So how–and when–did this ancient grain become such a serious health threat? Author and preventive cardiologist William Davis, MD, says it’s when big agriculture stepped in decades ago to develop a higher-yielding crop. Today’s “wheat,” he says, isn’t even wheat, thanks to some of the most intense crossbreeding efforts ever seen. “The wheat products sold to you today are nothing like the wheat products of our grandmother’s age, very different from the wheat of the early 20th Century, and completely transformed from the wheat of the Bible and earlier,” he says.Plant breeders changed wheat in dramatic ways. Once more than four feet tall, modern wheat–the type grown in 99 percent of wheat fields around the world–is now a stocky two-foot-tall plant with an unusually large seed head. Dr. Davis says accomplishing this involved crossing wheat with non-wheat grasses to introduce altogether new genes, using techniques like irradiation of wheat seeds and embryos with chemicals, gamma rays, and high-dose X-rays to induce mutations.In July 2009, the most hated company in the world Monsanto, announced new research into GM wheat and industry groups kicked their promotion of GM wheat into high gear.
Clearfield Wheat, grown on nearly 1 million acres in the Pacific Northwest and sold by BASF Corporation–the world’s largest chemical manufacturer–was created in a geneticist’s lab by exposing wheat seeds and embryos to the mutation-inducing industrial toxin sodium azide, a substance poisonous to humans and known for exploding when mishandled, says Dr. Davis. This hybridized wheat doesn’t survive in the wild, and most farmers rely on toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep the crops alive.So what does all of this plant science have to do with what’s ailing us? Intense crossbreeding created significant changes in the amino acids in wheat’s glutenproteins, a potential cause for the 400 percent increase in celiac disease over the past 40 years. Wheat’s gliadin protein has also undergone changes, with what appears to be a dire consequence. “Compared to its pre-1960s predecessor, modern gliadin is a potent appetite stimulant,” explains Dr. Davis. “The new gliadin proteins may also account for the explosion in inflammatory diseases we’re seeing.”
The appetite-stimulating properties of modern wheat most likely occurred as an accidental by-product of largely unregulated plant breeding methods, Dr. Davis explains. But he charges that it’s impact on inflammatory diseases may have something to do with the fact that, in the past 15 years, it’s been showing up in more and more processed foods. Wheat ingredients are now found in candy, Bloody Mary mixes, lunch meats, soy sauce, and even wine coolers.As if making you hungrier wasn’t enough, early evidence suggests that modern wheat’s new biochemical code causes hormone disruption that is linked to diabetes and obesity. “It is not my contention that it is in everyone’s best interest to cut back on wheat; it is my belief that complete elimination is in everyone’s best health interests,” says Dr. Davis, “In my view, that’s how bad this thing called ‘wheat’ has become.”