Wheat is an opiate

Although it is a central premise of the whole Wheat Belly argument, I fear that some people haven’t fully gotten the message:

Modern wheat is an opiate.

And, of course, I don’t mean that wheat is an opiate in the sense that you like it so much that you feel you are addicted. Wheat is truly addictive.

Wheat is addictive in the sense that it comes to dominate thoughts and behaviors. Wheat is addictive in the sense that, if you don’t have any for several hours, you start to get nervous, foggy, tremulous, and start desperately seeking out another “hit” of crackers, bagels, or bread, even if it’s the few stale 3-month old crackers at the bottom of the box. Wheat is addictive in the sense that there is a distinct withdrawal syndrome characterized by overwhelming fatigue, mental “fog,” inability to exercise, even depression that lasts several days, occasionally several weeks. Wheat is addictive in the sense that the withdrawal process can be provoked by administering an opiate-blocking drug such as naloxone or naltrexone.

But the “high” of wheat is not like the high of heroine, morphine, or Oxycontin. This opiate, while it binds to the opiate receptors of the brain, doesn’t make us high. It makes us hungry.

This is the effect exerted by gliadin, the protein in wheat that was inadvertently altered by geneticists in the 1970s during efforts to increase yield. Just a few shifts in amino acids and gliadin in modern high-yield, semi-dwarf wheat became a potent appetite stimulant.

Wheat stimulates appetite. Wheat stimulates calorie consumption: 440 more calories per day, 365 days per year, for every man, woman, and child. (440 calories per person per day is the average.) We experience this, sense the weight gain that is coming and we push our plate away, settle for smaller portions, increase exercise more and more . . . yet continue to gain, and gain, and gain. Ask your friends and neighbors who try to include more “healthy whole grains” in their diet. They exercise, eat a “well-balanced diet” . . . yet gained 10, 20, 30, 70 pounds over the past several years. Accuse your friends of drinking too much Coca Cola by the liter bottle, or being gluttonous at the all-you-can-eat buffet and you will likely receive a black eye. Many of these people are actually trying quite hard to control impulse, appetite, portion control, and weight, but are losing the battle with this appetite-stimulating opiate in wheat.

Ignorance of the gliadin effect of wheat is responsible for the idiocy that emits from the mouths of gastroenterologists like Dr. Peter Green of Columbia University who declares:

“We tell people we don’t think a gluten-free diet is a very healthy diet . . . Gluten-free substitutes for food with gluten have added fat and sugar. Celiac patients often gain weight and their cholesterol levels go up. The bulk of the world is eating wheat. The bulk of people who are eating this are doing perfectly well unless they have celiac disease.”

In the simple minded thinking of the gastroenterology and celiac world, if you don’t have celiac disease, you should eat all the wheat you want . . . and never mind about the appetite-stimulating effects of gliadin, not to mention the intestinal disruption and leakiness generated by wheat lectins, or the high blood sugars and insulin of the amylopectin A of wheat, or the new allergies being generated by the new alpha amylases of modern wheat.

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242 Responses to Wheat is an opiate

  1. NaNcY says:

    so… let me get this straight..??? Gliadin(amino acid) is an glycoprotein..that was once healthy..but now ,because of altering (for profit) has become an addictive, genetic, super carb “Frankengrain”.

    Isn’t mucin, found in the mucus of the respiratory and digestive track, a glycoprotein?? sugars attach to mucins giving them super water holding capacity…increased mucin production is seen in MANY adenocarcinomas..???? is there, could there be, a mucin and gliadin connection ???

    • Dr. Davis says:

      You raise a fascinating question with the connection of wheat and various adenocarcinomas.

      I don’t have an answer, NaNcY, but I predict that wheat consumption will in future prove to be an extravagant cause of gastrointestinal cancers, adenocarcinomas and otherwise.

  2. JackyB says:

    Very interesting, I’d love to read more about this as I am involved in addiction research, could you please point me towards some of the scientific literature? I can’t find much.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      You will find most of the essential references in the references list for chapter 4 in the Wheat Belly book, Jacky.

      This area desperately needs more exploration. My prediction: The connection between food (and perhaps other) addictions and wheat will be the most powerful preventable/treatable cause ever uncovered in this area.

  3. Luvs2paint says:

    I’m confused I don’t know if spelt or teff are gluten free? I’ ve gotten some mixed information. I would appreciate your input.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Spelt is most definitely NOT gluten-free, as it is wheat in an older form.

      Teff is gluten-free, but not entirely benign if eaten in large enough quantities, e.g., more than 1/2 cup at a time.

  4. JoeG says:

    You wrote “gliadin in modern high-yield, semi-dwarf wheat became a potent appetite stimulant.” Is the problem only this new species of semi-dwarf wheat, or all wheat species? Do the species of wheat unchanged from 100 years ago also have an addictive effect? Would a person be able to make bread from the pre-1960 species of wheat and avoid the appetite stimulant effect? It seems all the wheat related health problems started with the consumption of the modern high-yield, semi-dwarf wheat.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      As you can imagine, Joe, there are limited studies of the effects, say, of Red Fife wheat grown in the 1800s, as there were no biochemical nor genetic analyses of these strains, nor were the effects of their consumption studied in humans.

      It is likely that the older forms of gliadin did not stimulate appetite to the degree that modern wheat does, but they likely did share at least some of this tendency. While obesity and gluttony were far less common in the 19th century or other ages, it still did exist and was largely due to overconsumption of “rich desserts” and the like.

  5. Rev. Christine D. Barton says:

    Dr. Davis, this is my fifth day of withdrawal–I am having a terrrible time but am hanging with it. Am eating your flaxseed recipe for morning meal. Eggs, meat, chicken, lots of salad including the avocados, cheese green peppers, cukes etc. for other meals .Today am Have a lot of brain fog, more weakness, etc.
    Have opthalmologist appontment tomorrow for followup on cataract extraction and soft lense implant surgery which took place one week ago. A friend is drivng me but I am really feeling not well. Please tell me this is going to get better soon.
    Maybe it was not a good time to do this but I had to make the leap. I ended up in ER last month because of falling down in middle of night and a raft of other symptoms including hordrible tinnitus and some bladdder continuence issues, m ost of which which they blamed on Labyrinthitis. Now after reading your book I know better!!
    Do not eat a lot of mufins, cakes etc. Have been eating “good for you” whole grains faithfully every day including “real oatmeal” for the last couple of years. I am 71 they caught up with me.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Five days is pushing the outer limits, so hang in there!

      You may be in the final phase and then you feel wonderful. But it demonstrates to you just how awful this thing was in the first place.

      • Rev. Christine D. Barton says:

        Dr. Davis: Thank you for responding so quckly–it is highly encouraging. Cheerleading is a great motivator. I am feeling better this a.m. and looking forward to the future.
        Wish I could share this with everyone I know but as you know people do not wish to hear the truth. As a retired pastor there have been a great number of seniors in the churches I have served who have been symptomatic of wheatbelly syndrome and two in their 90′s right now who are in pathetic shape.
        However, have spoken to a few folk who are aware of the problems associated with the whole grain craze. Now if I can only convince my Primary Care Phys. who is normally cutting edge but when I mentioned this last week he said “but we NEED whole grains.” Cannot wait to give him my copy of your book with all of the highlight marks re: the chemistry etc. That will turn him on!!
        My spelling is better today, that must be a good sign!!
        Thank you for this great gift of health you are offering to millions of people.

  6. Chris says:

    Dr. Davis,

    Ive been trying your wheat free lifestyle but today I realized that the beer I drink is derived from barley and rye, but fermented…

    I need a list of foods that might be problematic like this; for instance, is vinegar derived from wheat products?

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  8. Sally Ellis says:

    This is an interesting idea, but I can’t find anything in the published scientific literature to support it. Can you provide some publicly-available references (other than reading your book!).

    • Dr. Davis says:

      The relevant references are listed in the 16 pages of studies, Sally, in the back of the book. You can find the studies on PubMed.gov.

  9. Stephan Otto says:

    Dr. Davis,

    Thank you for writing such an important book. Do you have any plans to turn it into a documentary, in a similar vein to “Forks over Knives”, “Hungry for Change” etc.? This material seems very well-suited for such a treatment and having this vital information in such a medium would really help expand its reach to many more thousands of people.


    • Dr. Davis says:

      I agree, Stephan.

      We have had a number of discussions, but nothing yet concrete leading to funding, distribution, etc.

      I believe this is something we HAVE to do, just waiting for the right people and time.

  10. richard says:

    3 weeks ago I made the leap into eliminating grains from my diet. I have not transgressed after that time. Now I am depressed. Feel like crying. No motivation. Physically feel better, although not terrific. I hope this section of recovery ends soon. It sneaks up on you from seemingly from no-where until you realize that you/I have made a major diet change.

  11. richard says:

    Rough day. I think things caught up with me: tired, spacey, angry, out of sorts, anxious. Just feel like I am really ill. Muscles are very tired and cramping. Need to get through this as I know the other side will be the reward. Amazing what things like wheat and sugar can do to you.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Yes, it is quite sobering to realize how profoundly modern wheat affects both mind and body, Richard!

  12. Mary says:


    thank you for your work. Please, could you tell me what you know about barley ? I’ve heard that it is an old form of grain which has not been manipulated.

    Thank you

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Two issues, Mary:

      1) Immune cross-reactivity to the gluten of wheat, an issue for some people,

      2) High carbohydrate load, sufficient to mess with blood sugars.

  13. Susan says:

    Dr. Davis,
    I have only been following the wheat free lifestyle since Monday, and yesterday afternoon, I got extremely tired, had the chills and a headache. Everyone is telling me that I have the flu, but I am not feeling sick in that way. could these symptoms be some form of wheat withdrawl?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Yup. You are withdrawing from the opiate in wheat, gliadin.

      Everyone survives! And life gets much, much better.

  14. Tricia says:

    Dr Davis

    Just started wheat free 3 days ago my eyes feel sore and dry and splitting headache. Is this withdrawal s from wheat? Also very thirsty..

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Yes, it can indeed be a form of withdrawal from the opiate in wheat.

      Many people partially blunt some of these annoying symptoms with hydration, salting food, and adding magnesium malate, 1200 mg, twice per day.

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  16. Jim Delaney says:

    I am on day 6 and the 2 things I have noticed most are reduced cravings and reduced appetite.
    It is a little easier to make sound choices in food.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Yes, that is among the most critical of effects!

      This is why cutting calories, for instance, is so difficult: You are still exposed to the appetite-stimulant called wheat!

  17. Jill Shapiro says:

    I am on the fifth day of your plan and have experienced diminished food cravings and become easily filled up with normal portions of food. However, today I have had explosive bowels….five times so far. Is this a withdrawal effect that you have observed in others? Many thanks for your generosity in answering these questions.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      It is much less common than constipation, but both likely develop from transitions in bowel flora. Both situations seem to respond to high-potency probiotics, e.g., 50 billion CFUs per day for several weeks.

      It’s also possible that an inadvertent wheat exposure was to blame, what I call a wheat re-exposure reaction, very similar to food poisoning.

  18. Tricia says:

    Dr Davis

    Eliminated wheat a week ago I had a question about my stools. They are a yellow color does this mean anything to you? Only since I stopped eating wheat.


  19. richard says:

    Dr. Davis,
    Thank you so much for writing the Wheat Belly book.
    I have survived the period of time that I wrote about on November the 13th. Feeling much, much better. The amazing aspect of what you wrote about in your book and what I am now experiencing is the loss of girth; much more than just pounds as I have lost pounds before and did not lose girth. I say that but I am now almost 20 pounds lighter than when I started approx. 1.5 months ago. I have some of the largest salads and helpings of veggies I have ever eaten along with good sized portions of meat, chicken and fish. The hunger is gone. I eat two meals a day and snack on nuts or celery and nut butter. Just amazing.
    I feel so much better and with a great deal more energy. Still, at times, I know that I am recovering from the grain mania as I just don’t feel right. I am not discouraged though because you noted that each of us may have a different healing period. It sure felt good to have to buy 2 new pairs of pants.

    • James says:

      Re pair of pants:

      I did not have to buy new pairs, I just use my older ones, those that I could not fit in any longer. They were not worn out at all and I spared a lot of money! :D

      It’s great to hear about your success! I have lost 20lbs in 8 weeks as well, in spite of my slim frame! I should weigh ideally around 145 lbs but I was at ~ 170!

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Hmmm. Love that “grain mania” phrase, Richard! I’m going to have to borrow that from you!

  20. JJ says:

    Dr Davis,
    I know sugar is causing inflammation in my body and I always thought I had a sugar addiction. I would crave for chocolate cakes, and other rich deserts. Now I have been doing Wheat free for about a month and I have no desire to eat any deserts at all! This is truly amazing! Now i have connected the dots, there is not going back! Thank you!