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.