Say “no” to drugs!

Tobechi posted this question about emotional and physical struggles just 2 days into his/her wheat-free experience:

It’s only the end of my second day of not eating wheat, and I have has this constant headache since I’ve stopped eating wheat products. My headache seems to be constantly getting worse, but I’m eating fruit, veggies and fish, so I’m not sure if there are any essential vitamins/nutrients I’m lacking? I’ve been having crazy cravings for cereal, bread, crackers, cake, anything with wheat! Will the cravings ever go away?

Tobechi is experiencing headache, along with cravings for wheat-containing foods. Others experience marked fatigue, nausea, and depression. A bit later in the process, constipation or, less commonly, diarrhea, can result. Could this be due to some nutritional deficiency? Is what the nutritionists say true, i.e., grains are necessary for complete nutrition and a wheat-free or grain-free diet will lead to deficiencies of B vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients?

No. Unless desperately malnourished to begin with, no nutritional deficiency will result within a day or two. Recall that, in addition to eliminating wheat, we replace the lost calories (fewer, given the removal of the appetite-stimulant, gliadin) with real, single-ingredient foods like eggs, olives, avocados, vegetables, nuts, and seeds–not candy and soft drinks. By doing so, nutrient intake is at least on a par with that of a wheat-containing diet. Fiber, likewise, is the same or increases. Interestingly, nutrient absorption is also improved minus the intestinal distorting effects of wheat (gliadin/gluten, wheat germ agglutinin, changes in bowel flora) with increased absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, folate and several others.

So, no, Tobechi: Headaches, wheat cravings, and other phenomena most definitely do NOT represent a nutritional deficiency. They represent wheat withdrawal, the collection of symptoms that result from stopping the flow of the gliadin protein in wheat.

Recall that, upon digestion, gliadin from wheat is broken down into a collection of mostly 4- and 5- amino acid polypeptides that cross the blood-brain barrier and bind to the opiate receptors of the human brain, often called “exorphins,” or endogenous morphine-like compounds. In most people, wheat exorphins generate mind “fog”; in children with ADHD and autistic spectrum disorder they cause behavioral outbursts and difficulty with learning and attention span; in people with schizophrenia they cause paranoia and auditory hallucinations; in people with bipolar illness they can trigger mania; in people with bulimia and binge eating disorder they trigger obsessive food thoughts. And when the flow of wheat-derived opiate exorphins ceases, there is opiate withdrawal.

Gastrointestinal phenomena such as constipation or diarrhea is, I believe, due to the changes in bowel flora that develop minus the destructive effects of wheat. A shift towards a healthier collection of bowel flora is required but is not immediate. Most people respond to a brief course of a high-potency probiotic for these issues.

The whole wheat withdrawal package is something experienced by 35-40% of people who stop consuming it. It generally lasts 3-5 days, though occasionally much longer. Aside from common sense efforts such as hydrating well, pampering yourself, not subjecting yourself to stressful situations, etc., I know of no way to avoid the withdrawal phenomena . . . except to grin and bear it.

The good news: You emerge on the other side of your wheat withdrawal feeling wonderful: energized, optimistic, and well on your way to beginning to experience relief from the collection of wheat-induced aches and pains like joint pain, asthma, and gastrointestinal complaints.

Wheat is a mind-active drug. Eating it distorts mentation and health. Stopping it, at least at first, disrupts mentation and health, complete with its very own withdrawal syndrome. But, like an alcoholic needs to stop drinking, the wheat-addicted individual needs to stop consuming wheat.

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94 Responses to Say “no” to drugs!

  1. Hylianux says:

    Wheat Withdrawal
    dear dr. davis, and fellow wheat-belly’ers,

    I’ve heard you mention “withdrawal-like” symptoms, but I can’t seem to get anyone close to me to take me seriously when I go through them. Inevitably, I wind up accidentally intaking wheat, and whenever I do, torment follows.

    I am wondering if my symptoms are anything like anyone else’s out there…

    Have anyone noted this in their behavior?:
    panic attacks
    increased stress and irritability
    mood swings

    First I want to state that no, I do not take any recreational drugs. I drink caffeine, and occasionally drink alcoholic beverages.

    This always happens to me when I accidentally intake wheat. My body hasn’t had wheat in a while, so it feels like when I do, I’m suddenly having an opiate relapse, much like an addict receiving their drug after 3 weeks of sobriety… I get anxious, and irritable. I tend to want to react in extreme manners, very strong and even borderline violent reactions (i.e. my reactions tend to be physical, such as banging my fist on a desk, throwing something, etc… nowhere near to the point where I feel that I’m putting anyone in any physical danger).

    I feel as though I’m going through many minor panic attacks, because I feel intensely stressed, and I want to scream, burst into tears, freak out… anything. I can’t find any satisfaction in anything I do; no amount of food, movies, games, legal drugs seem to make me feel at ease.

    I’m extremely impatient, and have to concentrate really hard in order to conduct myself in a normal manner.

    Currently, the only thing I’ve been able to do is piggy-back off of the ADHD disorder’s perk of using stimulants to calm myself down (i.e. pop caffeine pills until I achieve that Ritalin effect used to keep young ADHD kids under control). I absolutely realize this is unhealthy, but I have to get under control somehow.

    To those who are reading this, while these symptoms do sound serious (precisely why they frighten me), do not underestimate my own strength of will in self control :). I have to work harder to keep myself under control, but have had absolutely no failure in maintaining a professional appearance.

    I’m fine after about a day or two, but I’m wondering if my symptoms are like any others that have been experienced in coming down off of wheat, or an accidental intake forcing the spike and decline again.

    Ultimately, I ask you: is any of this normal?

    If this is indeed normal, then what can I do about it? I don’t mean the symptoms, I mean the problem of these drugs in wheat? While, as I said earlier, I have strong self-control, I can’t speak for everyone else. I’ve been conditioned to be very conscious of my behavior, and I can’t expect everyone to have undergone that conditioning. With wheat, and by extension, opiates, being in nearly everything we eat, I feel that my next relapse/withdrawal attack can happen by accident at almost any time. One time I suffered it by simply chewing on a piece of a Twizzler, then spitting it out when I discovered it had wheat in it. This is serious!

  2. Christine says:

    “The whole wheat withdrawal package is something experienced by 35-40% of people who stop consuming it. It generally lasts 3-5 days, though occasionally much longer. ”

    Can you go into a little bit of detail about the ‘occasionally much longer’ part? Last week I attempted to give up grain and I became extraordinarily depressed for seemingly no reason (though I quickly associated it to lack of grains after some google research led me to the ‘atkins attitude’ theory that lack of grains cause severe mood swings in some people).

    This week I am attempting once more to nix grains… and this week, like last… the withdrawal seems to be hitting as early as Day 2. Extreme lethargy, lack of motivation to do ANYTHING, depression… I even started sweating sporadically this morning for no apparent reason, followed by chills. Cold sweats! If that’s not an addiction withdrawal….

    I think I can grin and bear it if I know that there will be light at the end of the tunnel after Day 3… even Day 5… but ‘occasionally much longer’ scares me. I’m worried I won’t be able to be a functioning member of society!

    What are some of the longest cases you’ve experienced? And is a little brown rice here and there worth tapping into or should I continue to cold turkey?

    Thank you!

    • Dr. Davis says:

      The longest that I have observed is 4 weeks. Thankfully, that is very uncommon.

      It is a form of opiate withdrawal. I find it incredible that we have, in effect, an opiate addiction that drives the continued consumption of wheat, pushed on us by all official agencies, including the recent push for schoolchildren to eat more “healthy whole grains.”

      I hope this disservice that has been done to you provides sufficient resolve for you to weather this withdrawal and say “no” to their manipulation of your behavior!

  3. Helen says:

    I seem to be going through a vicious and prolonged episode of wheat withdrawal and it’s really getting me down now. It started 3 days after giving up wheat/gluten and I’m into my 6th week of headaches (every 2 days or so) and general aches and pains I’m not used to. The abdominal bloat is much improved, a prolonged poor sleep pattern is a bit better, food cravings have almost gone and I get glimpses of improved energy. I know Dr Davis says in WB book that 2-5 days withdrawal is usual, and on this blog that he has known of withdrawal lasting up to 4 weeks in rare cases. I’m doing a probiotic at 50 million CFU and magnesium citrate.
    Any advice out there, or at least encouragement to keep going on the diet?

    • Barbara in New Jersey says:

      Drink more water and add more good fats. Try Bulltproof Coffee. Google it! Make sure you use a ftother to blend the ingredients well.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      This makes me believe that prior wheat consumption really screwed something up in you, Helen, and that you are re-accommodating back to a life without this poison. If true, just allowing your body to go through this transition is all you need to do.

      However, it’s also possible that something entirely new is going on. Do you have access to a practitioner of functional medicine?

      • Helen says:

        Thanks for reply Dr Davis. For now, I will wait to see if symptoms resolve. I do think that wheat may have been causing me problems since childhood (bowel issues, bloating, tired; severe migraines as an adult ) so only 50 years of toxicity to undo!

  4. Helen says:

    Thank you Barbara. I am drinking more water and upping my intake of good fats. Googled Bulletproof coffee. Coffee is not a good idea for us migraine sufferers, and it would be taking another highly addictive substance (other than wheat). And I’m not sure how wholesome the MCT oil is. Apparently coconut oil is not a suitable substitute. Does Dr Davis endorse Bulletproof coffee?

    • Barbara in New Jersey says:


      You can add the coconut oil, butter and MCT oil to hot tea. Chai is delicious this way. Any tea will do. You can add cinnamon too. The idea is to get an extra amount of the GOOD fats into your system. Start slow and then gradually increase the amounts of oils, organic butter. Using the frother makes it a Starbuck’s like concoction. Dr. D approves of all these extra fats. Many of his recipes have coconut oil as an ingredient. The Medium Chain Triglyceride Oil is tasteless and can be used for some low heat cooking as well as in smoothies. It is more concentrated than coconut oil and not really an allergenic.
      Everyone has had difficulties with wheat/grains/sugar since childhood. You are not alone! Only recently have people like Dr. Davis actually named the culprits causing our health problems. It is never easy to “buck” the system, yet the only eventual relief from our ailments comes from not eating the grains and sugar and going against the common medical and governmental dietary advice.

      Keep up the good efforts. Going to a functional medical doctor would help if your regular doctor is unenlightened.

      • HungryinTN says:

        Not all coffee is created equally, either. A lot of cheap supermarket brands are contaminated with substances that make them much more harmful than they should be. I had very little tolerance for coffee before I gave up grains and before I learned to be more selective about my beans and spend a little more money on them. Any time I drank coffee at my boyfriend’s house or went on a Starbucks run with coworkers, I always felt jittery and anxious afterwards followed by a severe sugar crash and headache. When I’ve been a regular coffee drinker in the past, missing my morning coffee always gave me a headache and made it more difficult to function. Now, while my coffee (with the Bulletproof ingredients) makes me feel better, gives me sustained energy, and never gives me a crash or headache. But at the same time, I can do just fine without it (I had to yesterday when forced to choose between the cheap hotel coffee or going without, then had a great meeting with the mayor and city officials about their tourism development plan!). As for the MCT oil, it isn’t good for cooking, necessarily, because it oxidizes at a pretty low temp, but adding it to your coffee or anything else is a great way to keep your body burning fat for fuel.

  5. Jenny Schipae says:

    What a relief to find out what I’ve been going through is wheat-withdrawal. It’s been about 10 days since I gave up wheat, and after 3 days, I started getting a headache every day, and dizzy spells. Also, very emotional, and crying over the least little thing. I have only been sleeping a few hours at night, and when I do, I have strange dreams and nightmares. I honestly didn’t know what was happening, and considered going back to eating wheat, just to feel better!

    What a relief to know this will eventually pass. Most people would never believe this! I don’t think I would, if I hadn’t experienced it myself.


    • Dr. Davis says:

      Yup, scary stuff, Jenny!

      But it does indeed pass, thank goodness, and you will be back in control of your mind, appetite, impulses, emotions, and health!

  6. Shanda says:

    Ok, going into this I knew to expect some crazy stuff to happen to my body, but this is just crazy. I’m on day 4 and it went from very painful pressure from constipation to now I feel like I’m passing a kidney stone. I don’t feel like this is normal, or was wheat really doing that much damage. I need help!

  7. Mishi says:

    While caught up in the Cyber Monday craze, I ordered the Wheat Belly Cookbook while on sale. A few days after recieving it and skimming through various parts of the book a friend of mine invited me out to eat for my birthday. I noticed she ordered her turkey burger without a bun and I mentioned I had just recieved the WB Cookbook – this prompted an entire conversation about her past struggles with health, weight, and overall well being that were completely reversed when she went grain free about a decade ago and she agreed that elimating wheat may be a good treatment for my lifelong struggle with PCOS. The next day, Tuesday, I let go of the wheat with one final farwell snack consisting of a homemade Tortilla mid-day. Wednesday went by without much change except for a slightly odd feeling in my gut. Thursday morning, I woke up feeling like I was getting the flu and stayed home to cope with the lethargy, depression, dizziness, foggy head, body aches, headache, and moodiness alone. After consulting with my friend, she assured me this was wheat withdrawal and to just stick with it, drink lots of water, and take some sort of probiotic. I later went to the store to pick up a bottle of Kefir. I drank almost two cups worth while reading more of the WB Cookbook, fell asleep early and woke up today feeling amazing with a notable 4.5lb weight loss since Monday! However, on my way to work, the dizzyness and foggy headedness returned. I’m hopeful it won’t continue for long and am so thankful for Dr.Davis’ work and for the fact the book was on sale – I may have never thought twice about ordering it had it not been on sale, but think it’s worth every penny at full price!

  8. Nicole says:

    I’m on day five of a four-week, doctor-suggested, gluten-free trial. I’ve read WB, and I’m convinced that this will be a lifelong change. The first couple of days, I felt great. Yesterday, I had the worst headache of my life, all day long. Terrible! But trying to power through. Having my labs rechecked in a month is something to look forward to. The eleven pound weight loss is nice as well.