a bunch of Fat Heads to be skeptical of experts, but the question remains: when we’re bombarded with medical advice, or with headlines proclaiming New Study Says Blah-Blah-Blah, how do we separate the gems from the garbage?  To a large degree, that’s what Doctoring Data is about:

Should you believe everything, or believe nothing? Trying to establish any type of system for establishing the truth is clearly not simple, and it is fraught with its own biases.

Having said this, I do think that there are certain ‘tools’ that you can use to analyse health stories and clinical papers. Using them will allow you to spot many of the manipulations and biases. These tools are not complete, and they are not some sort of mathematical formula, whereby a score of five means the paper is true, and a score of ten means it is untrue.

However, I believe that they can guide you, and give you a much clearer picture of what is really happening out there in the murky world of medical research, a way of looking at the world to try and establish the truth. Or something as close to the truth as can be achieved.

The truth toolkit: Ten things to remember, to help you make sense of a medical story; they are also the chapters of this book.

• Association does not mean causation
• Lives cannot be saved; we’re all going to die
• Relative mountains are made out of absolute molehills
• Things that are not true are often held to be true
• Reducing numbers does not equal reducing risk
• Challenges to the status quo are crushed – and how!
• Games are played and the players are…
• Doctors can seriously damage your health
• Never believe that something is impossible
• ‘Facts’ can be, and often are, plucked from thin air

The rest of the book is like an in-depth version of Science For Smart People.  Kendrick guides the reader through the process of how studies are conducted and how the numbers are crunched.  Then he shows how everything gets turned upside-down and sideways so researchers can declare that a new wonder drug or procedure will “save” hundreds of thousands of lives … even if “saving” a life means extending it by an average of three months.

Statins, blood-pressure medications, various cancer screenings … as Kendrick repeatedly demonstrates with actual study results (minus the medical-industry spin), many of the sacred cows of “preventative” medicine don’t seem to prevent much of anything:

Those involved in cancer screening have even created their own, virtually-impossible‐to-understand language, in order to make their figures look stunning. Stunning they may look, but luckily there are other people out there who are less than stunned, and who choose to look a bit more closely.

The United States Preventative Task force reviewed all the data on Prostate Cancer screening (using the prostate specific antigen (P.S.A.) blood test) and came to the conclusion that it does more harm than good.

Lo, it turns out that the prostate screening test, which improves survival from 68% to 99% does not actually save lives – at all. Fantastic sounding cure rates, which completely bedazzle doctors, are simply meaningless.

In the chapter titled Challenges to the status quo are crushed – and how!, Kendrick cites examples of how results that challenge prevailing medical opinion are squashed … or fudged, or simply ignored.  For example, one study was published with the title Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity.

Well, there you go: you clearly don’t want to be overweight or underweight.  If your doctor glanced at the journal article, that’s the conclusion he or she would draw.  Just one little problem: the actual study data showed that people in the overweight category (BMI of 25 to 30) had the longest lifespans.  But wait, it gets even better:

You may note that, in this study, even those in the obese category (BMI 30-35) had a lower mortality than those of ‘normal’ weight.

The overwhelming belief in the medical community is that being overweight is bad for you. It causes a host of diseases, which will inevitably result in premature death. To state that being overweight means that you live longer is the scientific equivalent of standing up and shouting that the Emperor is not actually wearing any clothes at all.

So why did the paper’s title declare that the risky categories are underweight, overweight and obesity?  As Kendrick writes:

If they dared to write a paper with this title… Excess deaths associated with underweight, normal weight, and obesity. …one of two things would have happened. Either the peer reviewers would have rejected it, or, had it been published, their names would be mud in the world of obesity research.

If the medical world crushes people who say being overweight won’t kill you any sooner, imagine how it treats people who say statins won’t save your life.  Time to call in the North Korean generals with the funny hats.

In the chapter titled Doctors can seriously damage your health, I finally learned the origin of a colorful phrase that means giving someone a load of nonsense:

If someone was close to death, or even apparently dead through drowning or suchlike, conventional wisdom was that you could save their life by blowing tobacco smoke up their rectum with a pair of bellows. So strong was this belief that hundreds of set of bellows were hung up around the Thames to revive those who had fallen in and drowned.

The hell with CPR, just blow smoke up someone’s backside, that’ll do the trick. How idiotic does this now sound? Pretty idiotic I would think. However, very intelligent people believed it was true. Doctors thought it to be true… Not, of course, that I would necessarily confuse doctors with intelligent people.

Sadly, each generation easily convinces itself that such arrant nonsense has become thing of that past.

But such arrant nonsense isn’t a thing of the past.  Doctors used to blow smoke up our arses; now they prescribe statins to beat down our cholesterol.  I’d rather take the smoke.

That’s the point of Doctoring Data:  there’s still a lot of nonsense in medicine – perhaps more than ever.  I can barely turn on my TV these days without seeing a commercial for some new drug, always ending with the line Ask your doctor about SuperlaBlex or whatever it’s called.

No, don’t ask your doctor if you need the new wonder drug!  The entire system of studies, reviews, approvals, guidelines, etc. is designed to convince your doctor that you’re ill and need that new drug.  You simply can’t count on your doctor (unless you’re lucky) to be skeptical of modern medicine.  You have to be the skeptic.  Doctoring Data teaches you how to be an informed skeptic.  As Kendrick writes in his closing:

How can Dr Kendrick be right, and all the highly decorated experts be wrong? Well, obviously, they are right about many things. However, when it comes to the area of preventative medicine it seems that every stick that can be grabbed at the wrong end, has been grabbed at the wrong end. Alongside this, experts seem obsessed with simplistic ideas where cause and association are hopelessly muddled. It has become a mess, in part driven by money. Things that are high should be lowered, things that are low should be raised. Yes, we have a drug for that… Kerrching. ‘Look for underlying causes? What idiot said that?’

So I decided to try and expose, if that is the right word, how data are produced. How statistics are used to terrify people, or falsely reassure them. Also, what are the drivers for this behaviour? I know I will be attacked for some of the things I have said. That is inevitable. However, that does not matter. What matters is that you, once you have read this book, can understand more clearly how and why data are ‘doctored’. You can then understand the headlines more clearly. Two sausages a day increase your risk of bowel cancer by 50%. Shock, and horror, and bollocks. You can make the decisions for yourself about what you can and should do to live a longer, healthier and happier life.

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I was recently a guest on the Body IO FM podcast.  You can listen to that episode here.

The hosts of Body IO FM are John Kiefer and Dr. Rocky Patel.  I became aware of them more than a year ago when they were the guests on an episode of Jimmy Moore’s Ask the Low Carb Experts.  It was a 90-minute Q & A with lots of good information, but their basic message came down to this:  ketosis is great, but most people get better results if they cycle in and out by having a “carb nite” once per week.  You can read an overview of the theory by visiting the CarbNite website.

That’s more or less what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years.  I stay pretty low-carb on most days, but on Saturday nights we usually go out to a nearby Mexican diner we like.  I’ll eat the corn tortillas, rice and beans with that meal.

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I’m not sick or dead or anything.  I’m just swamped – and I mean absolutely swamped – with the programming gig right now.  I put in 76 hours last week.  It’s Wednesday, and I’ve already put in 37 hours this week.  On Sunday, I worked right up until the Super Bowl kickoff, watched the game, then worked until midnight.  I don’t suppose this is doing my cortisol levels any good, but that’s the situation.  We’ve got a bit of an IT emergency going on, and I landed the job of solving it.

Obviously, I don’t much have much time for posting, but I did come across an interesting tidbit that I’ll share while I wait for my test program to finish running:

Remember the big hubbub when the half-baked brains at Julian Bakery made a ham-handed attempt at fat-shaming Jimmy Moore and Diane Sanfilippo?  It was high comedy.  Jimmy and Diane both reported that Julian Bakery’s (ahem) low-carb bread spikes blood sugar as high as any other bread – a fact that several other people have reported.

Outraged that bloggers were reporting facts, Gary Collins and Heath Squealer … er, Squier … acted like the dumb jocks they are:  they figured if they fat-shamed Jimmy and Diane, this would somehow convince people their bread doesn’t spike blood sugar like any other bread, and people would run out and buy it.   It was a particularly stupid move making Diane a target of fat-shaming, since she appears in public frequently and anyone with eyes can see she isn’t fat.

When I wrote a post calling them dumb jocks and adolescents, the semi-literate Mr. Collins (who assured me he “rights” his own books) attempted to rebut that opinion by:

  1. Calling me a coward for attacking him from behind a computer … after he and Mr. Squealer attacked Jimmy and Diane from behind a computer.
  2. Accusing me of having no respect for the military because by gosh, he put his life on the line to protect my freedom of speech.  (My lack of respect for the military would come as a shock to my Ranger nephew, who served two tours in Iraq.)
  3. Threatening to find me at a conference someday and commit some sort of violence – thus proving how truly proud he is of putting his life on the line to protect my freedom of speech.

Yup, he replied by acting like an adolescent dumb jock.  You can’t make this stuff up.

In a follow-up post, I wrote this:

So Mr. Squealer’s qualifications come down to being born 1) naturally lean, and 2) to a mommy who started a bakery and was willing to make him the CEO.  (Given his recent behavior, that might prove to be a bad decision.)

At the time, I meant that his adolescent, dumb-jock behavior could turn off his potential buyers.  But it looks as if there’s another reason his mommy will regret the decision:  Julian Bakery apparently doesn’t pay its bills, at least according to a lawsuit by FedEx.

FedEx claims that Julian Bakery established a credit account for delivery of its products and ran up a bill of $241,274,27.  FedEx claims it has sent invoices and demanded payment, but Julian Bakery refuses to pay.

Yup, making your dumb-jock son the CEO of your company was probably a bad move, Mom.  (But hey, he and Mr. Collins have abs!!  They’re quick to point that out as proof of their superior knowledge … because it’s not as if they’re natural mesomorphs or anything.)

After the idiotic and ham-handed attempt at fat-shaming, many of you said it would serve these bozos right if Julian Bakery went out of business.  If the FedEx lawsuit is any indication, you may get your wish.

Think of it as low-karb karma.

Back to the programming …

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Dr. William Davis has a PBS special based on his book Wheat Belly Total Health that’s currently airing in several U.S. cities.  Here’s a list of times and stations.

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No post last night because I got back from Chicago much later than I’d planned.  I left Chareva’s parents’ house in the morning and made good time all day … then hit a dead-standstill traffic jam in southern Kentucky that lasted for hours.  Chareva told me later there had been an accident involving a semi.  Good thing I had the trusty audiobook player.  I don’t like being parked for hours on an interstate highway, but I treated it as extra reading time.

The original motivation for my trip north was a reunion of “The Schmat Guys,” a.k.a. the four of us who have been in the same football pool for 25 years.  (One of the Schmat Guys is Dave Jaffe, whose very amusing Write Good! blog I’ve quoted here a few times.  I’m the current holder of the Mista Schmat Guy trophy, but not doing so well this season.)

Back when we all lived in Chicago, we met every Sunday at the Red Lion pub to watch the games, drink pints, and insult each other’s bad picks.  Now we’re all old married men (one divorced), and only two of the old married men still live in the Chicago area.  It had been at least 15 years since we were all in the same room at the same time.  We fixed that with a gathering at the Red Lion on Sunday.  The owner remembered us by name, so I guess we probably spent more time there than we should have.

Anyway, as I mentioned in my last post, it occurred to me that Dr. William “Wheat Belly” Davis lives near Milwaukee, so I checked to see if he might perhaps be in town and available for an on-camera interview.  He was.  So I spent pretty much all of Saturday with him.  Interview first, then we went out for an early dinner and a long conversation at a restaurant in Milwaukee.

I got to know Dr. Davis a bit during the 2012 cruise (we were at the same dinner table), but this was the first chance I had to talk with him one-on-one for an all-day stretch.  It turns out he’s as fascinated with the whole Wisdom of Crowds effect as I am.  Given what’s happened with the national dietary guidelines, bad advice from organizations like the American Heart Association, all the drug-pushing doctors out there, etc., etc., Dr. Davis believes seeking advice from the crowd is a necessary form of self-defense.

When I opened my menu at the restaurant, I saw the Wisdom of Crowds effect right there in front of me.  I’m paraphrasing from memory, but printed above the list of burger combinations was something like this:

All our hamburgers are freshly ground from 100% grass-fed beef!

Was anybody demanding grass-fed beef five years ago?  If so, I wasn’t aware of it.  But I’m seeing more and more restaurants meeting what is obviously a growing demand.

At the BMI office where I work, there’s something called Food Truck Wednesday, which means employees can patronize a food truck in the parking lot during lunch hour.  I recently noticed that one of the vendors, Hoss Burgers, also brags on their menus that the burgers are made from 100% grass-fed beef.

A lot of us have very legitimate complaints about the food supply, with all its processed garbage and meats that come from grain-fed animals raised in what amount to meat factories.  A question I’m asked now and then is How do we change this horrible system?

We don’t have to change the system.  All we have to do is buy foods that enhance health and help spread the word to the crowd.  You can complain all you want about the evils of capitalism, but even the greediest capitalist can only sell you what you’re willing to buy  — the exception being when government takes your money and does your buying for you.

Remember when every damned thing on the grocery shelves was labeled low-fat or zero cholesterol?  That was the market responding to consumer demand.  Yes, the federal government helped create that demand with lousy dietary advice, but it was nonetheless consumer purchases driving what was produced.

That’s still how it works.  But now the Wisdom of Crowds effect is kicking in and changing what people demand.  When food trucks are offering grass-fed burgers, it means somebody in management noticed a change in consumer preference.  When restaurants add a new Gluten Free section to their menus, it means somebody in management noticed a change in consumer preference.  As more and more people choose grass-fed meats and other healthier foods, that’s what the producers will produce.

The burger I had in Milwaukee (a half-pounder with Havarti cheese, onions and mushrooms) was excellent, by the way.  So was the dinner conversation with a brilliant doctor I believe is responsible for making the crowd a bit wiser – and probably for some of those Gluten Free sections on menus.

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Even before I read his latest book, Dr. William Davis struck me as a man who will never be satisfied with how much he knows about diet and health.  I suspect that while I sit here writing this review, he’s poring over new research and incorporating it into his thinking.

On the first low-carb cruise I attended more than four years ago, Dr. Davis gave a speech on the importance of controlling blood sugar, with lots of information on the damage that occurs inside our bodies if we don’t.  If he mentioned wheat at all in that speech, it was probably in reference to how wheat spikes glucose.  I was aware of his Track Your Plaque program and read his blog now and then, but after his cruise speech, I mostly thought of him as the mind your blood sugar doctor.

Barely a year later, I received an advance copy of a book titled Wheat Belly and was blown away by all the information about the damage caused by grains.  It seemed that every other page, I was mumbling Oh my god, I had no idea to myself.   Up to that point, I had been limiting my grain consumption mostly to keep my carb intake down.  I still ate a hamburger bun or a serving of pasta now and then if I could squeeze it in under my carb limit.  But as I explained in the follow-up section of the Fat Head Director’s Cut, that all changed after reading Wheat Belly.  Now I avoid grains because they’re grains, not because of the carb count.

I don’t know how many millions of people have read Wheat Belly, but here’s an indication of the book’s reach:  two casual acquaintances who only know me as a programmer have mentioned it to me as something I ought to read.  Some months ago I was having lunch with one of the partners at the tech agency that placed me in my current job.  We’d met for lunch a few times before, and he always ordered broccoli-cheese soup in a bread bowl.  But on this occasion, he ordered a chef salad.  When I mentioned the change, he said, “I don’t touch wheat anymore.  I read this amazing book called Wheat Belly about how bad modern wheat is for your health.  You might want to check it out.”

So I casually mentioned that Dr. Davis and I were seated at the same dinner table on the previous year’s low-carb cruise, that I’d roasted him and the other speakers during the pre-cruise dinner, that we correspond occasionally, and yes, I was familiar with his work.  That was kind of a fun moment.

Anyway, as Ellen DeGeneres would say, my point  — and I do have one — is this:  given the stellar success of Wheat Belly, Dr. Davis could have declared he’d done his part to save humanity, ridden off into the sunset and spent the rest of his life playing golf or whatever.  But he didn’t.  He kept right on researching and writing, apparently without taking a break.

Wheat Belly Total Health, his latest book, isn’t Wheat Belly Lite or Wheat Belly Rewarmed.  Most of what I read in the 300-plus pages was new information not found in Wheat Belly.  (As usual with my busy schedule, I didn’t finish the book until after it was released, so pardon the late review.)

If the one-sentence description of Wheat Belly is “Here are all the reasons wheat is bad for you,” then the one-sentence description of Wheat Belly Total Health is “Now that you’ve been persuaded to stop eating grains, here’s how to undo the damage and regain your health.”

Well, okay, there’s still some persuading going on in Part One of the book.  But it comes in the form of Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in addition to all the crimes we’ve already attributed to this dastardly cereal killer, we now have evidence of many, many more.

Here’s an example from the second chapter:

WGA [wheat germ agglutinin] also mimics the effects of insulin on fat cells.  When WGA encounters a fat cell, it acts just as if it were insulin, inhibiting activation of fat release and blocking weight loss while making the body more reliant on sugar sources for energy.  WGA also blocks the hormone leptin, which is meant to shut off appetite when the physical need to eat has been satisfied.  In the presence of WGA, appetite is not suppressed, even when you’re full.

What a bargain: high blood sugar provoking high insulin, plus a lectin that acts like another dose of insulin, plus a short-circuiting of the “I’m full” signal.  Betcha can’t eat just one.

When I read the Perfect Health Diet book, I was impressed partly because Paul Jaminet was the only diet-and-health guru I knew of who addressed the importance of a healthy gut microbiome.  I can now add Dr. Davis to that list.  Wheat Belly Total Health includes quite a bit of information on gut bacteria and how to properly feed them:

Over the last few years, there has been a new scientific appreciation for the composition of human microbiota.  [Yeah, it’s new.  My spell-checker doesn’t even recognize “microbiota.” – TN]  We know, for instance, experimental animals raised in an artificial sterile environment and thereby raised with a gastrointestinal tract that contains no microorganisms have impaired immunity, are prone to infections, are less efficient at digestion, and even develop structural changes of the gastrointestinal tract that differ from creatures that harbor plentiful microorganisms.  The microorganisms that inhabit our bodies are not only helpful they are essential for health.

Care to guess whether wheat and other cereal grains are good or bad for your gut flora?  The irony is that we’re told to eat those healthywholegrains because they contain fiber.  Our gut bacteria feed on fiber – but not the fiber you get from a bowl of whole-grain cereal:

We are given advice to include more fiber, especially insoluble cellulose (wood) fibers from grains, in our diets.  We then eat breakfast cereals or other grain-based foods rich in cellulose fibers, and lo and behold, it does work for some, as indigestible cellulose fibers, undigested by our own digestive apparatus as well as undigested by bowel flora, yield bulk that people mistake for a healthy bowel movement.  Never mind that all of the other disruptions of digestion, from your mouth on down, are not addressed by loading up your diet with wood fibers.

After recounting the damage grains (especially modern wheat) can do to our guts, brains, hearts, sex hormones, thyroids, etc. in Part One, Dr. Davis moves on to his prescription for a health-enhancing diet in Part Two, Living Grainlessly: Restoring the Natural State of Human Life.

Grains can be addicting because of the opiate-like effects in the brain, so the first chapter in Part Two offers strategies for easing the withdrawal symptoms:  choosing a non-stressful time to ditch the grains, drinking enough liquid, getting enough fat and salt in the diet, possibly taking some supplements such as magnesium.  But most of Part Two is about which foods to eat and which to avoid.  The foods to eat include those that feed the good gut bacteria:

An emerging role is being recognized for so-called “prebiotics.”  These fibers, such as fructooligosaccharides and inulin from sources such as tubers and legumes, are indigestible by humans but digestible by bowel flora, which convert these fibers to short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate.  Butyrate is proving to play an essential role in maintaining a health intestinal lining, including repair of “tight junctions” between intestinal cells disrupted by grain consumption.  This repair restores normal barrier functions against undesirable components from other bacteria and reduces colon cancer risk.

So Dr. Davis is on board with the benefits of fiber and resistant starch from foods like tubers, but he doesn’t consider those benefits an invitation to eat mashed Russet potatoes.  He makes the same point in the book that I made in a recent post:  yes, your paleo ancestors ate ground tubers, but those tubers were tough and fibrous.  They’re not the metabolic equivalent of a low-fiber white potato mashed with cream and butter.

He still cares very much about avoiding glucose spikes, so unlike Paul Jaminet, Dr. Davis recommends a low-carb diet that limits the starches – 45 grams or so per day of non-fiber carbs, spread over three meals.  But unlike the early version of the Atkins diet (at least as perceived) the diet Dr. Davis recommends isn’t all meat, eggs and cheeses with a green salad thrown in.  He’s adamant about feeding the gut bacteria.  So he recommends raw potatoes, green bananas, legumes in small portions, and lots of high-fiber vegetables – some cooked, some raw, some fermented.  Everything he recommends is of the real-food variety; no processed foods, whether or not they contain grains.

Ditching the grains and switching to a whole-foods, grain-free diet is a huge step.  But in Part Three of Wheat Belly Total Health, Dr. Davis makes a crucial point:  yes, giving up grains halts the assault on our health … but that alone, or even combined with a good diet, may not be enough to fully recover our health.  Repair and rebuilding can take some focused effort.  That’s what Part Three is about.

Not surprisingly, restoring gut health is a big part of the process, and Dr. Davis recommends some specific probiotics to repopulate microbiomes that are all out of whack thanks to years of grains and other junk foods.  He also recommends (depending on the reader’s current health status) a list of supplements ranging from vitamin D to iodine.

The final few chapters deal with metabolism, weight loss, hormones and thyroid health.  There are descriptions of the lab tests doctors typically order for various metabolic conditions (including thyroid disorders) as well as explanations of what all those numbers mean.  (As many of you know by now, it’s not always a good idea to count on your doctor to interpret lab tests for you.)

In addition to being a dogged researcher, Dr. Davis is a talented writer.  His sentences flow, he injects humor throughout the book, and he explains concepts clearly.  In spite of the wealth of information — much of it dealing with biochemistry — I never found myself having to re-read a paragraph to grasp the meaning.  Doctors could learn a lot from this book, but it’s intended to consumer-friendly, and it is.

I interviewed Dr. Davis on camera during the 2012 low-carb cruise.  Some of that interview ended up in the Directors’ Cut version of Fat Head, and I’ve been saving the rest for the DVD companion to our upcoming book.  Wheat Belly Total Health contains so much new information, I kept thinking I wish I had him on video saying this stuff while reading it.

Well, it so happens I’m driving to Chicago this weekend to hang out with some old friends (and yeah, we’re all old now).  That’s been on the schedule for months.  It also so happens that Dr. Davis lives near Milwaukee, which is a reasonable drive from Chicago.  So I figured what the heck and emailed to see if was in town and available for another interview.  Yes and yes.

So I’ll be gone for the next few days, spending much of the time in my car or otherwise disengaged from the internet.  I’ll answer comments when I can, but don’t be surprised if they sit there for a day.

When we scheduled the interview, Dr. Davis suggested we head out for lunch afterwards.  I’m looking forward to that — and I’m pretty sure we won’t be visiting the Olive Garden for bread and pasta.

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