Wheat Belly Scientific Review Chapter 2: GMO’s

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Find my original review here and my analysis of chapter 1 here.

This continues our series of analyzing the science behind Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis.

This chapter focuses on how genetic modifications and hybridizations have changed wheat, especially over the last 50 years.  

What Dr. Davis would like to prove here is that the significant changes in wheat over the last 50 or so years represent a threat to our health that did not exist before.  There is an incredibly controversial view.  GMO’s have been touted as the solution to the global food shortage and saying that they may be damaging our health represents a serious claim that requires serious evidence to be taken seriously.

He spends a significant part talking about the ability of wheat to pick up chromosomes from other species.  This isn’t relevant to our discussion of nutrition, but it is really fascinating.

One of the first claims he makes is that modern wheat can no longer survive without human support, including fertilization and pest control and this is true.  (Shewry 1547).  However, that does not necessarily mean it is dangerous for us to consume.

Dr. Davis then discusses hybridizations and makes the claim that they did not begin in earnest until the middle of the twentieth century.  He is partially  right.  There does seem to be an acceleration at this point in time, but selective breeding had been performed on wheat for much longer than that.

Now we start to get close to the more controversial portions of the argument, and these will take us a little bit longer to dissect.  He accurately claims that hybrids were not tested early on because it was assumed that there was not sufficient change in the plants for them to cause a problem if they were originally completely safe.  He further supports this claim with the argument that in a hybrid that approximately 5% of the proteins that are expressed are found in neither parent.  This can be verified in his source and even worse,

“Moreover, 30 of the 49 diferentially expressed protein spots were identified, which were involved in metabolism, signal transduction, energy, cell growth and division, disease and defense, secondary metabolism.” (Song 213)

The vast majority of the differentially expressed proteins seem to be critically important for the wheat.  This suggest that these changes could possibly have an effect on us when they are metabolized.

Dr. Davis has an interesting aside here that I believe he should have spent more time considering throughout the book.  Dr. Davis has a wheat sensitivity, however, he still agreed to attempt an experiment wherein on one day he comsumed bread made from historic einkorn wheat, and modern whole grain wheat bread on a different day.  When he ate the einkorn bread he did not have any of the pain, nausea, sleepiness, or other symptoms that he had with the wheat.  This suggests to me that there could have been significant changes in wheat and that is what is contributing to some of it’s problems.  However, we can not reach that conclusion based on the anecdotal evidence of one person.

Then we get into the part where he starts to imply outright that these modified crops are dangerous for us to eat.  He references a studied that showed animals fed Roundup Ready soybeans were founded to have alterations in several important organ tissues. He is correct that these organ systems do show microscopic changes, but it is important to remember that, “No differences have been found between GTS and its conventional counterparts in animal growth parameters, organ weight, and appearance” (Magana 10).  These microscopic changes could still be dangerous but it is important for us to consider everything together.  What my conclusion is based on the study as a whole is that GMO’s may be dangerous, but there is not substantive evidence to make that claim.

After reading this chapter for the third time and considering the supporting evidence I can support Dr. Davis’ statement that GMO’s need to be more thoroughly screened before they are included in human diets.  There is not strong enough evidence for me to believe they are dangerous, however it is important to consider their potential impact when looking at their societal value.

References:

Magaña-Gómez, Javier A., and Ana M Calderón De La Barca. “Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Crops for Nutrition and Health.” Nutrition Reviews 67.1 (2009): 1-16. Web.
Shewry, P. R. “Wheat.” Journal of Experimental Botany 60.6 (2009): 1537-553. Web.
Song, Xiao, Zhongfu Ni, Yingyin Yao, Yinhong Zhang, and Qixin Sun. “Identification of Differentially Expressed Proteins between Hybrid and Parents in Wheat (Triticum Aestivum L.) Seedling Leaves.” Theor Appl Genet Theoretical and Applied Genetics 118.2 (2008): 213-25. Web.

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