This is your brain on wheat

There is so much more to wheat’s effects than gluten intolerance. Among the most darkly fascinating (and creepy) are the effects of wheat on the human brain.

Wheat’s effects can show up as difficulty concentrating or behavioral outbursts in a child, anxiety, rage, mania, and depression. It can lead to treating the effects of a bran muffin or chocolate chip cookie with psychoactive drugs, psychotherapy, counseling, even institutionalization. Wheat can disrupt families, relationships, marriages, careers.

A reader, Alysha, posted this telling comment in this blog, a graphic illustration of wheat-induced emotional struggles until she figured out the source: wheat.

Wheat had always been a staple of my diet. Fresh baked bread from the oven is a fond childhood memory of mine. As I got older and the weight started to add on… I tried various diets as is standard for most women. My doctor recommended “The South Beach Diet.” For the first time in my life… I went 6 weeks without any processed food and NO WHEAT. I could believe how much better I felt. Like a fog I never knew existed had been lifted. More energy, upbeat and a general feeling of clear headedness was an amazing reward for a few weeks on a diet. I had horrid dreams though… about the perfect turkey sandwich with the stuffing crammed into the white bread and smothered in gravy. I could almost taste it. But I fought off the cravings.

Then I decided to reward myself for my hard work. I had a sandwich. Within 24 hours I was screaming at my husband because he had phrased a sentence the “wrong way.” I was livid at him. It took a few months of playing with my diet to discover it was wheat that was causing the reaction. I’d feel euphoric for about an hour and then… crash and burn. The longer I live without wheat in my system the harder I crash when I am “dosed” with it. I have found myself wanting to commit suicide because life was too horrid to continue on after some mustard containing wheat was spread on one corn tortilla wrap. I have picked up furniture and tried to throw it through a picture window because I could not find my white bra after having a meatball containing wheat.

My friends don’t really believe that these reactions are… un-exaggerated. Until a recent camping event in which some pasta was mixed in with a rice dish. I vomited out lunch as soon as it was discovered… and then got very very drunk in order to make it easier for my husband to deal with freak-out that we both knew was coming. Within a 4 hour period, I went from being happy and easy going to a full blown panic attack and being unable to breath because I had been crying and screaming so much that my nostrils had sealed themselves shut. I spent 4 days craving pizza so bad I couldn’t leave the house without supervision. Now they won’t feed me anything without checking the packaging 3 times over.

Wheat f—s with my head to such a degree I can not ingest any into my blood stream. I am an extreme case of the symptoms you describe. Minus the few notable accidental wheat dosages above I have been living wheat free for over 5 years. While I am wheat free, my moods are fairly level and any emotional spikes can be traced to an actual cause. While I was living with wheat as a constant in my diet, I would flare up in anger over slight provocations. I would be depressed without reason and just start crying. My mother (who refuses to be wheat free) has the same issues. She won’t give up wheat even with me proving how much my life improved.

The next time a friend of mine doubts that anyone could possible react in such an extreme measure to a food product… I’ll be pointing them at your book. I haven’t read it yet, as I just discovered this tonight… but I will be reading it. Thank you for giving me some science to hand to my friends to prove that I’m not crazy… I’m a recovering drug addict.


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69 Responses to This is your brain on wheat

  1. Nancy says:

    As of today, I have been wheat-free for 12 weeks. I feel incredible – energetic, no more brain fog, have lost 14 pounds. Today, the staff where I worked seemed “off”. About two hours after the work day began I learned that donuts had been brought in. They didn’t tell me because they know I don’t eat them. They always give me that “I’m so sorry” look. It was interesting to see the effects the sugar and bread had on each of them. It was as if each of them were in a fog; unable to accurately do their jobs and they seemed irritable. I think about how I too was affected this way all the years I ate everytime donuts and cake were available in the office. I am thankful to have found Wheatbelly and I don’t plan on ever going back.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Wow, interesting to observe the fish from the outside of the tank, Nancy!

      Scary stuff, isn’t it, once you understand?

      • Nancy says:

        Definitely. I struggle with not sounding like an elitist when it comes to food, but I want to share with people what I am experiencing. (I have a Paleo friend that gets on everyone’s nerves :) Several friends have noticed my weight loss and asked what I am doing. That has allowed me to share what I have learned via your book. One friend let me know yesterday she is down a couple of pounds after only 4 days of eliminating wheat. I am enjoying hearing and seeing others’ success. Thanks again!

  2. Sandy Saulters says:

    Dr. Davis, thank you so much for your books! Here is my story, 4 and 1/2 years ago I had ovarian cancer. I have been healed from it and so very grateful! 2 and 1/2 years ago I had a heart attack, which I feel came because of the chemo, but I also had gained a lot of weight. I was put on a lot of drugs which I have never like drugs. This whole heart attack problem ended up as a blessing in disguise. I started exercising since then, I lift weights, and do cardio, and it also led me to a new cardiologist, who took me off of wheat! He took me off all my meds, and put me on a “Caveman” diet. I started to read all the books I could find on the Paleo diet, and wheat free diets. I now use my Paleo cookbooks and your cookbook daily. with your cookbook my husband and I use cheese, which I like. Also I still eliminate corn, beans, all grains, sugars and rice. I never used any of the gluten free products because my doctor told me they were not good. I am writing this in the brain effects column because it just dawned on me that after my chemo I told my doctor that my memory was very bad, and I couldn’t come up with the words that I wanted to say most all the time. He said maybe I needed to have a brain scan, which I thought was uncalled for and thought it was just the chemo. But I now remember I had this years before the chemo. Now that I am wheat free I don’t have these problems anymore. My husband had brain fog very badly and now he is much better along with his acid reflux. He is also losing his wheat belly. I have a lot more stamina lifting weights at the gym. I did have withdrawals when I first eliminated the wheat, no energy was my biggest problem. I did go off of the Caveman diet for about 6 weeks, during a vacation, and I seemed to gain my belly back right away! Even though I was still exercising! So I went back on it, then I found your two books, and my husband has joined me and we are both very happy and healthy! Thanks again!

  3. Erik says:

    My mom is now 85 and in the last, terminal stage of Alzheimer’s disease.
    So here’s what happened and I am sure many of my generation will have a very similar story to tell:
    My dad died of a heart attack in 2002. Mom went through a phase of withdrawal but still did her yoga group, she took care of the garden, listened to a lot of music and kept up well for the next 5 years.
    By 2008 she told me that she did not like to cook any more. That was a surprise because she had always loved her cuisine especially cooking healthy stuff, veggies, fish, tofu and so on.
    From that day on, she had ONLY “healthy whole grain” bread with butter, and the odd bit of cheese – three times per day. Her health, physical and mental, started to deteriorate dramatically. She was diagnosed with mid-level Alzheimer in June that same year. She continued on with her lifestyle and diet and by the end of the year suffered complete mental and physical breakdown. She was taken to hospital and after recovering, she was transferred to a special care unit inside the local retirement home.

    I used to look at her illness from a psychological perspective – she had complicated grief and did not manage to start a new life after being widowed. That is certainly a factor and can lead to depression and other things.
    But today I am also looking at a nutritional aspect and I am convinced that the “healthy whole grain diet” sent her down the path of that awful disease that destroyed her over five long years.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Sadly, Erik, there’s little to do about the path your Mom inadvertently followed.

      But she gave you a great gift: She showed you what happens when the wrong path is chosen. She therefore showed you how you can minimize the possibility of following this same path. This was a priceless gift.

      • Erik says:

        Mom passed away last Saturday, in peace. God rest her soul now.

        Watching her transformation from a healthy, positive person to a helpless shadow of herself, over the course of five years, created great suffering.
        I am sure I know what caused, or accelerated that.
        You are right, that is a priceless gift but it came at a very high price.

        • Neicee says:

          Erik, I’m so sorry for your loss but most of all how your mother left this world. Every friend I have is dealing with an aged parent (or both) with debilitating diseases or conditions. The curtains are closing on my own MIL and some days she’s just not there. Her diet is horrible, but the nursing home staff reminds us when we show concern that sweets or things that convert to sugar are the foods of choice for the aged. And they’ll keep them happy at all cost.

      • LILLIAN PORTER says:

        But Dr. Davis..
        Haven’t some researchers called Alzheimers “diabetes of the brain”? Even vascular dementia might be attributed to diet.
        Would you comment on that and on the following, please: In the last years of my nursing career I worked in a psych crisis stabilization unit and a jail. (In these places, if you didn’t like the meal du jour, you got a processed cheese sandwich or peanut butter sandwich – both made with white bread). I noticed, particularly with schizoaffective patients, that psychotic episodes were more frequent and severe than in insulin dependent diabetics.

        • LILLIAN PORTER says:

          Dr. Davis,
          An amendment for the last sentence regarding schizoaffective patients – please omit the word “than”

        • Boundless says:

          > Haven’t some researchers called Alzheimers “diabetes of the brain”?

          It’s a core theme in Dr. Permutter’s book “Grain Brain”. Not that he specifically endorses the phrase, but that they have a common origin.

  4. Karon says:

    I am 48, and I have had migraines since I was about 4. I was told all of my life that it was just genetic and there was nothing that I could really do about it. I also had little bumps on the back of my arms, legs and tush. The only time these issues cleared up was when I was pregnant. I didn’t make the connection between a lowered immune system and no headaches and clear skin. Right after having my daughter, I developed scalp eczema. Over the next few years, it spread – down my neck, onto my face, ears, arms, legs. I’ve also been lucky enough to have both eczema and psoriasis. In January 2013, I decided to cut wheat out of my diet. I had been tested for celiac disease, and I was told it was not an issue for me; however, I felt that it might be part of the problem. I had tried to go gluten free before, but I would only give it about 3-4 days. It takes at least 6 weeks to see a major improvement. After 6 weeks going wheat free (and gluten free), my scalp was about 80% healed and my migraines improved about the same – 80%. It has now been almost three months, and my eczema is almost completely healed. I still have a little dry skin – but not bad. My migraines are almost non-existent. The skin on my arms, legs, and tush are smooth as silk. Now I do have to add that I eat a pretty healthy diet – no processed foods, no red meat, minimal sugar and minimal caffeine (gotta have a little morning java). People try and tempt me to eat pasta or cake that contain wheat, but after feeling this good, why would I do that to myself? I can tell when I eat at restaurants if flour has been used in a sauce. I get a fierce migraine, and I remember what my life was like a few months ago. Other benefits – I have a crazy amount of energy, and I have no more brain fog. It is amazing how removing wheat has improved the quality of my life!

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Great, Karon!

      You can see why it is so overly simplistic to view wheat as simply a vehicle for gluten–it is SO many other things responsible for an incredible array of health problems!

      I’m glad that you have found the answer!

  5. Suzanne France says:

    Dear Dr Davies,

    Thank you so much or revealing the truth about wheat!

    My daughters (3) all had digestive problems from about 7 weeks old. It was evenyually put down to milk and lactose intollerance and was told to stop breastfeeding as more lactose is found in breastmilk than in cows’ milk. They were all put on special formula milk dairy and soya free. They all struggle with diarrhea, farting all smelling awful. They also experienced poor weight gain. This got worse by age 2 but kept being told it was toddlers’ diarrhea and there was nothing that could be done.

    My eldest daughter (4) was finally referred to a Gastroenterologist 8 weeks ago after repeat visits to my GP. I finally had enough of the GP saying it was just one of those things, especially after my daughter asked for a baloon, a piano and something for her tummy pain last Christmas.

    They suggested to cut out soya which helped a little. As it did not help much she was booked for a gastroscopy and endoscopy under GA. Thankfully it never came to that. I invited a couple from our new church over for Sunday lunch and they looked a bit uncomfortable. They started to explain they would like to but they do not eat wheat and carbs and it might be tricky to cook for them. I asked them more and they gave me your name and the title of your book. I knew I had to look into it as they both looked very healthy but claimed to have weight alot in the past. I asked to postpone the gastroscopy and endoscopy saying I wanted to try a wheat free diet. Thankfully the Doctor agreed to this and we now have a follow up appointment in May instead. I am sure this will be enough time to see improvements!

    I tried Wheat Belly out myself first and was suprised by the effects it had on me, no more mood swings, no more food cravings in fact the girls had to remind of snack and lunch time, my brain fog I never knew I had cleared up, have lots more energy and lovely deep sleeps! I then lost 8 kg in 2 weeks and was no longer a slave to food, what a freedom! In the mean time I learned how to make alternative bread, biscuits and cakes to make the transition for my daughters easier.

    My two eldest daughters are now wheat free too for the last 3 days and the farting has reduced dramatically, my 2 year olds nappy looks far more normal, she has also stopped telling me he is hungry every 5 minutes and have not heard any complains about tummy ache from my 4 year old! I am very grateful to have found out this information and that my girls are young enough to get used to it. My baby will have a complete wheat free start in life when she starts weaning!

    God bless you Dr Davies!

  6. Catherine Mc Verry Dublin Ireland says:

    Dear dr Davis:
    I read your book – as I am just recovering from a thyroid problem which caused me to put on weight- I was still puzzled (after mostly getting this under control, without medication, I still wasn’t losing weight- and my stomach often bloated up (I had problem with intestinal Candida caused by too many antibiotics- yet I was still bloating after getting rid of this.) A nutritionalist suggested I almost certainly had an allergy. I had moved from N Ireland to Republic of Ireland- ROI fluoridates the water- NI does not.
    I realised that my thyroid problem only started after moving to ROI- this vanished when I stopped drinking the tap water. However I still had bloating- and a Polish woman told me she and her friends could not eat the bread here with tap water but were Ok when they switched to bottled water. I then found connection between fluoridation, hypothyroidism and gluten- it seem fluoridation causes many serious disorders.
    I found your book when I was looking up the dangers of gluten and read it all.
    I have no hypothyroidism after stopping tap water- and no bloating after stropping gluten. Also 5 yrs ago I moved to ROI (a heavily fluoridated country). Severe tiredness and weight gain started -Later found this was thyroid problem, now under control. But in a vague way, I noticed although I have a very good memory I stopped dreaming at night. Four months ago I stopped gluten: i slept very heavily for the next two nights- and suddenly began having very vivid dreams very frequently, which i always remembered. Also I had cystitis which lasted over a week- I think this may have been a detox reaction. (I Only Ever had cystitis once before- 25 yrs ago- in mild way which only lasted a few days). I found all this amazing- especially the return of vivid dreams after 4-5 of having none.
    I have no bloating now- but I am a little over weight- no more than about 14 pounds- it s legacy of a former thyroid problem and I will just have to exercise it off- BUT your book was very interesting and helpful
    _if stopping wheat did so much for my brain and memory what will that do for the rest of me.