Unexpected effects of a wheat-free diet

Wheat elimination continues to yield explosive and unexpected health benefits.

I initially asked patients in the office to eliminate wheat because I wanted to help them reduce blood sugar and pre-diabetic tendencies.

A patient would come to the office, for example, with a blood sugar of 118 mg/dl (in the pre-diabetic range) and the other phenomena of pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high inflammation/c-reactive protein, low HDL, high triglycerides, small LDL), and the characteristic wheat belly. Eliminate wheat and, within three months, they lose 30 lbs, blood sugar drops to normal, blood pressure drops, triglycerides drop by several hundred milligrams, HDL goes up, small LDL plummets, c-reactive protein drops.

People also felt better, with flat tummies and more energy. But they also developed benefits I did not anticipate:

--Improved rheumatoid arthritis--I have seen this time and time again. Eliminate wheat and the painful thumbs, fingers, and other joints clear up dramatically. Many former rheumatoid sufferers people tell me that one cracker or pretzel will trigger a painful throbbing reminder that lasts a couple of hours.

--Improved ulcerative colitis--People incapacitated with pain, cramping, and diarrhea of ulcerative colitis (who are negative for the antibodies for celiac disease) can experience marked improvement. I've seen people be able to stop all their nasty colitis medications just by eliminating wheat.

--Reduction or elimination of irritable bowel syndrome

--Reduction or elimination of gastroesophageal reflux

--Better mood--Eliminating wheat makes you happier and experience more stable moods. Just as wheat is responsible for a subset of schizophrenia and bipolar illness (this is fact), and wheat elimination generates dramatic improvement, when you or I eliminate wheat, we also experience a "smoothing" of mood swings.

--Better libido--I'm not sure whether this is a consequence of losing a belly the size of a watermelon or improvement in sex hormones (esp. testosterone) or endothelial responses, but more interest in sex typically develops.

--Better complexion--I'm not entirely sure why, but various rashes will often dissipate, bags under the eyes are reduced, itching in funny places stops.

It's also peculiar how, after someone eliminates wheat for several months, re-exposure of an errant cracker or sandwich results in cramping and diarrhea in about 30% of people.

Obviously, people with celiac disease, who can even die of exposure to wheat, are even worse. What other common food do you know of that makes us sick so often, even occasionally with fatal outcome?

Comments (59) -

  • Olga

    9/17/2009 1:08:20 PM |

    Hi Dr. Davis:

    Are you familiar with Dr. Wolfgang Lutz from Austria.  He has a book entitled "Life Without Bread."  He has been treating patients with a low carbohydrates diet for over 40 years and he has seen improvements in the same conditions in his patients.  In his book he presents data from his patients over the last 40 years and it's very impressive.  Here is the amazon.com link to the book:

    Thanks so much for writing this blog.

  • Adam Wilk

    9/17/2009 1:23:39 PM |

    I absolutely agree with what you're saying here--for the most part, I do not eat wheat, but I must tell you, the desire for any wheat product never leaves (in my case, anyway) and is frequently craved--but what a punishment for indulging, even once in a great while:
    A few days ago, whilst enjoying a delicious mostly protein and fat dinner at Outback, my wheat devil got the best of me, and I took a mere slice of that delicious bread they put on the table, with a generous pat of butter.  Within 5-10 minutes, I literally felt my nose and sinuses swelling up on me.  Not fair, but reality.

  • Helena

    9/17/2009 1:43:44 PM |

    Oh this is so true! I love myself when I stop eating wheat and a lot of sugars - can't get enough sex och have much more energy!

    But from time to time I fall back and just crave that pasta... and every time I do, I regret it; Stomach cramps is always what will be served for dessert!

  • Anonymous

    9/17/2009 2:35:30 PM |

    Dairy and lots of sugar.
    But wheat might be the worst.

  • Susan

    9/17/2009 2:48:41 PM |

    Two years ago, my knees hurt so badly that I avoided sitting in low chairs (I couldn't get out of them) and I was "one-footing" stairs. Then I went on a low-carb diet and the pain cleared up. I failed to put two and two together until a trip to France where I "allowed" myself small amounts of bread and suddenly it became important to know if a metro stop had an escalator. Now I know that eating wheat will result in knee pain 48 hours later.

    Fast forward to this summer when my 24-year-old daughter was having stomach pain--it was after meals, but sometimes the pain woke her in the night. "Heartburn," said her physician, maybe related to stress, and put her on Nexium for a month to see if it cleared up. It did, but returned when her prescription was over. Having read about the side effects of PPI use, I suggested to my daughter that she consider eliminating gluten and/or milk products for a while to see if that helped. She did (although she whimpered a bit about giving up beer). The pain disappeared almost immediately, and a bit of experimentation showed that it was wheat and only wheat that caused the pain (cheers).

    When my daughter described the pain, I realized that I had the same symptom when I was her age, but I didn't have it looked into because it never lasted long enough to bother with (I'm one of those doctors' kids who avoid doctors).

    So my question is, in light of all of the signs that point to wheat intolerance as a cause of gastrointestinal distress and joint pain and a whole lot of other things, why is eliminating wheat not the first course of action?

    By the way, I found the recent article in Scientific American on celiac disease, leaky gut and automimmune disease to be very interesting.

  • Chris

    9/17/2009 3:37:49 PM |

    Does wheat elimination include eliminating beer, particularly, wheat beer?

    It's the only wheat--or grain for that matter--in my regular diet.

  • Gretchen

    9/17/2009 6:25:00 PM |

    "after someone eliminates wheat for several months, re-exposure of an errant cracker or sandwich results in cramping and diarrhea in about 30% of people."

    I gave up wheat a long time ago when I found it triggered acid reflux. And I found just the opposite.

    As long as I didn't eat wheat regularly, I could have the occasional wheat with no problems.

  • Anonymous

    9/17/2009 8:01:42 PM |

    Does anyone know if Ezekial 100% sprouted whole grain bread (yes contains some sprouted wheat + many other grains) is still considered "wheat" as I want to have a zero wheat diet.  Hmmm  think I just answered by own question.  thanks!

  • Dr. William Davis

    9/17/2009 9:06:54 PM |

    Hi, Chris--

    Beer is clearly the least desirable of all alcoholic beverages, partly because of its wheat origin. However, perhaps because of fermentation or some other modification, it doesn't seem to exert all the adverse effects of other products, though celiacs will still react to the gluten.


    Likewise with Ezekiel. I believe it's better, though not necessarily perfect. It still trigers carbohydrate responses.

  • Dr. William Davis

    9/17/2009 9:07:33 PM |

    Hi, Olga--

    Amazing how we are re-learning many lessons learned previously before drugs and fancy hospital procedures.

  • Sara

    9/17/2009 9:29:02 PM |

    Another factor in the increased libido may be a reversal of very early nerve damage from high glucose levels. Peripheral neuropathy starts at blood glucose levels that are not really very high at all -- around 140mg/dL, which a person may be seeing after meals for YEARS before they hit the diabetic diagnostic criteria of 180mg/dL after meals or 126mg/dL fasting (and very many diabetics do have measurable neuropathy at diagnosis, for exactly this reason). People worry about their feet when they're considering diabetic neuropathy, but ALL the nerves are adversely affected by being bathed in excessive glucose, and those in the sexual organs are among the most sensitive; I think it's a reasonable theory that one would see a decrease of sensation there even before you have measurable effects in the hands and feet. Fortunately, if neuropathy isn't very advanced, it can be reversed by getting blood glucose under control, and of course that would improve sensation and increase the enjoyability of sexual activity, which would naturally factor into the desire for same. I'm sure there's more to the story, including some or all of the factors you've named, but I think this is probably part of it too.

  • Thomas

    9/17/2009 10:11:38 PM |

    How do the various grains compare: wheat, rye, barley, corn, rice etc.?

  • Robert McLeod

    9/17/2009 10:16:22 PM |

    It's called wheat allergy, look it up.  Different antibodies to celiac, different symptoms, but same cause and same cure.

  • William Trumbower

    9/17/2009 11:13:05 PM |

    There are gluten free beers available, based on sorgum.  Budweiser makes one called Red Bridge, but there are others on the market.    My sister has active celiac and so I eat an anti-inflamatory gluten-free diet.  Last year at my highschool reunion I had pizza and beer with the boys.  I had bloody stools for several days after!  I believe that most of us are gluten intolerant, that is we cannot really digest the gluten molecule. Many of us develop "leaky gut" from the gluten and then go on to antibody production against the gluten-gliadin molecule.  This protein has several key amino acid sequences in common with tissue proteins in many various organ systems (thyroid, pancreas, adrenal,gut, skin, uterus, placenta  etc) and autoimmune disease begins.  Which organ system is affected depends on your genetic make up.   The persistance of GI docs in refusing to diagnose gluten enteropathy without a small bowel biopsy is amazing to me.  see enterolab.com

  • Anne

    9/18/2009 2:21:33 AM |

    A lifelong depression lifted when I went wheat and gluten free 6 yrs ago. I am 66 years old and I wake up with no joint pain. Peripheral neuropathy is better, but not perfect. I have a long list of health improvements.

    As far as my heart, dropping wheat and gluten totally relieved my pitting leg edema and shortness of breath. I had cardiac bypass over 9 years ago, but I did not start to heal until I went gluten free. I am sure that gluten contributed to my CAD.

    I have no idea what would happen if I were to eat a wheat cracker or a slice of wheat bread. I never want to feel that sick again so I have not been tempted to try even one bite. An accidental crumb is enough to cause my brain to fog and my energy level to bottom out.

    This past year I dropped sugars and all grains in order to level out my blood glucose - this has worked well.

    I have heard the celiac experts say that no one is able to digest wheat well.

  • Anonymous

    9/18/2009 3:30:27 AM |

    Dr. Davis,
    A majority of beer recipes are based on Barley, not wheat. Sure it could contain wheat as an ingredient and most "summer" beers often contain a malted barley/malted wheat mix with the latter as a minor component. Beer (at least other than the generic mass market brews like coors, bud etc) contain substantial polyphenols from hops which I would assume have antioxidant value.

    I don't buy this obsession approach that everything that might contain a grain is probably bad. H1N1 is called the "swine flu" so what has happened; people have stopped eating pork.......  I am grateful for the discussion on this site but just sometimes I get a little disheartened with the  generalizations.

  • Anonymous

    9/18/2009 5:18:01 AM |

    Dr. Davis, my diabetic friend just announced to me today that her Triglycerides dropped from 400 to 200, her total cholesterol dropped to 178 and all other blood values are now within normal range just by changing her diet and eliminating all starchy foods (white and brown rice, all wheat products, etc.). Her wheat-free diet truly gave her some unexpected effects. Josephine

  • Anonymous

    9/18/2009 10:08:32 AM |

    Dr. Davis
    I'm 66 years and was diagnosed with migrene from 20. At 62 I startet to eat lowcarb and high fat. My migrene was gone after 14 days. I thougt that sugar was the worst, but I have come to understand that wheat and barley trigger my headaches more than sugar does.
    Other pleasant side effects are no more anal- itching and nearly no more nightly peeing.

  • William Trumbower

    9/18/2009 1:14:22 PM |

    My concern about the sprouted grain breads is the inclusion of soy.  I am not sure that the sprouting process eliminates all the toxins from soy (phytic acid, estrogen, goiterogens, protease inhibitors etc. ). Traditional cultures often soaked grains, sprouted them, and then used lactofermentation (sourdough)  methods to prepare their breads or porridges.  This reduced many of the toxic portions of the grains, but soy is much more resistant.  Traditional Asian cultures often fermented soy for months before using as food.

  • donny

    9/18/2009 1:33:52 PM |

    Before the phrase "wheat-belly" was phrased, there was the phrase "beer-belly." Personally, I don't care if it's made from barley or wheat, beer poses a clear danger either way.

  • pooklaroux

    9/18/2009 4:50:34 PM |

    I suffered from IBS for years, and discovered the "cure" when I went on Atkins in 1999.  I'm afraid, though that in my case, eliminating wheat alone isn't sufficient, I seem to have problems with any grain that is high in fiber. One or two amaranth based cookies was enough to trigger IBS symptoms for a whole weekend.

  • DropYourAllergies

    9/18/2009 5:34:49 PM |

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    Celiac Information:

    > Serology ( Blood testing ) as well as Biopsy requires the presence of antibodies to gluten.

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    With 1 in 100 being affected,
    Rule out Celiac Disease > Before going Gluten-Free
    Regardless of Rationale.

  • kris

    9/18/2009 7:55:11 PM |

    couple weeks ago, I had to take a trip and drove for 8 hours right after my hard work out at gym. didnt have time to eat at my regular time. that night i had stomich spasm, so bad that it almost made me cry. (now i am completely wheat free for more than 10 months now). only thing that helped me immediate,was powdered Magnesium. the pain would start around 2am and stay on until I take liquid magnesium. the pain wouldnt go away for week or so. funny thing is that in the morning i would go to gym and workout hard with no pain at all. 4 days ago I had to see my doctor and he put me on on Nexium. That was the first night that there was no pain how ever the side effects of Nexium were sharp headache and stomach spasm for 5 minutes. I think that when body is firing on all cylinders, it is important to eat regularly, small meals, more often.

  • Suresh

    9/18/2009 8:38:46 PM |

    Dr. Davis,

    I have seen the mention of eliminating wheat from the diet in many of your articles. Does that mean something like rice is not as bad as wheat namely is wheat is the worst among the grains rice, barley, corn etc ?



  • water

    9/18/2009 9:04:16 PM |


    I found your comments extremely interesting and would like to know more about your research, especially relative to this:
    "those in the sexual organs are among the most sensitive"  Do you have reference I can follow?

    I've been reading about periperhal neuropathy and autonomic neuropathy and this article was particularly interesting:

    Unlike PN, AN is often asymptomatic. Among symptomatic patients (55%), erectile dysfunction seems to be the sole symptom, in line with the higher degree of parasympathetic damage.  


    An improvement in his ED was definitely an unexpected results of a gluten free diet (wheat free was not enough), but my spouse saw further improvements without dairy and soy.

  • Anonymous

    9/19/2009 3:23:47 AM |

    Your comment on the fermentation of soy in Asian cultures appears to imply that this is important to render "safe" food from Soy.  So do you make the same generalization about cow's milk.....? IE it should be cheese and yoghurt before consumption?

    what is the scientific relation between "wheat belly" and "beer belly" ? none, I would argue. Other than both are not desirable and result from over indulgence.

    There are a surprising number of people who are sensitive to specific foods.  I love sushi.  My wife is allergic to raw seafood yet she can down a piece of wheat gluten (seitan) with no affects. I have friends who can't go near gluten without severe cramps. My wife can also eat beef yet it gives me terrible gas. On the other hand, beans have absolutely no impact to my gas productivity.  I write this to highlight that many many people have issues with certain foods while other remain unaffected. YMMV as the saying goes, so lets celebrate those who find relief in changing their diets but lets not claim panacea

  • Dr. William Davis

    9/19/2009 1:59:09 PM |


    Yes, wheat stands out as a uniquely destructive grain. While other grains can also increase blood sugar and trigger adverse patterns, wheat is undoubtedly the worst. I know of no other grain than wheat that is accompanied by addictive behavior, also.

  • Anonymous

    9/19/2009 3:24:20 PM |

    Re: beer and barley

    Barley also contains gluten, so if you're avoiding wheat because of the gluten, you'll need to avoid barley (and rye) as well.

    Re: rice

    The data that the idiotic "China Study" book is allegedly based on suggest that rice is the best grain to eat if you're going to eat grain. The highest rate of heart disease in China is found in the province where wheat is a dietary staple and little meat is consumed.

  • Anne

    9/19/2009 4:27:57 PM |

    1:100 may have celiac disease, but estimates of those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity range from 10-40% of the population.

    It is true, if you want to be tested for celiac disease(villous atrophy), then you do need to keep eating gluten until the testing is completed. If the tests come out negative it does not mean that you have no problem with gluten. You may still have latent celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy or wheat intolerance. I am beginning to see more journal articles about gluten sensitivity. Dr. Green recently wrote in the JAMA that more attention needs to be given to gluten sensitivity.

    I did not go through blood a biopsy testing as my doctors refused to run these tests. I used Enterolab to confirm I have antibodies to gluten. This was enough proof for me. Enterolab cannot diagnose celiac disease, but it can tell you if you are reacting to gluten and you can be wheat/gluten free for up to 2 years for this test.

    There is nothing dangerous about a gluten free or wheat free diet and, luckily, we don't need a doctor's prescription to change our diet. A gluten free diet can be as healthy or as unhealthy as one wants to make it. Along with gluten free, I follow Dr. Davis' recommendation of a low sugar diet to keep my blood glucose in check.

  • taemo

    9/21/2009 1:23:30 PM |

    Ouch! much sugar? Damn! diabetes is you will get.

  • Anonymous

    9/21/2009 5:20:19 PM |

    Dr. Davis,

    Okay... wheat is BAD.  But... does this include wheat bran, often used as a source of fiber in the diet?  I mean the bran only, NOT wheat germ, or whole wheat, or wheat flours.

    Thanks for all you do!


  • Dr. William Davis

    9/21/2009 9:43:47 PM |

    Hi, Mad--

    No, wheat bran is essentially inert. It does not interact with anything and so does not exert any adverse effects. It's like eating wood.

  • Anonymous

    9/22/2009 9:25:21 PM |

    I disagree with wheat bran being inert.  It is a source of phytic acid which has mineral binding properties.  Also, reading sites like FiberMenace.com, bran fiber is certainly not benign.

  • denparser

    9/22/2009 11:40:04 PM |

    @Anonymous (before me)

    I agree with your statement. Its a fact, try read health book.

  • Stan (Heretic)

    9/23/2009 11:48:20 AM |

    I have to mention one more benefit to your list, that I noticed:

    - hugely improved dental health and self-healing (sealing) of damaged teeth.

    We know that wheat's agglutins (WGA) affect and reduce D3 transport, I have a suspicion that wheat may be also interfering with K2 (thus teeth) but haven't seen much esearch on this yet.

    Stan (Heretic)

  • Anonymous

    9/24/2009 7:41:01 PM |

    TedHutchinson, there are many other sources that agree that fiber is not beneficial and is indeed harmful if you don't care for the one referenced.

    Nevertheless, Dr. Davis is incorrect about bran being inert.  It does contain phytic acid which interferes with mineral absorption.  Another reason wheat avoidance helps teeth and bones.

  • dves

    9/27/2009 12:53:06 PM |


    haha. you're right.. control use of sugar to avoid diabetes.

  • denparser

    9/27/2009 12:54:22 PM |


    it has different nutrition level and most of all, its taste.

  • Anonymous

    9/28/2009 5:34:44 PM |

    I have a question: after spending a year in France, I realized that yes, French people are typically lean and thin, however, they eat so much wheat! Pastries, white pastas, cereals...
    Do French people display the same numbers when it comes to celiacs disease and wheat intolerance? I am curious to know. Or might it have more to do with volume or the fact that their breads are more often homemade? Thoughts?

    I went gluten free for nearly two years and then have been dabbling back into spelt and wheat. My primary reasons for trying the elimination were skin-related (itch, chronic eczema). Sad to say, it don't help much, though I did feel pretty healthy. I just ate a croissant the other day from an organic bakery that stone mills. It was heavan. I didn't feel foggy or anything, so perhaps the key is moderation?
    Anyway, great site, very informative. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on those skinny french people.
    PS-I don't have a weight problem and ironically I didn't lose weight when I went gluten free. Ended up eating more meat (allergic to nuts)...

  • trinkwasser

    10/2/2009 4:03:33 PM |

    Interesting that inflammation would appear to be a component of nearly all these symptoms which wheat elimination "cures".

    My depression and mood swings appear to be closely correlated with blood glucose swings, which may be why that also improves.

    I'm another one for whom wheat bran is not inert: it generates BG spikes, although not to the degree of whole wheat. Lectins, phytic acid or wheat germ agglutinin?


  • Anonymous

    10/3/2009 2:40:52 AM |

    Thanks for the link to the livin lavida low carb site interview with Dr. Davis.  Your links are always informative.
    In my opinion, all newbies visiting this web site should be directed to this reference for a great summary of what is important in taking care of your heart via diet changes. v.cool, thanks

  • Sew Bee It

    10/6/2009 10:28:46 PM |

    I've just found your blog via Feed the Animal, and I'm so happy I did!  Thank you so much for you posts, I'll be reading often.  

    You have a few comments here, but I figured I'd add to your collection of anecdotal evidence:  I'd gone paleo for about a month when I took one 24 hour period off (dinner to dinner).  3/4 of a medium pizza, a snickers bar, 1/2 can pringles, and a dozen chocolate coated gingerbread cookies ended up on the menu.  Within 30 minutes of eating the pizza my heartburn had returned, withing hours of eating bits of the rest I was in PAIN.  Why I kept eating this junk for the next day, I have no idea.  The more of it I ate the worse my stomache got.  Severe upset stomache, badly sufuric burps, bowel discomfort, you name it!  And after that 24 hours I finally reached a level of toxicity where my body literally rejected the food.  So toxic was this junk that use to be "normal" food, that my body threw it up in self defense.  

    Needless to say I'm totally commited to the paleo eating now!

  • Jenny

    10/10/2009 12:59:02 AM |

    What element in wheat are you referring to? everyone needs fiber which is a major component of wheat, people can't be allergic to fiber as their digestive system would pack up if you didn't have any.

  • Anonymous

    10/12/2009 11:24:02 PM |

    Does abstaining from wheat include staying away from spelt and kammut and Emmer wheat as well..or is it the GMO wheat that is the problem?
    Some doctors believe spelt is more digestable than regular wheat.

  • Jamie

    11/2/2009 1:06:55 AM |


    Not true at all. I eat very little fiber and am more regular and have less digestive issues than I ever have. As long as one eats enough fat, there is no need for fiber.

  • Beverly

    3/28/2010 6:24:41 PM |

    You can get Gluten-Free beer.  One brand is called Red Bridge.  There's another, but I forget the name.  I drink the Red Bridge.  Not bad.

  • Beverly

    3/28/2010 6:48:23 PM |

    Besides, you can get your "roughage" from raw veggies and salad.  I've been low-carb for about 6 wks. now; haven't had any bread, rice, pasta, wheat, etc.  I've never felt better and have more energy.  My brain is functioning better, too.  Also, have lost 4 lbs.


  • Julianne

    6/25/2010 11:17:42 PM |

    Hi Dr Davis,
    Thanks for a great blog.
    I just wanted to share my experience of wheat free (I actually went paleo so fully grain and legume free)
    No more swelling knees. Probably mild auto-immune, mother has it also.
    Large - I mean large and multiple bumps - ganglion cyst that I had for 10 years shrank and disappeared.
    PMS with horrid breast pain - gone.
    Menstrual pain - less with fish oil, gone with paleo.
    Constipation - gone
    Pre-menopausal spotting the week prior to menstruation, had this for 10 years - gone.
    Lost weight - that last 3 pounds that make me look my best.

    I wrote about it here, I for one want to spread the news as a nutritionist.

  • Alina M

    9/7/2010 1:51:47 PM |

    Is whole grain wheat also harmful?

    Thank your very much for all your information.

  • legend_018

    9/10/2010 1:16:13 AM |

    So people just give up having

    1. bread and butter with meals or crusty bread with pasta
    2. peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, tuna fish sandwiches etc.
    3. pancakes

    That seems hard to give up.

  • Anonymous

    9/12/2010 10:03:37 AM |

    As an experiment and in an attempt to lose weight, I put my whole family on a low-carb diet. Cutting out wheat was part of it.
    My husband has suffered from a mild type of colitis for the last 15 years. One year ago an awful smell developed with the colitis. Whenever he went to the toilet or passed wind an obnoxious, sour smell like old cheese/rotten eggs lingered a long time after. It caused me to move out of our bedroom, as the smell would cause me to wake up repeatedly. 3 weeks on the wheat-free diet the smell was suddenly gone. It was nothing short of a miracle. It was not something I had expected from the diet, but a very welcome side-effect indeed, as I hate bad smells. By the way - can anyone tell me what generates that particular sour, rotten smell?

  • Rusa

    9/28/2010 11:51:02 PM |

    legend 018 said:
    So people just give up having

    1. bread and butter with meals or crusty bread with pasta
    2. peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, tuna fish sandwiches etc.
    3. pancakes

    That seems hard to give up.

    Yes. They are addictive, aren't they? Isn't that the point? Wheat is addictive.

  • KMebust

    11/9/2010 4:16:59 PM |

    A criticism, then a question:
    Any food you give up for months will cause diarrhea and cramping when you come back to it, because you've lost the bacteria that help you digest it.  I've experienced this with dairy, meat, and potatoes.  I am skeptical that wheat is any different than other foods in that regard.
    I have family members who have experienced benefits from gluten free diets, but don't want to give it up altogether, for various reasons.  Does cutting back-- say, not eating bread but not actively eliminating gluten from all your food choices-- have lesser but similar effects?

  • Anonymous

    12/17/2010 7:55:34 PM |

    Thank you so much Dr. Davis.  You have confirmed our worst fears that seemingly "healthy" wheat is actually a form of subtle malnutrition.  Please mention that it is the gluten that causes the problems.  Not in the allergic sense, but by blocking the important nutrients from fruits and veggies to vitamins and minerals.  Gluten forms a mucoid plaque which covers the small intestine thus causing subtle malnutrition and is therefore responsible for dozens of illnesses.

  • James

    1/18/2011 8:13:42 PM |

    I have given up wheat because of its effects on myself including acid reflux, rapid heart beat, irritated hemmoroids.  

    All of the effects you have mentioned have been documented as far back as 1995.  This is especially true of RA. I remember articles in the nutrition press stating that wheat was one of the triggers for RA. Thanks for all the information.

  • Ravi

    2/9/2011 5:28:47 PM |

    Hello Dr. Davis,

    We would like to invite you to summit your exceptional posts to our new ParadigmShift BlogShare at DaiaSolGaia.  
    Please check it out! Thank you. http://daiasolgaia.com/?p=2212

  • Ravi

    2/9/2011 5:30:25 PM |

    ... fingers: type "submit"... thank you. Wink

  • Pixie

    3/11/2011 10:59:55 PM |

    I wish this was the case for me.  I have suffered with IBS for 27 years.  I have gone on gluten elimination diets for up to 30 days twice in the past 15 years with no change.  Incorporating it back in, the only thing I noticed was a little bit of heartburn if I had wheat in the morning. I've tested negative for Celiac's and wheat allergies.
    I'm not saying your are wrong. But for me a wheat free diet was no cure for IBS.  Frown  (I WISH!)

Thyroid perspective update

Thyroid perspective update

Since the publication of the extraordinary HUNT Study relating the entire spectrum of thyroid function and heart issues, I have been vigorously and systematically examining thyroid function in numerous patients.

While there's no news in relating flagrant low thyroid function with triggering heart disease in several forms, the cut-off between low thyroid and normal thyroid has been a matter of dispute for decades.

In the early 20th century, low thyroid function wasn't diagnosed until someone gained 40 lbs, displayed extravagant amounts of edema (water retention) in the legs and huge bags under the eyes, hair fell out in clumps, and often eventually proved fatal. At autopsy, these unfortunates also showed advanced and extensive quantities of coronary atherosclerotic plaque.

Low thyroid is usually diagnosed on the basis of the blood test, thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH. TSH is a pituitary gland hormone responsible for stimulation of thyroid function. When thyroid function flags, the pituitary increases TSH release. Thus, a high TSH signals lower thyroid hormone levels.

The difficulty is in distinguishing normal thyroid function from low thyroid function judged by TSH levels. As the years have passed, in fact, the cut-off for "normal" TSH has drifted lower and lower.

The HUNT Study, I believe, clinches the argument: A TSH of 1.5 or lower, perhaps even 1.0 or lower, is desirable to eliminate the excess cardiovascular risk provided by an underactive thyroid, not to mention feel better: more energetic, clearer thinking, greater well-being.

Having now applied this renewed appreciation for thyroid, I have come to believe that:

--Low thyroid function, even subtle levels, are rampant and far more common than ever previously thought. In my office practice, the case could be made that several people per day are marginally or mildly hypothyroid (low in thyroid).
--Restoration of optimal thyroid levels facilitates correction of lipid measures, especially LDL cholesterol and, to a lesser degree, lipoprotein patterns dependent on the insulin axis such as triglycerides and small LDL. It's a lot happier way to correct lipids than statins.

I don't discount the value of feeling better. People who feel better--more energetic, more upbeat, clearer thinking--tend to do better in health overall. If thyroid restoration is a part of that equation, then greater attention should be paid to this facet of health on our way to optimal heart health.

Though I sometimes feel like an endocrinologist dispensing desiccated thyroid (rarely the synthetic T4), I believe that this has been a previously neglected and important part of our effort to achieve coronary plaque stabilization and reversal.

Comments (18) -

  • Jeremy

    10/10/2008 2:33:00 PM |

    I have a TSH of 2, which the doctor told me was normal. What steps can I take to get my TSH to be lower, like 1.5 or 1?

  • Anna

    10/10/2008 5:58:00 PM |

    Great post, doc!  As I've mentioned in past comments, this is a subject near and dear to my heart.

  • Anonymous

    10/10/2008 8:02:00 PM |

    I applaud your attention to the low thyroid issue but also would urge you to check Free T4 and Free T3 -- I spent several years gaining weight, depressed, exhausted, and suffering numerous symptoms (including high cholesterol) but being told I needed and anti-depressant, statins, etc because my TSH was normal.  When I finally found a doctor to test the Free T3 and 4, I was found to be low in both and I need both to function well.  I can track symptoms and cholesterol rises to the T3 and T4 blood levels. Thank goodness I've found a doctor who will test and adjust when I report the need for same.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Anne

    10/11/2008 9:00:00 AM |

    My TSH is 2.6. What should I say to my doctor as on the lab report that comes out as normal.

  • gunther gatherer

    10/11/2008 10:52:00 AM |

    Hi Doctor and thanks for your informative blog. I'd like to echo Jeremy's comment and ask what one can do to lower TSH to below 1.5?

    Mine is currently 3.5, considered officially normal, but I have a very difficult time losing weight and would like more energy and better sleep. My diet is very good, but I think I may be missing something with TSH so high.

    Thanks, G

  • Nancy LC

    10/11/2008 6:19:00 PM |

    My doctors were happy to leave me around a TSH of 5.  I asked for, and got, a small increase in thyroid meds and got the TSH down to 3.  Felt better, but after reading about these latest studies I decided I wanted to be at 1 or lower.  So I talked to my doctor, told him I felt like I wasn't optimal yet and asked if I could go a little higher on the meds.  He agreed.

    This latest bump is making me feel really good, like I actually WANT to move around and exercise and get things done.  

    I tried the natural thyroid meds once and felt they were too high in T3 for me, I never adapted to them.

  • Dr. B G

    10/12/2008 7:28:00 PM |


    My TSH from 1997 until 2007 were always 1.3 to 1.9.  I lost 50 lbs over the last 5 yrs (and low carb the last 2yrs) but my TSH did not 'normalize' until my vitamin D normalized.

    Normal by DR. Davis and many experts and cancer epidemiologists is 25(OH)D 60-75 ng/ml.

    Good luck. You are grain-free right? Consider casein-free too (ie Paleo diet).

    -'G' too Smile

  • Dr. B G

    10/12/2008 7:28:00 PM |


    My TSH from 1997 until 2007 were always 1.3 to 1.9.  I lost 50 lbs over the last 5 yrs (and low carb the last 2yrs) but my TSH did not 'normalize' until my vitamin D normalized.

    Normal by DR. Davis and many experts and cancer epidemiologists is 25(OH)D 60-75 ng/ml.

    Good luck. You are grain-free right? Consider casein-free too (ie Paleo diet).

    -'G' too Smile

  • Lynn M.

    10/12/2008 9:46:00 PM |


    An intolerance of natural thyroid meds often indicates adrenal insufficiency.  Also, natural thyroid such as Armour needs to be dosed differently than Synthroid.  Armour should be taken in small doses spaced through the day. T3 has a short half-life of 6-7 hours (the figure varies depending on the source), so you'll get too much jolt if taking the daily dose all at once.  T4 meds like Synthroid have a half life of 6-7 weeks, so once daily dosing is fine with them.

  • Anonymous

    10/13/2008 5:40:00 AM |

    I was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto's, due to elevated thyroid antibodies, yet my TSH was in the 3-3.5 range, which most doctors will state is 'normal'.

    So, it's proven very difficult to get treatment so far. I also have symptoms that match hypo, and an ultrasound that shows a mildly enlarged thyroid. I was also told that my thyroid felt 'lumpy' when it was palpated. Yet, two doctors so far won't even consider letting me try a low-dose trial of thyroid medication. The magic number for them is a TSH of 5.0 or higher.

    For those who haven't seen endocrinologists, many  tend to be... stubborn. Thyroid disease seems to be treated different than other diseases. Doctors pretty much ignore symptoms, they don't agree with a standard as to who is Hypothyroid, and who isn't, they don't use the same TSH marker to treat, and they don't even agree which blood tests to give. It's actually sort of insane.

    So for those of you with TSH levels in the high 2s or 3s, my only advice is to get your free values tested and your thyroid antibodies tested too. If they are positive, you potentially could find a doctor to treat you... eventually... maybe.  If you don't test positive for antibodies, and your free T3/T4 are normal, I think you'll have a real hard time finding a doctor to give you any thyroid meds.

  • donny

    10/13/2008 4:17:00 PM |

    I spent some time yesterday reading about vitamin a, iodine and thyroid.

    According to this http://jcem.endojournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/89/11/5441

    goiter becomes more likely in iodine deficient areas where vitamin a deficiency is also present. There also seems to be the suggestion that the goiters sometimes caused by a high, rather than a low, level of iodine intake might be guarded against by vitamin a sufficiency.

    quote "The data from the intervention indicate that VA status may also modify the response to iodine repletion. In the trial, there was a significant decrease in median TSH, Tvol, mean Tg, and goiter rate in the IS+VA group compared with the IS group. In areas of endemic goiter, the major determinant of serum Tg and Tvol is TSH stimulation of the thyroid (42, 45). Our findings suggest TSH hyperstimulation, indicated by increased TSH, Tg, and Tvol, was reduced by VA treatment.

    I've seen it stated all over the web that hypothyroid interferes with the ability of the body to convert beta carotene to vitamin a.  

    This study,


    was in pregnant heifers, so grain of salt, but..

    They added synthetic beta carotene to these cattle's feed, and according to the abstract,

    "It is inferred from the results that beta-carotene interferes with the activity of the thyroid gland and the production of its hormones, and that the increases or decreases of the activity of this gland, caused by beta-carotene, influence the metabolism of cholesterol in the body."

    They don't mention what form the increase in cholesterol takes, but since thyroid function is described as 'interfered with' I suspect the change was not a beneficial one.

    These guys should know better, and never ever just say 'beta carotene' when what they really mean is 'synthetic beta carotene.' If these cattle had been fed green grass, their beta carotene intake would have been through the roof. I doubt this would have caused thyroid or cholesterol metabolism dysfunction. Reminds me of those studies on humans with synthetic beta carotene with not-so-good results.

  • Anna

    10/13/2008 6:27:00 PM |

    My advice to those with symptoms and a TSH over 2.0 or 2.5 (or any health issue that isn't being addressed well and helping the patient feel/function better) is to find another doctor who is more open minded about patients and health instead of settling for one way to look at things.   After all, our doctors are consultants who are supposed to work *for us* with their experience and expertise; not the other way around.  My teeth grind now when I hear someone say "my doctor won't let me...",  like the doc is a parent or boss.

    I never thought I'd become one of those "doctor-shoppers", because I always thought that was a negative, hypochondriac-sort of thing, especially for middle -aged women, the demographic I am now in (I have a new appreciation for the roots of the word "hysterical").  I can easily see how "doctor-shopping" can become a problem, but I've stopped seeing it as always a negative thing.  I pulled my exhausted, fuzzy-thinking self over that huge mental hurdle and pushed myself not to settle until I found docs who could also see me as a partner in my care, not as a subordinate in the relationship, because I saw that as the best way to achieve *all* my health goals, not just my thyroid care.  Ultimately, I think that can mean less visits to the doc over time and less tries at Rxing with a variety of meds in an attempt to manage symptoms.  For instance, nagging neck pain and stiffness on one side that persisted for many years (after a muscle injury), was diagnosed as osteoarthritis after an x-ray ordered by the doc I saw for a decade.  She said take NSAIDS and learn to bear it, part of getting older.  Great.  The next year, the new PCP osteopathic doc I saw said, want to try some PT -   often it helps.  I had 8 PT sessions (no that wasn't convenient or cheap) and initially I was unimpressed, but by the 4th session I saw real improvement, which increased until the last session.  The relief from the neck pain/stiffness has lasted several years (reccurances are usually easily dealt with by adjusting my sleep posture and resuming the PT exercises I learned).  No meds and much less pain and greatly improved mobility in my neck  or meds & bearing it - all a matter of perspective on how to treat/not treat.  

    I think most people are afraid or too weary to *really search* for an appropriate physician match, and they don't really want to take enough responsibility for understanding their needs; they'd rather just take a friends referral or be told what to do or wait until something urgent presents itself.  It's natural to crave familiarity, but that's a poor reason to stick with indifferent or adequate care or let Chance make the choice.  I know there can be other barriers, such as the expense and the difficulty scheduling around work or other obligations or even lack of local physician choice (especially in remote areas), but if there are significant health issues at stake (to treat or prevent), overcoming those barriers can really pay off in better care and reduced unproductive doc visits.  I'd say my unproductive office visits numbered 3:1 over the productive ones in the past 15 years or so - what a waste! - mostly because I stuck to the same doctor too long, one that just attributed everything I was experiencing to "getting old".  I'm not more bothered by aging than the next person, but frankly, most of her answers were cop-outs and I shouldn't have settled for lame responses for so long.

    I've seen some docs in the interim years that were definitely improvements, but I still felt I might be able to get better care within my network if I kept making inquiries.   For a brief time, we had very good PCP physician that both my husband and I liked very much, but I still saw my out of network doc for my thyroid and my PCP was ok with that.  

    But last year our PCP doc left our network and took a break from medical practice, just after my son's pediatrician suddenly passed away.  I suspect that ped-doc would have been a good candidate for TYP, btw, he lived near us and I often saw him in the grocery store with his cart full of AHA approved edible food-like substances).   So we were all left without an assigned PCP, though of course, if anything urgent came up we could see whoever was available.  And the travel to see the out of network thyroid doc was harder to do, so I started seeing an in-network endocrinologist, in the hopes that I could transition to him for all that stuff.  I had to switch to what he knew, Rxing only synthetic T4 and finally some added T3, instead of the 98/2% T4/timed release compounded natural T3 the other doctor gave me (which I liked better).

    I saw this as a good opportunity; I started looking for a new PCP for the whole family, someone in family medicine this time, also a bit closer to home than the other facility (which we chose when we were new to the area and lived closer).  I took my time, making short "get acquainted" appts with potential docs, which is allowed in my plan.  I asked a lot of questions about their approach to preventive care and how they promote good health, and especially with the health issues for our family.  

    I knew I'd probably found the right one when I saw the EBT coronary calcium score poster on the back of the door while I was waiting to meet the doc.  He said EBT CCS scans are a test worth paying out of pocket for even if insurance won't - you'll like that Dr. D!  He's familiar with BH, compounded Rx, has very good views of thyroid conditions, and tries to focus on lifestyle more than drugs and true prevention rather than just early screening and detection/treatment.  When I asked about thermography instead of mammography, he said a number of patients had asked about it and he was currently looking into it, so didn't have a recommendation yet; he was open to looking any info I could forward on thermography.  I think the persistent search will have been worth the effort, because I think we will make a good team; he's pretty close to a "Renaissance Doc", IMO.  Wish I'd known about him a long time ago, might have saved me and my family a lot of misery (rigid, unenlightened docs can forget that the loved ones can suffer when the patient isn't up to par, too).  I'd just about given up finding the right doc in our network; now I hope he doesn't bolt the system like the last one I felt great about.  

    It might take some time, effort, and expense, especially with limiting HMO networks and insurance restrictions/or lack of insurance, but the way I see it, it's really worth looking until you find better care, inside or outside your network network.   It's much easier to do this when the health care issues are more minor than when they get serious, too.  

    I don't know how all insurance plans work, but the last two plans we have had (through my husband's employer) allowed choosing a PCP at any time as many times as long as I stay within the network.  I'm told some PCPs don't bill for brief "new patient" visits (no exam), but don't quote me on that.  I'm in suburban area of a larger city, so there are literally hundreds of PCPs I can choose from within two networks (but I have to choose one or the other network, not a mix).  For too long I thought all the docs in a network would just think exactly the same, plus they all used the same lab, so that discouraged me from looking further.  Well, I was surprised to find out that wasn't necessarily true, but it took some continued and persistent digging to find the "free thinkers" and finally making a few of those "get acquainted appts" to ask questions.  That's much better than both of us being "on the spot" during an office visit for an acute health problem and learning there is a mismatch.

    "New patient" appts can quickly cover more topics than a regular exam visit, too, which is usually restricted to one health complaint or cramming in all the annual exam items.  I focussed on asking questions and learning how the doctor sees his/her role in our healthcare and where he/she did/didn't have experience and expertise, rather than debating my opinions or views that differed.  It was a much better way to narrow down my choices.  There's too much at stake to throw a dart at a name and then stick with the random result no matter what.

    Persistence is the key.  I've learned never to let my health become an auto-pilot sort of thing.

  • Anonymous

    10/16/2008 8:31:00 PM |

    TSH is only a good starting point, one absolutely has to also know their free T4 (and T3) so that a lower-normal TSH isn't masking a too low free T4 (and T3).  Combined the TSH and free T4 can identify central hypothyroidism, originating in the pituitary that comes with the same symptoms of hypothyroidism originating at the thyroid.

  • Anna

    10/18/2008 4:11:00 AM |


    Interesting about the Vit A and beta carotene connection to thyroid.  Before I took thyroid hormone I have very reddish-orange palms.  That went away after some time with thyroid treatment and hasn't returned.

  • Dr. B G

    10/19/2008 1:13:00 PM |

    Anna Donny,

    Those are amazing observations.

    I do think Vitamin A is important. Most supplements however have 'beta carotene' and as Donny mentioned they are probably Lurotin by BASF or some other SYNTHETIC vitamin. This un-natural vitamin did not fare well in any clinical trial.

    Natural vitamin A is crucial -- just as vitamin D is for the thyroid and every organ in the body for growth, reproduction and anti-proliferative effects.

    Cows may be entirely deficient when compared with grass fed cows. I came across one study where the beef industry made the lovely conclusion that more marbling of the meat was achieved when the cows were fed vitamin-A-deficient feed!


  • Dr. B G

    10/19/2008 1:13:00 PM |

    Anna Donny,

    Those are amazing observations.

    I do think Vitamin A is important. Most supplements however have 'beta carotene' and as Donny mentioned they are probably Lurotin by BASF or some other SYNTHETIC vitamin. This un-natural vitamin did not fare well in any clinical trial.

    Natural vitamin A is crucial -- just as vitamin D is for the thyroid and every organ in the body for growth, reproduction and anti-proliferative effects.

    Cows may be entirely deficient when compared with grass fed cows. I came across one study where the beef industry made the lovely conclusion that more marbling of the meat was achieved when the cows were fed vitamin-A-deficient feed!


  • dubyaemgee

    1/23/2009 4:11:00 PM |

    Honestly, this has to be one of the best blogs around!

    My levels are:
    Thyroid Panel with TSH
    TSH 4.326
    Thyroxine (T4) 5.2
    T3 uptake 38
    Free Thyroxine Index 2.0

    I see people referring to T3 and T4 levels, but not sure what "normal" is. My TSH seems high, and I feel as though I exhibit the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Any ideas?

  • Anonymous

    3/10/2009 8:58:00 PM |

    A wonderful endocrinologist in St. Louis named E.J. Cunningham told me that there is no blood test that tells you exactly how much T3 is inside the cells activating the mitochondria.  All of the tests are only approximations.  You must actually take a history and do a physical exam to diagnose hypothyroidism.  The only way to find out  if you are correct is the patients response to T3 or armour thyroid therapy.  If you have positive thyroid autoantibodies, you should be on therapy in most cases.