Open mouth, close mind

So much of what we talk about here and in other Wheat Belly discussions revolves around the mind effects of wheat.

While there are other “foods” with mind effects, such as the euphoria and judgment altering effects of alcohol, or (for some people) the “rush” of sugar, nothing possesses the range of mind effects presented by the components of wheat. Let’s review the most important:

The Exorphin Effect
Recall that the gliadin protein of wheat is degraded in the gastrointestinal tract to 5 or 6 small (tetra- and penta-) peptides. These were dubbed “exorphins” by the National Institutes of Health research team who were trying to understand why people with schizophrenia have worsened paranoia, auditory hallucinations, and social detachment when consuming wheat, improvement when removed.

Gliadin-derived exorphins have a range of effects in non-schizophrenics, such as triggering food obsessions in people with bulimia and binge eating disorder; behavioral outbursts and inattention in children with ADD and autistic spectrum disorder; mania in bipolar illness; and depression in people prone to (unipolar) depression. In everyday people without these conditions, we experience mind “fog” and appetite stimulation to consume 400 more calories per day.

Cerebellar ataxia, peripheral neuropathy
Recall that people without celiac disease can develop stumbling and incontinence along with MRI evidence for cerebellar atrophy, or loss of muscle control and feeling, usually in the legs, both examples of immune destruction of nervous system tissue due to wheat.

Gluten encephalopathy
Dementia from wheat that, in the Mayo Clinic experience, lasts 2 years from onset of memory deficits to death, most confidently diagnosed at autopsy. (I don’t like making diagnoses at autopsy!)

Temporal lobe seizures are the most common variety attributable to wheat consumption, though grand mal seizures can also occur. Temporal lobe seizures typically involve peculiar repetitive and involuntary behaviors, such as lip smacking or swallowing, or it can involve vivid emotional effects, such as irrational and unfounded fear or a feeling of deja vu.

This is a partial list. It’s staggering, isn’t it?

We’ve known for years that people with celiac disease are more prone to depression and other mind/brain disorders, but these conditions also apply to those without celiac disease. The food we are urged to consume more of and dominate our diet is associated with an impressive range of mind/emotional/brain dysfunctions, not all of which are reversible.

Makes no bones about it: Wheat is a mind active drug. No, I take that back: Wheat is a mind-active poison.

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. Amy Somogye

    Just wanted to say thanks. I’ve been on weight watchers for a year and a half- for the last 6 months, after losing 30 lbs. I have been completely stagnant in my weight loss. I read the book, evaluated my diet (vegetarian, about 80% carbs!) and cut out the wheat. Wheat free for 5 weeks. Yesterday I weighed in -41 lbs. I have more energy, and am eating foods I love (like peanut butter) that I had previously sworn off because they were too high in points. I have 20 lbs to go, and I feel like I’ve really broken free from that plateau, and my food addiction. I have no doubt I will make my goal. Thank you again.

  2. Vivian

    I so concur, Dr. Davis. Grain-free for almost 10 months and am a new person. I’ve discovered quinoa, millet and buckwheat and so many spices and veg etc…a whole new and healthy life. Joint pain gone, no more acid reflux and a much clearer mind connection to LIFE. Thank you.

    • Boundless

      > … quinoa, millet and buckwheat …

      These may be wheat-free, but they are high glycemic. Quinoa is WB “limited” item. Millet and buckwheat are “avoid”. None of them are helpful if you intend for your diet to be both wheat-free and low carb.

      • stephen ottridge

        My insulin need has dropped from 26 to 6 units a day since I stopped eating wheat which I replaced with oats, quinoa and 100% rye bread.

        • derp

          If you have Type 2, I hope you still target zero insulin, zero other meds?

          It’s interesting that Dr. Davis’ statement that while most grains are “evil”, wheat is the worst offender, not only by volume in the average diet, but by composition. You seem to be the anecdotal evidence to that statement.

        • Uncle Roscoe

          If any food is as bad for you as wheat, it’s rye. The wheat response is initiated because it contains proteins which mimic some very harmful digestive antigens. Rye mimics the same antigens. Rye contains most of the same protein sequences which make wheat so notoriously damaging. But rye also has one more little surprise. It grows ergot fungus when it gets stale. Ergot poisoning is responsible for millions of cases of insanity, secondary infection and death throughout history. Many people’s immune systems are keen to this threat. They associate rye’s protein sequences with the ergot threat. They attack the rye, and attack many of the tissues it affects.

          Drop the rye, and you may be able to eliminate the final 6 units of diabetes medication.

      • Jackie lund

        It sounds as if the use of these “limited items” didn’t prevent her from experiencing a life-changing effect of giving up wheat. Way to go Vivian, thanks for the encouraging report!

  3. Paloni Almoni

    Cerebellar ataxia, peripheral neuropathy – I got that.
    Seizures – a friend got that.
    My friend’s doctor told him to go very low carb, my doctor had no clue. I’m doing better now.

  4. Thank you for creating a thread which deals specifically with mind and brain disorders. I have extended relatives dealing with some serious mental dysfunction, on several psychotropic drugs, severe depression, and a host of other physical/mental maladies. From what I’m told, their diet consists largely of Cliff bars and canned salmon. The responses on this link, along with reading the book, may encourage them to explore a dietary change that could prove life altering for them.

  5. allison

    I would like to hear more on your thoughts and research about seizures. I have temporal lobe (or simple partials) and grand mal (tonic clonic) seizures and have noticed a huge difference by going lower carb, but have also noticed they occur more when I am stopping wheat, and in that phase before the addiction goes away. Not when I am on wheat, or completely off of it. What do you think about that? (and yes, I am having troubles quitting, see your recent post on the bad relationship with wheat. he’s everywhere, and makes me feel good for awhile and then I have to get rid of him, but then everybody tries to get us back together, lol)

    • derp

      Wow. It almost sounds like withdrawal seizures. How long is that period of time between stopping wheat and experiencing lower seizure frequency?

      • allison

        The simple partials started years ago after a head injury, grand mal started in 2003. Long before I started looking into dietary changes. Cutting the carbs and adding the fats (almost ketogenic, but not quite) has helped a lot(when I stick to it! lol), but I still have the occasional tonic clonic, and almost never a simple partial, usually in the tired withdrawal phase. I got a blood sugar meter and tracked it, but they are always very stable and never above or below “normal” levels (this is on carbs and off carbs). I wonder if it could be just simple wheat/sugar withdrawal, almost like a drug addict would have withdrawal seizures? (although mine are just a minute or two, then I feel like I reset for awhile)

      • allison

        Derp, when I cut the wheat/sugar cold turkey, I feel crazy tired and have insane cravings for about a week or two, and it’s during this phase that it usually happens. I used to have one every few months, but now during my crazy up and downs of wheat and sugar consumption they are happening more often. I don’t have seizure every time, but when I do, it’s almost always during these tired phases. You’d think that would be enough to make me quit forever!
        Yes, I am disgusted with myself for continually going back, I actually don’t like most breads and baked things anymore, my main cravings are pizza, particularly this most amazing pizzeria down the street that has the best pizza I’ve ever had, and candy. It’s funny because I’ll avoid buying frozen burgers that have bread crumbs in it, but then I’ll order a pizza, or buy unsweetened almond milk, and then later buy a bag of candy. I need more willpower!

        • gingerbread

          Hi Allison, don’t know if this will help or not, but I love pizza and giving it up felt a little like torture. What i did to compensate was to take a bowl, put pizza sauce in it and layer it with mozerella cheese. Microwave till it warms and melts. Then i eat it like a chili. Really satisfies that taste need without getting the wheat. May have to watch the sugars in the jar pizza sauce or just make your own.

          • allison

            Good idea. I’ll have to try that one too. My fave so far is the crustless pizza where you start by frying up a thin layer of parmesan til it’s crispy, then add mozza, then sauce and toppings. Like an upside down pizza. Also very quick.
            This pizza place is mostly tempting from work, where it’s 3 doors away and sells by the slice. Just need some willpower! lol

          • Kathy

            Pizza? Gourmet Girl Cooks has a wonderful recipe for pizza. I read her blog (same name) all the time, bouncing between her and WB. She has a wonderful array of recipes. Simple and delicious! She’s Dr. D’s competition! (Sorry, Dr. D.)

    • Dr. Davis

      Perhaps this is a topic we should cover in more detail in an upcoming blog post, Allison.

      It is really a darkly fascinating topic: Wheat consumption can cause seizures. Does it get any creepier than that?

  6. Bing

    Could you further elaborate on the anxiety wheat link?
    My anxiety and racing heart decreased a lot after dropping wheat.

    • Dr. Davis

      This is a common observation, but I am uncertain of the biochemical basis for it. Could it be yet another effect of the gliadin protein of wheat? I don’t know, but this is an area that needs to be explored.

  7. Soul

    Something they don’t mention to you when one develops a severe gut/IBD condition, is that you loose your mind. At least that was the case with me. And I’ve talked with others with similar conditions to me that experienced similar mental issues. When I first became ill as a teenager, the gut issues were problematic, but equally troubling were the many issues I had mentally. You are not rave raging manic from the condition, it’s just that your personality chances, with one of the greatest liabilities being not being reliable.

    It’s hard for me to put in a few short words what happens to the mind when the gut stops works correctly. Thankfully though I found something that helped me greatly mentally, and to a degree physically. It got me back on my feet. Back in the 90s one of the bigger articles written about at the time in food and health magazines was avoiding milk and diary products. I thought, why not I’ll give it a try and see if it helps. It did, avoiding diary really helped me out. Looking back on what I did though I’m likely mistaken on what helped. In all likely hood it wasn’t the dairy that helped me so much. At that time, when I first began ill, I was eating 3 to 4 bowls of cereal a day. Pizza was a regular food to be eaten. It covered all the major food groups, my friends and joked I recall! I lived on baked goods, and wheat products as most do at that age. In all likely hood what helped me when i avoided dairy was my avoidance of most grains also, particularly the whole grain breakfast cereals I had been eating. I was still eating bread at the time – just about exclusively sourdough, but not nearly as much was being eaten any longer.

  8. Jimmy

    I have quit all grains back in October 2012 and lost that terrible brain fog , memory loss, and chronic fatigue. Also I dropped off 53 lbs going to 60g – 100g carbs per day. The brain was the worst part, along with IBS and bloating and numb legs. When people I know see me they gasp at my weight loss and ask me if I’m feeling ok or sick. I just tell them I’m gluten intollerant and had to stop eating gluten. My stomach muscles are clearly visible after burning off the excess fat. The only problem now is all my pants keep falling down. I’m at my high school weight at 172lbs, down from my highest of 225lbs at 6’2″.

    • Craig Howard

      My stomach muscles are clearly visible after burning off the excess fat.
      Heh. My “little” brother [49 years old] was up for a visit this week. He was shocked by my weight loss — which is mostly fat loss. At the age of 60, I’m developing a six-pack for the first time in my life. He refused to take his shirt off the entire visit because I’d shamed him.

      Yeah, we’re rednecks.

  9. Amy

    Dr. Davis,
    Your commentary on non-celiac peripheral neuropathy (PN) is very applicable to my current situation. I’ve eaten wheat/gluten my whole life. I love bread, pasta, pizza, cookies, and crackers. Due to either an awesome metabolism or a disease of which I’m unaware, I’ve managed to keep a good figure even at age 36. A couple of years ago, I developed warm, fluid-like sensations in my left lower extremity, which later progressed to numbness and tingling in both my left upper and lower extremities. Although it would subside at times, it always came back. I was referred to a neurologist, fully expecting a diagnosis of MS given my age and other factors. Testing ruled out MS but showed a notable increase in poly-clonal immunoglobulins, which the neurologist explained was a sign of inflammation and/or infection. The doctor suggested I be tested for hepatitis given this finding, and was sent on my way. Fortunately, subsequent testing ruled out hepatitis, HIV, and the major auto-immune disorders; but, I was still left with this strange numbness, along with some other symptoms that had begun to increase in severity (namely very dry skin, rectal itching, and constipation).

    While researching my symptoms online one day, I came across several articles discussing the link between celiac disease and peripheral neuropathy. I thought I had found my answer; however, anti-gliadin testing showed I had neither celiac nor a gluten intolerance.

    I am convinced my consumption of wheat/gluten is the cause of my PN. How do I know? Because when I’ve cut back on or eliminated the wheat, it goes away. When I indulge, it comes back. I used to wonder why my symptoms seemed to spike in the fall and winter. I chalked it up to the stress of the holidays. Now I believe it was all the wheat/gluten-filled food I consumed during those times that caused an increase in symptoms. Your blog post today reminded me that just because a lab test says we can tolerate wheat/gluten, doesn’t mean are bodies are, and it doesn’t mean we should. Many thanks to you for my continued education!

    • Dr. Davis

      Yes, indeed: Celiac disease is just one small facet of wheat intolerance. You have another, manifested as neurological phenomena.

      It is NOT your imagination: It is quite real.

    • Uncle Roscoe

      One of the biggest problem with wheat’s lectin, wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), is its propensity for clumping red blood cells together. Clumped red blood cells are incapable of passing through capillaries, including capillaries in the lungs, muscles and brain. The body handles the problem in the spleen. The spleen captures the clumped RBC’s, destroys them, harvests the hemoglobin, and inserts it into new red blood cells. However, there is a time lag for the new RBC’s to mature enough to transport oxygen, and a limit to the body’s production rate for new red blood cells.

      Add that wheat-caused intestinal porosity defeats the body’s system of iron regulation and cellular oxygen transport. Google “haptoglobin” and “ferroportin”. The whole scenario leaves you weak and gasping for air.

  10. yellow rose

    Hmm. I retired from nursing about 3 years ago. I missed the patients, not the hassel nursing had become, so I took a job with an equipment company as a “diabetic shoe” fitter. Without a doubt most of the people I saw had some level of peripheral neuropathy. But what I also noticed was that their counters and cabinets were stacked with whole grain everything. Bread, chips, pasta, cereal, the whole range of whole grain carbs. I looked at their diet plans from the diet consultants and doctor’s office and sure enough, they were compliant with what they had been taught (most had 3-4 diabetes meds plus insulin as well as statins and Lyrica).

    So is this a chicken/egg thing? Did they get the diabetic diagnosis from following the diet advice we have all gotten for the last 50 years? Was the neuropathy there all along and exacerbated by tipping over into diabetes? Or did the diabetic diet and following the advice of their medical team set them up for neuropathy? Or as we have been told, diabetes is actually a disease condition and caused the neuropathy (nothin’ to do with ‘hearthealthywholegrains’)? Sounds like we might be spending a lot of money treating symptoms of something that can be avoided for free. All that medicine, all that pain, amputations, wheelchairs, ulcers, infections, and $400.00 shoes. Could a $10.00 glucose meter, a tube of sticks, and a right diet save some money and pain? I breaks my heart to not be able to tell these people that there might be another way they should at least try.

      • Anna

        Yet there are many folks who follow the diet advice of Dr. Neal Barnard, a plant strong advocate, who have excellent results within days, ie blood sugars normalize, BP decreases, weight loss, increase in energy, etc. It’s not just a simple carb issue, it’s what type of carbs one is eating as plant stong diets ARE high in carb but complex carbs.

  11. Melmel

    Hmmm….increased paranoia, behavioral outbursts, mania, auditory hallucinations, social detachment in the mentally ill?? Does this cause anybody else to pause and consider how the American diet could be contributing to the epidemic of senseless violence in our country? Could it be that wheat and agribusiness need to take a seat at the table of blame along with guns, video games, the mental healthcare industry, and the ever-present media circus? Could modern wheat be a trigger for Joe Nobody to stockpile ammunition and develop a scheme to be America’s next most infamous mass murderer? Heavy, heavy stuff.

    • Boundless

      > Does this cause anybody else to pause and consider how …

      Yep. The conjecture was raised here after both Aurora and Newtown.

      > the American diet could be contributing to the epidemic of
      > senseless violence in our country?

      It’s hardly an epidemic, on a per capita basis, but we are seeing types of incidents that we never saw historically, and they appear to be driven by novel factors that probably could be made to vanish.

      > Could it be that wheat and agribusiness need to take a seat
      > at the table of blame along with … the mental healthcare industry, …

      These two: absolutely
      The Aurora shooter was on Sertraline (a generic version of Zoloft ) and Clonazepam.
      The Newtown shooter was on Fanapt.
      The known side effects of these are completely consistent with what happened.
      So why were they on these drugs?
      The answer is almost certainly: wheat

      > … guns, video games, …

      I doubt that this blog will entertain spinning-out-of-control debate about those. I have opinions on both, but I suspect their contribution to recent events is dwarfed by the metabolic and psychotic menace of wheat and the unintended consequences of attempting control that with dangerous meds.

      > … and the ever-present media circus?

      That, alas, seems unlike to change. To the extent that any dramatic attacks are motivated by a desire for notoriety, the press could (but won’t) choose to act responsibly, and decline to focus coverage on the perps, and perhaps even decline to publish their names. The press could also look into the diet and drug connection, but at the moment only some in alternative media do so, and even they miss the diet aspect.

      > Could be an up and coming defense tactic…….wheat made me do it!

      The “Twinkie Defense” failed, but when the general public and medical profession finally wake up to the psych effects of wheat, I expect to see such excuses advanced. That will last until juries realize that once wheat effects are widely acknowledged, “I was bageled” is no different than “I was drunk”.

  12. Dave

    I can attest to what Dr. Davis is saying. I posted about my case over a year ago, but I’ll just say that I lost 13 years of my life to this hell. I had relentless depression, anxiety, and brain fog. It felt like there was a lead weight inside my head the entire time. When I got rid of the wheat, the symptoms evaporated 2-3 days later…a complete miracle.

  13. slenkar

    Just gave up wheat 6 days ago and I am able to see something that has to be done around the house and just do it. Before I would put it off, have a mental block.
    Also I am feeling a lot more natural and not paranoid about socialising anymore.
    I havent taken a daytime nap in a few days either.

  14. You can use this scale to measure depression, it’s increase and decrease. As well as changing diet, you can be your own therapist to assist with the habits of mind that form, for like 10 bucks.

    The Burns Depression Scale is from ‘Feeling Good The New Mood Therapy, by Dr. David Burns
    The Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy Book is by Dr. Michael Edelstein.

    Both follow the work of Dr. Albert Ellis, foremost psychotherapist of the last century, and creator of REBT and cognitive therapy.

  15. Kelly

    I’m a bit late on this one, but for the longest time every time I eat wheat it A) triggers my bulimia which ONLY happens when I eat wheat B) Triggers a negative thought process that replays in my mind over and over again and C) Makes me overly critical of absolutely everything and everyone. I also get anxious, I can’t sit still, pay attention, focus, and I frankly, don’t care to when I’m like this. It lasts from three days to a week. All of this gets compounded with physical changes as well. I tried to explain to my mother when I was diagnosed with full blown celiac disease (half of my family has no colon now btw, which is what I’m trying to stop in myself) that it isn’t JUST gluten…it’s everything that affects me. Maybe this blog post will help her understand since I can’t get her to read the dang book!