Do you have food poisoning?

Okay. Now it’s time to fess up.

Did you have a wheat indulgence–intentional or inadvertent–over the Christmas holiday? I’m now hearing about the aftermath of those “Oh, come on, just one gingerbread cookie!” indulgences. Or the wheat flour exposure from the “gluten-free” pie or cake made by your well-intended aunt or daughter-in-law.

People tell me about their cramps, gas, and diarrhea that started within minutes to hours afterwards, gastrointestinal effects that usually last 24-48 hours, occasionally longer. And it’s often a crampy, watery diarrhea, similar to that experienced after tainted chicken or contaminated produce. Yes, the cramps, gas, and diarrhea that result from wheat re-exposure after a period of abstinence resembles food poisoning.

Why would an innocent gingerbread cookie or slice of rhubarb pie cause such gastrointestinal disruption, no E coli or salmonella in sight?

Surprisingly, this exceptionally common situation has not been studied. So I’ll have to speculate. It might be the lectin of wheat, wheat germ agglutinin, that is indigestible. Wheat germ agglutinin enters the small intestine and, in effect, “unlocks” the normal intestinal barriers to foreign substances, causing intestinal “leakiness.” While it allows the entry of foreign substances into the bloodstream (leading to inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis), could there also be increased irritation and fluid loss that results in the food poisoning-like syndrome?

Wheat also disrupts the normal intestinal bacteria that reside in your small intestine and colon. Wheat-consuming people develop different bacteria in their gut, e.g., fewer bifidobacteria and more clostridia species. The wheat-free therefore experience a shift in gut bacteria over time. Does reintroduction of wheat cause abrupt disruption of intestinal bacteria, unleashing a barrage of bacterial breakdown products?

Whatever the cause, the cause-effect association is clear: Have a wheat indulgence after being wheat-free, and be prepared for a couple of days of intestinal turmoil not unlike having a hamburger at the fast food joint handled by the kid who failed to wash his hands after using the toilet. Just picture that in your mind the next time you are contemplating whether the pretzel or cookie is worth it.

This entry was posted in Gastrointestinal effects of wheat, Re-exposure syndromes. Bookmark the permalink.

140 Responses to Do you have food poisoning?

  1. Barb says:

    I have a question . My husband and I have not had the stomach flu for several years but I would just like to be prepared if this winter it comes our way. I remember ginger ale and saltine crackers being the stomach soothers. What would we eat now in place of the saltine crackers to sooth a nauseous stomach?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      First of all, Barb, if you have corrected vitamin D deficiency, viral infections nearly become a thing of the past. I haven’t had one in years. I supplement 8000 units per day of an oil-based gelcap form and aim to maintain 25-hydroxy vitamin D between 60-70 ng/ml.

      There is nothing magical about saltine crackers. You can substitute anything light, e.g., light cheese, scrambled eggs, some chocolate chip cookies (from the Wheat Belly recipe), etc. And, in place of ginger ale, light teas or infusions.

  2. Barb says:

    Thankyou Dr. Davis for answering what seems like an unimportant question in the scheme of things. I know I speak for all of us who read your blogs when I tell you how much we appreciate what you have done through your book, your blogs, and your responses to our questions. Regarding vitamin D, a recent article in a Readers Digest publication on vitamins says consuming more than 2,000 units a day can cause heart palpitations and other problems. We have been taking 3,000 and were thinking of increasing that. Not sure what to do. Also, an interesting article in the New York Times today talks about how the body adapts to weight loss by needing less calories to maintain that weight loss while increasing cravings for food….all in an attempt to get you back to the preweight loss state. Their research suggests a genetic link that has something to do with food choices but they don’t understand that link. It seems to me that what you have learned about wheat shows that wheat consumption is a primary factor. Why aren’t they considering that? We have no cravings…. Had no difficulties avoiding wheat filled cookies while making Christmas cookies with our grandchildren…. No cravings for the first time in my lifetime of more than 60 years! That feeling continues to amaze me! One challenge we were having was what to do about eating when on a day trip. We have found a solution. It only takes a couple of minutes to prepare a bag of food to take with us: homemade almond and chick pea flour cheddar crackers spread with almond butter, Kind bars, cheese sticks, and an aplple or partially green banana (they are starch resistant and have no effect on my blood sugar as compared to ripe bananas that do raise my blood sugar). The extra benefit is that we are saving lots of money and time by not eating in a restaurant…. Money that we can then spend on buying organic. I’ve had lots of people ask me if this wheat belly eating plan is more expensive…a concern for us seniors on a fixed income. It is actually turning out to be cheaper for us.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Excellent, Barb! Yes, wheat is the driver of appetite. Studies that show that weight loss is only temporary and we are all resigned to being fat for life is utter nonsense. If this were true, humans would have been fat throughout history. Of course they were not.

      The bit with vitamin D is that atrial fibrillation, as well as other toxic effects, develop when you have potentially toxic levels of vitamin D (100 ng/ml or greater). I aim to achieve a level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D of 60-70 ng/ml, similar to a nice tan. We do not see any atrial fibrillation doing this.

      In fact, I’ll say that, if you choose to do only two things for your health, it would be 1) eat no wheat ever, and 2) correct your vitamin D deficiency.

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  4. Erin says:

    I have a quick question. After just starting your book I eliminated wheat on a whim. I did great for 3 or 4 days. However, I didn’t plan it very well as we had company and my birthday in the middle of it. So I decided I would just eat what everyone else was for the next couple of days and then go back to no wheat. Pretty much the day after I added wheat back in I started having diarrhea, but only in the mornings (after coffee). I ate wheat for probably 4 days and now have been off wheat for the past 4 days. The diarrhea is getting worse and I have horrible cramping. I also started using half & half in my coffee instead of whole milk. I thought that might be the problem, but still cramping and diarrhea. So it has been a total of 7 days of diarrhea. Is this something I should be concerned about?
    Please help.

  5. Samantha says:

    My daughter had been off of wheat for about 7 days, before I read Wheat Belly, because I suspected that wheat may have been causing gas and acne for her. We went on a field trip with school, and she decided to eat the pizza. She kept exclaiming that she was still hungry, despite two pieces of pizza and watermelon, likely due to the effect on blood sugar. By that evening, her face was full of hives and burning. It took 3 days for her face to be back to normal. I had just began reading Wheat Belly, and I am grateful that Dr. Davis discussed how a person can have a reaction after they cut wheat out, because it has been a problem all along. I am sorry my daughter had to experience this, but now she is quite happy not eating any wheat products with her friends.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Just gotta learn from these experiences, Samantha!

      Wheat is a poison. When you’ve stopped consuming it, a re-exposure typically provokes such reactions. This is why meticulous avoidance is so important.

  6. Yvy says:

    I’m half way done reading the book and I started eliminating wheat from my diet about 7 days ago. Two days ago I ate a nugget from my son’s plate. That is the only possible wheat I can think of that I consumed. I’ve had watery diarrhea for 2 days now. I cannot hold anything down without going to the bathroom right away. What should I be eating while my stomach settles? I don’t want to go to my doctor because I know they will tell me to eat the BRAT diet and I don’t want to start eating wheat again. Also, what do I do to replenish electrolytes? Is it okay to drink Pedialyte?

    Needless to say I am convinced that the little bit of wheat in the nugget breading caused this effect.
    Any advise or help is greatly appreciated.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Awful, Yvy!

      Try (wheat-free) broths and light soups, other liquids such as thinned coconut milk, teas, as well as water. Hydration is key, nutrition secondary.

  7. Marcy Grafton says:

    I went off wheat for over 2 weeks, then when I indulged in a small amount of a wheat product I did end up with a headache the next day. Over the past weekend though, I was invited to a party. I avoided the sandwich buns but did end up giving in and had some cookies, as well a small amount of pasta and a little rum in a tropical drink. I felt very bloated when I went to bed last night, and today I have had 4 BMs, which is very unusual since I usually only have one per day. None of the BMs however, were diarrhea-like in nature. They all seemed “normal”. Could this reaction be a wheat reaction even though it was not the typical diarrhea-like response? I would love to know if anyone else has experienced this.


    • Dr. Davis says:

      Very common, in fact, Marcy.

      Among many other things, wheat is an intestinal poison. So a bit of loose stools is a common reaction to this thing.

      Make this a lesson learned: Wheat is a poison. There is no other possible explanation.

      • Marcy says:

        Here is another question that I meant to ask..

        Why is it that several months ago when I was eating a “normal” diet with plenty of gluten and wheat-filled foods, that I could eat a lot of those gluten foods and have nothing more than some excess (yet annoying) bloating but with no other symptoms? THEN I go off wheat (and gluten) the best I can for a few weeks, re-indulge in the gluten-filled food, then have a worse reaction than before? Is that possible? Has something changed in my physiology? Or perhaps I just didn’t notice those other symptoms before?

        Thanks so much!

        • Dr. Davis says:

          You were just likely tolerant to the adverse effects, Marcy, while it wreaked low-grade destruction to your gastrointestinal tract.

          Re-exposure reawakens the entire mess.

  8. Khosla says:

    Hi. I’d like to share my experience when I left wheat for good and stayed on rice for 2 months. During the festival season lasting couple of days, I ate many things including wheat based cookies and oat meals. But I suffered from diarrhea for the next two days and vowed never to test my gluten tolerance again.
    I can’t explain what happened all of a sudden as the quantity of wheat consumed was quite less but I guess my body had by then got accustomed to a different kind of food.

  9. Larry says:

    I also read your book this past summer and decided to eliminate wheat from my diet. I’ve lost weight and my belly fat has about disappeared. I no longer have the arthritis pain which kept me from playing much golf in the past so my wheat elimination has very much benefited me.
    This Thanksgiving I decided to eat some stuffing with my dinner and less than 90 minutes later, I was violently ill. The rest of the family was fine so we’re convinced that it wasn’t bad food but a reaction to the stuffing on my part. So far I haven’t experienced diarrhea but my stomach remains a bit unsettled after nearly 48 hours. Would this be a symptom of “wheat poisoning”?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Yes, indeed, Larry: We can quite confidently liken this common re-exposure reaction to wheat to food poisoning. Interestingly, researchers who have delved into the varied effects of wheat gliadin, gluten, and wheat germ agglutinin, frequently draw parallels to the biochemistry of cholera toxin.

      Thankfully, everyone survives these re-exposures–but they are definitely not fun!

  10. Nicole McCormick says:

    HHello!!! I have a very specific problem. I went gluten-free January 2011. From January to June I lost 35lbs. In April 2011 I experienced, what seemed to be, a stomach bug but it never went away. I began to experience severe anxiety (i never had before). In August2011 i was diagnosed with colitis (unspecified nut possibly ulcerative). Then by october i became extremely depressed& started having panic attacks. I was 27 & never had anything like this happen. Now by Han 2013, im on zoloft & asacol hd but im still now healthy. Could being gluten free cause this?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      I can’t imagine how, Nicole.

      In other words, you have reverted back to the diet that you were evolutionarily adapted to follow. I suppose it might be possible that you developed a sensitivity to another food, e.g., dairy, that might have accounted for such a change.

      For a better answer than I can provide on a blog comment, I suggest obtaining the insight of a functional medicine practitioner or naturopath, not just relying on the conventional thinking of a gastroenterologist.

  11. Alan says:

    Hi Dr Davis! I’ve read your book and it is great! However, due to the severity of the effects of reintroduction of even a little bit of wheat, and the fact that it can be in such an inadvertent way, I would suggest that, if you do put out an updated version of your book, to have this fact in the front of the book, perhaps under the heading of “Read This First!”. Some readers will jump right into the wheat free diet without reading the whole book first, not knowing that somewhere down the road, when they least expect it, they could be incapacitated by the effects at the worst possible time. And the re exposure can be due to something as inadvertent as eating turkey where a wheat based oil or other ingredient may have been used in it’s preparation. Who would know?
    Other than this, I think you r book is great to have for anyone who develops a condition where the elimination of wheat is an absolute must.
    For others not in this position, but who want to lessen the effects of wheat, I would humbly suggest cutting down, rather than complete elimination of wheat from the diet. I’m not a doctor and could be wrong, but this is what I’d suggest.
    Again, great book!

    • Boundless says:

      > … severity of the effects of reintroduction …

      1. You really need to direct your complaint to the food vandals that caused your condition (Big Grain, your government’s dietary officials), and not so much to the person who relieved you of it.

      2. It’s pretty clear from remarks Dr. Davis has made about testimonials contributed here, that on publication of the original WB book, he had not yet encountered the full pantheon of ailments caused by this toxin.

      3. Consequently, he could hardly be expected to further project the spectrum of re-exposure reactions. Nonetheless, the Cookbook does have an index entry for the topic, and it’s covered in two different places. If the original WB ever gets a major revision, I’m sure re-exposure will be in it.

      > I would humbly suggest cutting down, rather than complete elimination of wheat from the diet.

      Huge mistake. It’s multiple-threat stealth toxin even when it doesn’t have immediate acute symptoms.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Noted. Thanks, Alan!

  12. Amy Crain says:

    I scanned through all the follow up posts in regards to this article..but just in case the blonde in me is missing something..can anyone clarify in laymen’s terms why it is that your body tolerates wheat for so long..although you experience : Dizzyness, sleep apnea, weight, tired all the time, depression, thyroid, heart irregularities, allergies and asthma, and then you eliminate wheat, and 7 days later, you eat something with wheat, and have to stay near a bathroom? Why hasn’t the wheat ever caused this to happen until it’s out of your system, only for a week? I’m posting this for a friend who is experiencing this. I have only experienced this once myself, and I’m remaining gluten free, but I want to be able to encourage my friend to remain gluten free even while going through this negative reaction. I told her the elimination and the release of the negative affects will far outway the “food poison” effects she’s experiencing when a little wheat gets back in. Thanks for any feedback!

    • James says:

      As far as I can tell, when you grow up with wheat products, you become “tolerant”. That is NOT to say immune, just tolerant. And all the discomfort are anyway attributed to something else. I always wondered my digestion was so chaotic, sometimes it would be fine and the next, it would be weird. There seemed to be no logic. Same with energy levels, etc, etc. Removing wheat 100% explained a few things. I ate wheat only once by accident 3 months after my weaning and I felt bad for 3 days … no longer tolerant, that’s what it is!

    • Drae says:

      Amy – the best explanation I’ve read was an analogy to two bathtubs. One is full of mud, and when you throw a little more mud into it, you don’t really see the problem. Now, the other tub is full of pristine water. You toss some mud into that tub and you will certainly notice!

      Honestly, I think the issue is you don’t know how poorly your body is running while on toxic foods until you switch your fuels to good foods. Then when you go back to the toxic fuel, you can feel it, and usually pretty quickly. I would think the negative reaction would be enough to keep your friend from wanting to go back to gluten, because that is the test. You go back to it and you feel like garbage – then you have a wheat problem! If your friend needs more support, then send them here!

      Hope this helps.

    • Boundless says:

      There are probably many reasons why re-exposure reactions are acute. Another one that comes to mind is intestinal flora. Drop wheat. Get a nice healthy population, then poison ‘em with wheat and replace them with an unhealthy population. Bam.

      At least a couple of users here have complained that they weren’t adequately warned that re-exposure reactions can be (or at least appear to be) more severe than the original afflictions. I had some remarks about that in earlier responses.

      But I can see the next Big Grain(TM) ad campaign theme now …
      “If you’re planning to kill yourself by eating our product, the process will be slightly less unpleasant if you never ever quit eating our product for any significant length of time. We own you, and don’t ever forget it.”

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Very common, I’m afraid, Amy.

      But the world of both wheat withdrawal and the common re-exposure reactions are very poorly charted out. There is probably a form of tolerance generated to the toxic effects of several wheat components that develops with long-term consumption. It all expresses itself abruptly–gliadin and wheat germ agglutinin bowel disruption especially–with an intentional or inadvertent re-exposure.

      Note that the reactions are very similar to food poisoning.

  13. Lisa says:

    Hi Dr. Davis,
    Is the same true for products made with organic wheat? I’ve been told that organic wheat is GMO free just wondering it this is true? Also, my Mom just recently had a heart attack and a friend told me about your book and getting her off of wheat. Are there any other suggestions you can give me as far as diet changes for her? Any help would be appreciated.


    • Boundless says:

      > Is the same true for products made with organic wheat?

      Yes. Avoid.
      “Organic” is pretty much the last item on the food validation checklist, right after non-GMO. It’s an important item, but only if all the other items are checked-off clear above.

      The problems with wheat, of any claimed strain or vintage, are so broad, and so deep, that you never get that far down the checklist. The difference between organic and non-organic wheat is like the difference between organic and non-organic hemlock.

      Organic wheat might have less uptake of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Those hazards are below noise level compared to the major charges on the wheat rap sheet:

      For modern wheat, we have:
      Gluten-free: fail
      Gliadin appetite-stimulation-free: fail
      Gliadin opiate-free: fail
      Gliadin intestinal porosity: fail
      Wheat germ agglutinin-free: fail
      Allergenic protein-free: fail
      Low carb: fail
      Reasonable omega3/omega6 ratio: fail
      GMO-free: it depends on how you define that
      Organic: who cares by this point :)

      • Barbara in New Jersey says:

        Priceless !!! The difference between organic and non organic hemlock????
        I am going to adopt that phrase!


        Barbara in New Jersey

        • Boundless says:

          Always insist on all-natural fair-traded free-range organic hemlock …
          … or just eat wheat;
          same outcome, although slower, more painful, and ultimately more expensive. :(

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  15. Merry Hill says:

    It has been suggested by others before me, but I would like to add my 2 cents. I think it would be really helpful to have a specific place to go on your website, to find out about possible effects of wheat reintroduction, or slip-ups that people have endured.

    I am still in disbelieve that such a severe and long-lasting reaction could be caused by the reintroduction of wheat, and that having symptoms spelled out would have helped to make it very clear. I’ve been looking everywhere for similar reactions, but find them scattered all over the site, and none that I found were specific enough to convince me completely that my slip-up caused this severe reaction. Maybe even offering a questionnaire and then categorizing location, severity, duration etc. of such events would help convince people.

    I have been suffering for 5 days after needing a pizza “fix“, after 2 months wheat free. It took me a couple of days (after my initial Dr. appointment) to connect the fact that my slip-up may have caused my very painful lower abdomen and back ache. I thought at first that it might be constipation, so, took a laxative, which did the job, I thought, but the pain remained, in the same place and intensity.

    Next, day #2, to the Dr. thinking a possible UTI, kidney stone or appendicitis, though I had no fever, vomiting or painful urination. Internal exam plus urine test both proved negative, and was sent home on Tylenol, fluids and heating-pad.

    There was no let-up until day #5 when the back ache was gone and an overall belly pain and bloating took over. Lower abdomen pain had also eased somewhat.

    Night #5 and there was a lot of gurgling going on in my belly and I suspected constipation again, so started with prune juice and took a laxative before bed.

    Again, my bowels moved, and much relief in both belly and abdomen was at hand by morning #6. I saw my Dr. again today, and he agrees with me, that it was most likely caused by my pizza fix. I do think though, that a “slip-up symptoms” page on your website would be very helpful in determining wheat related symptoms, or coincidental medical issues.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      We clearly need a FAQ section here, Merry!

      This blog will be undergoing some changes in coming months. I will be sure to add such a page, including the notion of wheat re-exposure.