Anatomy of a poison

There is a substantial amount of science devoted to characterizing the gliadin protein in wheat. There are thousands of versions of this molecule, varying in amino acid sequence. But there are sequences shared by most forms of gliadin proteins. (These sequences can also be found in the gluten and glutenin proteins of wheat, as well.) Gliadin has been the recipient of many of the changes in modern high-yield, semi-dwarf wheat.

What is fascinating is that many of the adverse effects of gliadin consumption in humans have been drilled down to their structural basis:

Image Fasano 2013

Note the following on the gliadin “map”:

Red = direct cytotoxic segment (intestinal cell-destroying)
Light green = immune-stimulating segment (responsible for celiac disease)
Blue = bowel permeability segment (via zonulin activation)
Dark green = inflammatory interleukin release

Also scattered about (not shown in diagram) are the 4- and 5-amino acid sequences that, when released, bind to the opiate receptors of the brain, exerting their myriad effects that differ depending on individual susceptibility (appetite-stimulation, food obsessions, anxiety, mental “fog,” paranoia, auditory hallucinations, social disengagement, behavioral outbursts, reduced concentration, sleep disruption, depression, mania).

Intestinal cell destruction, immune stimulation, intestinal permeability, inflammation, opiates . . . and that’s just one protein in modern wheat!

The full text of Dr. Fasano’s summary can be viewed here.

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. Peter Defty

    Hi Bill!
    Now come on ……that poor bashed wheat protein is just trying to keep animals from consuming it so it can do what all living things strive to do…survive and procreate even though it got dwarfed…..you think perhaps it has “Short man’s syndrome?…

    • Dr. Davis

      Ha ha!

      Hey, Peter! Yes, wheat was just minding its own business over the years, until humans tried to “improve” it for our own purposes. Mice and men and all that!

  2. wrotek

    I wonder, was there an answer given why french folks or italians are slim, beside eating wheat ?
    Because Dr Davis promised to give an answer, but i dont remember reading it.

    • Joe B

      YES. I too have this question. My Italian friend eats pasta and bread like it’s her job and she skinny as a rail.

    • Amanda

      I just know that some people don’t ever get fat. My husband is one of them, he could eat all the bread he wanted, he never gained, but he was sick as a dog. He realized that when I cleaned my kitchen and started going gluten free. Then he would buy a loaf of bread for himself, then when he was out of it, he felt better.
      Then he would continue to buy more, until eventually, he realized that that crap was killing him. He is still slim but a lot healthier, no meds.

    • Dr. Davis

      Yes, I’ve actually answered this a number of times.

      Suffice to say that both France and Italy are experiencing their own mini-epidemics of weight gain, but it seems to be far less prominent than in the U.S. likely due to 1) higher fat intake, 2) more communal meals, less taken on the run, 3) less processed junk and soft drinks, 4) aging of the dough, and 5) potential variations in the cultivars (wheat strains), including some farmers continuing to raise traditional wheat.

      Note that the French and Italians are NOT spared the other health effects of wheat consumption, including diabetes, autoimmune disease, and psychiatric illness.

      • wrotek

        Thanks Dr Davis, i am slim too and i used to eat wheat. Yesterday i tried pancake and had intestinal discomfort/pain.

    • Nobelly

      I think it is because they dont eat that much of it. I remember pasta portions in the 80s going from maybe 1 cup to about 4 cups and served in a big pasta bowl at restaurants. And everyone thiught that was healthy low fat eating – many still do.

  3. Angela Shelley

    Thanks for the visual. And may all the naysayers eventually avoid wheat – so they can see just HOW GOOD THEY FEEL!

  4. organicguy

    i am worried about companies selling wheat free gluten free products with refined white sugar /brown sugar and starches

    • Boundless

      > … worried about companies selling wheat free gluten free products
      > with refined white sugar /brown sugar and starches …

      It’s way too late to worry about that. The GF aisles have been polluted with even more horrific ingredients as long as they’ve existed: agave (fructose), honey (fructose), oats (rocket glycemic), high gly carbs generally, soy, and insufficient fats.

      The key is that consumers need to learn what to eat, and pick those things out from wherever they may be found in the store, which is rarely the GF aisle.

      It’s likely that “GF” aisles will not reform before they get renamed to Low Carb or even Paleo aisles. Meanwhile, we’re all on our own when shopping. So called health food stores are just as problematic, selling poisons like pure wheat gluten as magic dietary elixirs.

      • Audrey S.

        I saw bags of wheat gluten in the store, on the same shelf where I get my almond flour, and a big question mark popped up over my head. Who is buying pure wheat gluten, and what the heck are they using it for? Does anyone know? I’ve been confused about this for a long time.

        • Joann

          Hi, Audrey…wheat gluten is used to make something called seitan. It’s a meat alternative for vegans and vegetarians. It’s been around for a while, but unless you’re familiar with vegetarianism it probably seems strange to you. You can Google “seitan” and learn all about it. Hope this helps!

          • Cynthia

            Back in the 1990s I used to be vegetarian and we made seitan meatballs all the time. That was also a time in my life when I lived on pasta (grad student, it was cheap) and I got really fat (as a “healthy, low fat vegetarian”). It’s also when I first started to have a lot of stomach troubles. Of course I never made the connection, because who would, we were all living under the dictates of Dr. Ornish!

        • Boundless

          > Who is buying pure wheat gluten, and what the heck are they using it for?

          Also known as seitan, it is used to make fake meat, and is apparently popular with vegans for that reason. It is also high in protein, so it’s victims may be buying it for that.

          On one site I visited, the ad link at the top read:
          “4 Signs of a Heart Attack”
          How appropriate, but I’ll bet it goes right over the head of the site owner.

  5. Lauren Romeo

    Thanks for the link, I’ll be reading the article today. Thanks for all you do Dr. Davis, I recommend your site to my patients.
    I share the concern about gluten free but heavy carb food…I discourage newly diagnosed Celiac patients from eating all the junk you can now buy.
    Lauren Romeo, MD

    • Dr. Davis

      That’s great, Dr. Lauren!

      Love your name, by the way: That’s my daughter’s name, too!

  6. Wheatless in Seattle

    I was pleased to read a blog today on our company’s health website promoting gluten-free. I know it’s not THE answer, but it can be a step in the right direction from promoting ‘healthy whole grains’. Our fitness expert suggested going gluten-free for 30 days. I’ve been telling people to go grain-free, citing my positive results, but mostly received blank stares or responses such as “I couldn’t give up grains.” So, this new way of eating is trending up.

    • Dr. Davis

      The message reaches more people every day, Wheatless!

      It’s one of those things that you don’t fully appreciate just how huge the benefits are until you actually do it. And the wheat opiate-addicted have a real struggle confronting their addictive relationship.

  7. DeeDee

    After watching The Biggest Loser finale, I just wish there was some way to get the Wheat Belly message to them. After working so hard and losing a substantial amount of weight, many contestants still had a “belly.” And will they be able to maintain their weight loss while eating “healthy whole grains” with its additive qualities? Of course, with Subway advertising on the show, it would be really hard to cut out all bread. Think of how often they show the contestants chowing down on a Subway with all that bread, and then the contestants are stunned when they don’t show a weight loss no matter how hard they worked. The contestants beat themselves up for their “lack of will power” when actually, the problem is in the wheat, not their head.

    • Annette

      DeeDee so agree they promote a lowfat high grain lifestyle. Not all of them keep the weight off. Saw that Philippe gained it all back plus 10 more so he is going to try it again

  8. Viki

    I’ve been gluten-free for about 5 weeks now. I was diagnosed with Hashimotos several years ago and never imagined that there might be a link to celiac. Though I’ve not been tested for celiac yet (I have my appointment April 3rd), I suspect that I have a gluten sensitivity. What lead me to believe there might be something wrong was the constant bloating of the lower belly and terrible gas (sorry to be so forward) along with terrible acid reflux despite what I ate and occasional bouts of severe diarrhea. I rarely ever eat junk food, but I was finding that I had all the above DAILY (except for the diarrhea), regardless of what I ate. I initially started by cutting out wheat only and found the acid reflux disappeared but the gas and belly bloat (even upon waking in the morning) was still a daily problem. So I cut out gluten completely. Problem is, that while the gas has improved (somewhat) I still have a constant belly AND I’m not losing ANY weight as I thought I might. And I still have occasional diarrhea. So I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong or if there might be something else going on. I’m so bummed out and depressed that I’m close to giving up this way of eating because I’m doubting whether it has anything to do with wheat and gluten to begin with. I lead a healthy lifestyle, detox several times a year and still the belly bloat and inability to lose weight continues. And no, I don’t eat the packaged gluten-free shit, nor do I eat the high carb grains or excessive amounts of beans. Have barely had any sugar in five weeks (stevia in my coffee and I allow myself 2 squares of 85% chocolate a few times a week).

    So what gives?

    • JillOz

      Hi Viki,

      you might need to go absolutely sugar and grain and non-vegie-carbs free.
      But ALSO, read the post on probiotics elsewhere on the blog.
      You might need to fix up your gut health to get rid of the belly.

      (Maybe a little muscle work too, if the belly is from loose belly muscles rather than gut health of just fat.)

      I started the probiotics a couple of weeks ago and am finding it very helpful.

    • pee

      Vicki – I share your symptoms. Probiotic supplement – the one that has to be refrigerated and giving up dairy have worked for me. Don’t give up! I’m just starting on the gluten-free/grain-free, so I can’t speak to that. But try giving up dairy and take a probiotic – you will be AMAZED!

  9. Karen

    Dr Davis: I’m enjoying reading and using my new copy of your cookbook! A question about the nutritional breakdown for each: does the count of grams of carbs include grams of fibre? Or is the count for grams of fibre in addition to the grams of carbs? (Or if you can direct me to where this is explained in the book, I would be grateful!)
    Karen

  10. LorLor

    At times like these I find myself occasionally tempted to snack on this “poison” – help! My husband is suddenly jobless and the stress is causing me to be a lot hungrier than normal, even when I eat my typical Wheat Belly foods. Any suggestions on how to deal with the unusual hunger pains? I’m already having a hard time losing weight despite being wheat-free and don’t want to lose the small amount of ground I’ve gained in that respect. Also, I feel additional pressure to maintain my health so I can deal with the challenges and not incur any additional expenses for doctors, etc.

    • Drae

      LorLor- first, eat all the veggies and fruits you want, as long as they have a low glycemic load. Also, eat more protein with your meals, as protein keeps you satiated longer between meals. I also find a nice cup of tea can help me between meals. Hope this helps.

    • Jan

      LorLor,
      Apparently stress can impede weight loss, among other things. Have you tried yoga? There are several TV programs with proficient teachers that you can do at home and lots of books in the library to help get you started…….the benefits are long lasting! Also google “EFT” which stands for emotional freedom technique……amazingly simplistic, but I’ve found it to be an incredible asset for a variety of issues. My thoughts are with you….
      Namaste’
      Jan

  11. Maria

    My husband and I have been wheat and gluten free since January, 2013. So far, I have lost 10 pounds and he has lost almost 20. Most importantly, I feel great. For the first time ever, I have energy in the morning, even when not getting enough sleep (I have always had insomnia, even as a child). I don’t drag and am clear-headed. I was at the grocery store and saw someone I have not seen in a couple of years. She told me that I looked great and that my skin was glowing (I am not pregnant!) and asked what I was doing. I told her about the wheat free belly cookbook and blog. She was excited and receptive (she is a nurse and a vegetarian). Including her, I now know 4 people who have gone wheat and gluten free just through casual conversation!

    M

  12. Hurting in Milwaukee

    I have been wheat free for about two months and haven’t noticed much of a difference in the way I feel, until I accidentally eat something with wheat in it. Then yowza! My stomach cramps up like I’ve never felt before, not even when I was eating wheat all the time. It doesn’t even need to be a lot of wheat but it’s still painful as all get out. (First time was when I had a turkey burger, no bun, but didn’t know they put bread crumbs in the turkey; second time was today when I had malted milk balls, which evidently are made with wheat flour). I don’t understand why there’s so much pain, but I suppose that’s answered in the book, which I haven’t read yet. My question for Dr. Davis (or anyone else) is “what can you do when that sneaky wheat is in something you didn’t expect and you’re suddenly very ill? Is there any way to counteract it?” Thanks Dr. Davis, I love your blog!

    • Doug

      Hi Hurting,
      You ask if there is any way to counteract it and I think the long answer is no but that being said there is, in my case, a way to help neutralize the reaction. I have found that some of the elements in wheat can be neutralized with the consumption of ethyl alcohol….beer in my case. Bud light or Michelob ultra are wheat free. I know it sounds strange but there is scientific evidence that ethanol can neutralize one of the compounds but I lost the link to the study. It’s not a cure, in the end the effects are still felt by the body and released from the body, in my case, in a rather violent way a few hours and up to a day later. I’ve been wheat free 5 months and lost 2 inches off my waist and BP is normal for the first time in years. NEVER going back…… good luck!

      • Tyrannocaster

        Drinking beer to counteract gluten is self contradictory as beer CONTAINS gluten. It’s made from barley unless you are talking about one of the rare gluten-free beers (which don’t taste very good, alas).

    • Dr. Davis

      No, Hurting, unfortunately.

      The key is complete avoidance. During your wheat-eating days, you were suffering low-grade damage. Now that it’s stopped, the full poisonous potential of wheat’s gastrointestinal disruptive effects are felt.

  13. stephen ottridge

    Just returned from a holiday trip to New Zealand. Flew on Air New Zealand and asked for gluten free meals. The meals were excellent. Last night dinner was roast pork and potatoes, peas and broccoli. Rice crackers and cheese. Dessert was a chocolate cake. It was a 13 hour flight so breakfast was ham and scrambled eggs, yogurt and fruit. One advantage is that you are served first because of the special meal. My wife’s breakfast was similar except she had chicken sausage and the gluten was obviously in the sausage. This is one way to get the message out to the world. BTW there were a lot of cafes in NZ offering gluten free options on their menus, even McDonalds had gluten free buns in the cities, however not at Auckland airport.

    • James

      Hehe, we’re not yet to the point where one could ask e.g.

      – 1/2 cup of fish-oil
      – 2 scrambled eggs in butter
      – 2 cups of sauted kale on a bed of fried onions

      all organic, grass fed, tadida …

      But that’s a start :)

      J.

    • Dr. Davis

      Yes, really creeps me out what these people are capable of.

      It is astounding what a few billion dollars can accomplish when the money is put in the hands of those willing to compromise principles! Note that Monsanto–just ONE company–spends $2.2 to $2.4 BILLION per QUARTER to lobby just the Federal government.

      • Grace in IL

        I remember you giving us that statistic in one of your video presentations. I tell people about it all the time and I just get a blank stare in return. They seriously don’t get it. I am like Henny Penny running around telling everyone the sky is falling and it falls on mostly deaf ears. I already knew our whole system was corrupt but it is always worse than anything I imagined. And then I think about how much more must be going on out there that I am completely clueless about. It’s truly overwhelming! And these people just keep on getting re-elected and re-elected. That is the part I really cannot comprehend…..

        • Annette

          Note that some members of the fda, used to shill for said. co. so they will always give them what they want. Just look at how many recalls of food we have had in the 13 years. And the bad drugs that have been pulled also.

      • Annette

        Wow that is such a waste of money, that could be put to work do good instead of evil. You all do know that they at any time can pull the plug on home gardening via the gov. They want to control the entire world seeds. And they want our gov to help them. Disgusting.

  14. Joann

    Dr. Davis, I’d like to share with you my before and after photos after being on wheat belly for 6 weeks. Is there a place to send those?

  15. I think it may help people better understand how we got into blaming Saturated fat for current health problems rather than looking at the real cause if we went back to the original research and examine how they classified saturated fat. Zoe Harcombe has recently had a readable, comprehensible, paper published on that topic.
    You can download it here. href=”http://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperDownload.aspx?paperID=28741″>Food for Thought: Have We Been Giving the Wrong Dietary Advice? Zoë Harcombe,

  16. I think it may help people better understand how we got into blaming Saturated fat for current health problems rather than looking at the real cause if we went back to the original research and examine how they classified saturated fat. Zoe Harcombe has recently had a readable, comprehensible, paper published on that topic.
    You can download it here Food for Thought: Have We Been Giving the Wrong Dietary Advice? Zoë Harcombe,

    Pity we aren’t given a few minutes here to edit comments to correct typo’s.
    If the first attempt could be deleted that would be great.

    • Dr. Davis

      Very helpful discussion. Thanks for posting, Ted!

      Ancel Keys has done more damage to more people than any despot. Peel the layers back and we find bad data, misinterpretation, and perhaps even purposeful deception. If he were still alive, we’d have to do some yelling!

  17. Dr. Davis,
    It was easy to remove wheat from my diet since I have known that I was ‘sensitive’ to it; sadly, I am still trying to ‘come off’ of the sugar & vanilla in my coffee; stevia & van. extract just don’t have the same kick! I guess this is why I’m not seeing the weight ‘fly off’. Because I do react with small bumps and itching after consumptions, I have several food sensitivities: wheat, corn, nuts (almonds, walnuts), beans (peanuts, hummus, black…could coffee be a culprit???), and perhaps fish. I had 2 moderate allergic reactions last spring (swollen eyes, lips, whelps all over my back), and can only point to foods that were eaten near that time. My concern: I have taken Sertraline (Zoloft) for years, but now I discovered that it contains corn starch. I asked my dr. to switch prescriptions, but before picking it up, I found the same ingredient in this ‘new’ drug. I have a rare skin disorder (ichthyosis, EHK); after itching for 5 years & going to all kinds of doctors & reg. dietician, I was the one who realized the chlorine in the water was part of the problem: 2 Vit. C tabs in bath water is a natural de-chlorinator. THIS is the reason I KNOW that small changes can make HUGE differences. Your input would be most appreciated.
    Thank you,
    Andrea

    • James

      Hello Andrea,

      You may want to browse Dr Georgia Ede’s blog: http://diagnosisdiet.com/foods/
      You will read fascinating opinions about the foods we can ingest without thinking.
      I am experimenting with a mostly animal diet (fish, eggs, meats – in particular organs – barely any plant foods, no dairy save for ghee) after reading her blog. I promised to report after 2 months.

      J.

  18. Sam

    I have been on the wheat free diet for about two weeks and have been eating some of the recipes in the cookbook. Since eliminating the wheat I have had diarrhea for most of that time. Is this unusual?

    • Boundless

      That’s a story from last year, but the news is still flowing.

      The test crop was recently destroyed by activists (wearing hazmat suits).

      What might be the first GMO wheat is horrifying, not just because it’s GMO,
      and not just because human food safety tests have not been done,
      and not just because of the specific gene functions inserted,
      but because it’s Australian government sponsored.

      The gene inserted causes pest insects to starve to death.
      The skeptics are wondering if it will cause your kids to die at age 5.
      Tinfoil-hatters are wondering if this might be some form of human population control,
      and it just might be, even if unintentional.

      This is supposed to be a low glycemic index wheat , too.
      The clueless are breeding the catastrophic.

      Imagine, then, that it cross-contaminates other wheat strains.

      “Don’t worry mates. We’ll only sell it to the Norks.”

  19. Linda Hazen

    Dear Dr. Davis,
    Thank you for your work. I just finished watching a your video presentation on Youtube and was not aware of gliadin. I have been unable to go grain free because I do not seem to digest protein – not even fermented goat whey. Yes, I know the gut needs to heal, but I’ve tried protein and veggies only- for 30 days (with digestive enzymes and ox bile) and grew so weak I was almost hospitalized. This is just the opposite of what happens for most folks who start feeling better after a week or so. That being said, my doctors have not been able to discover why I don’t digest protein (I do have chronic Lyme). So, I am wondering what other grains do NOT contain gliadin? I realize the blood sugar issue with rice, but there are other low glycemic grains and they can be undercooked to help slow digestion. Are some of the more ancient grains safer if one must eat grain? I look forward to reading your book! Thank you, Linda

  20. Susannah

    thanks so much for all your work Dr. Davis. I spread the word as much as I can to those that will listen.
    for many years especially while in a relationship with a foodie, I suffered from bowel problems, general bloating , belching and itch, gerd, irritability etc.. I went to a gastro doc many times and did a myriad of tests without conclusion. just that my stomach was slow in churning or something. a friend told me about Paleo diets and that segued into dropping wheat as well as other processed carbs. geuss what ?? all my health issues pretty much resolved. all that time wasted with tests and the doctor.. yeah, I didn’t get diagnosed with celiacs.. but I do believe now that wheat is bad for most everyone. thanks again

  21. Charles

    I’ve read that supplementing with N-Acetylglucosamine can lessen the damage caused by ingesting gliadin. The theory is that the contents of the supplement bind with gliadin, reducing the amount that can cause problems such as those listed in the original post above. Do you have any opinion on whether or not these supplements are effective?