Gliadin: The Universal Human Poison

Autoimmunity is the process describing an immune response waged against our own organs. The complex collection of mechanisms consisting of T and B lymphocytes, antibodies, and others, meant to provide protection against viruses, bacteria, and other body invaders, is misdirected against proteins of the body’s organs, such as liver, pancreas, thyroid, or brain. Autoimmune conditions now affect 8% of the American population–it is increasingly looking like diseases of autoimmunity are out of control.

Dr Alessio Fasano was recently awarded the Linus Pauling Award, the highest award from the Institute for Functional Medicine, for his pioneering work on deciphering the role of the gliadin protein of wheat in triggering disruption of the normal intestinal barriers, a process that appears to underlie an astounding proportion of autoimmune conditions.

Dr. Fasano’s research has demonstrated that, in the presence of gliadin, foreign substances are permitted entry into the bloodstream, substances that ordinarily should have remained confined within the intestinal tract. Increased intestinal permeability is signaled by increased blood levels of the protein, zonulin. Increased zonulin levels have been found in type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. Interestingly, while zonulin levels are the highest in people with celiac disease, zonulin levels are increased in the majority of people without celiac disease. This may explain why, although people with celiac disease are at high risk for various autoimmune diseases, people without celiac disease can also develop autoimmunity (determined, in part, by haptoglobin 2 genotype).

The list of autoimmune conditions that have been associated with wheat, thereby gliadin, consumption is formidable:

Alopecia areata
Ankylosing spondylitis
Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS)
Autoimmune angioedema
Autoimmune aplastic anemia
Autoimmune dysautonomia
Autoimmune hepatitis
Autoimmune immunodeficiency
Autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED)
Autoimmune myocarditis
Autoimmune oophoritis
Autoimmune pancreatitis
Autoimmune retinopathy
Autoimmune thrombocytopenic purpura (ATP)
Autoimmune thyroid disease
Autoimmune urticaria
Axonal & neuronal neuropathies
Cafe au lait
Celiac disease
Cerebellar ataxia
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)
Crohn’s disease
Demyelinating neuropathies
Dermatitis herpetiformis
Eosinophilic esophagitis
Eosinophilic fasciitis
Erythema nodosum
Giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis)
Gluten encephalopathy
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
Hemolytic anemia
Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)
IgA nephropathy
Interstitial cystitis
Juvenile arthritis
Lupus (SLE)
Meniere’s disease
Mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD)
Multiple sclerosis
Optic neuritis
Paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration
Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH)
Peripheral neuropathy
Pernicious anemia
Polyarteritis nodosa
Polymyalgia rheumatica
Primary biliary cirrhosis
Primary sclerosing cholangitis
Psoriatic arthritis
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
Pyoderma gangrenosum
Raynauds phenomenon
Reactive Arthritis
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
Relapsing polychondritis
Restless legs syndrome
Retroperitoneal fibrosis
Rheumatoid arthritis
Sjogren’s syndrome
Sperm & testicular autoimmunity
Transverse myelitis
Type 1 diabetes
Ulcerative colitis

Yes, “healthy whole grain” consumption is accompanied by risk for an astounding variety of autoimmune diseases, some just a nuisance (such as vitiligo or cafe au lait), some disfiguring or debilitating (such as psoriasis or cerebellar ataxia), some rapidly fatal (gluten encephalopathy, transverse myelitis, type 1 diabetes without insulin).

You think any of this is factored in when we are advised to consume plenty of “healthy whole grains”?

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. Culinary Adventurer

    Dear Dr. Davis,
    I realize I am asking a complex question but I’d truly like to have your input regarding which conditions from the long list you just posted (caused by wheat consumption) may resolve or reverse and which ones will not when we eliminate wheat? It seems our bodies are not able to repair and reset all of the negative conditions caused by wheat but so many seem to diminish if not reverse completely. Thanks!

  2. Mary

    I read your book about in April of 2012. On April 23 of 2012 I went gluten free mainly to lose weight but I did start seeing many health benefits to being gluten free – like no more heart burn, indigestion, sinus problems and, of course, weight loss – about 40 lbs. I am very sensitive to products with wheat in them now and get terrible indigestion right away if I accidentally eat wheat. In May of this year I was diagnosed with Polymyalgia Rhuematica after being gluten free for a year. I was very disappointed. Being wheat free doesn’t keep all illness away. I was prescribed prednizone, which I didn’t want to take but it was the only relief I got to the terrible pain I was in. I am weening myself off prednizone now but it take months. However, I do think because I am gluten free and mostly grain free, I have not gained the weight some people do with prednizone, only 8 lbs in 6 months.

  3. Brian

    A very formidable list to be sure. One in particular mystifies me ” Café Au Lait” sounds like something I had this morning!

      • Barbara in New Jersey

        This is a genetic disease with skin pigmentation problems and sometimes your mental facilities are impaired. Miserable disease.

        • Janet

          OMG–You are so right about the cafe au lait being a disorder. Although I like the idea of something out of left field put in by Dr. Davis. But then, this is a serious list of crap making people miserable when they probably don’t have to be. Wheat is evil.

  4. Denise

    Dr. Davis,

    My husband and I were on vacation a week and a half ago in California. While there he ended up in the ER. The doctor diagnosed him with SVT. My husband followed up with him GP last week and saw the cardiologist today. Young doctor. He agreed it looks like SVT and scheduled an appointment in about two weeks for the EP Study. Long story short. We told him how we’d been doing the wheat belly lifestyle you have recommended. He told us that his 72 year old mother has being advising him about your book and told us that she has lost 25lbs. Ha!!! This cardiologist said he’d been reading your book too. He didn’t say much more. He looks like he could stand to lose at least 40lbs. His entire staff is overweight. Thought you’d enjoy this story. We tell everyone about Wheat Belly. Thanks for all you are doing to educate people.

    • JillOz

      Ooh, Denise, yes, I was in a health food shop today & told the naturopath there about Wheat Belly and Grain Brain.
      I even told another customer there and she started asking me for advice!! I’m very careful when that happens. :)
      She went off wheat two years ago – it was giving her shocking moods/temper.
      She feels so much better now and was happy to hear about this blog.
      I was happy to pass it on so we’re all good! :)

  5. TJ the Grouch

    WOW! I am (was?) a severe celiac who had to give up a beautiful orthopaedic surgery practice because of gluten-induced cerebellar ataxia. Even so, I had no idea of the massive amounts of autoimmune diseases induced by gliadins.
    Thanks again for keeping us so well informed!

  6. Dr.D:
    > Autoimmune conditions now affect 8% of the American population–it is increasingly
    > looking like diseases of autoimmunity are out of control.

    It would be useful to have a page showing the trend charts for all the chronic diseases (and any other conditions suspected to have a dietary cause). Other than T2D, this info can be hard to come by. You’d think the CDC would have nice summaries, but they don’t. I wonder if they’re not all that keen on admitting that many mundane medical matters are way far from under control.

    The utility of such a page would be to emphasize that:
    a. incidence is increasing (where it is)
    b. consensus medicine has no answers
    c. an active antagonist is clearly at large and gaining on us
    which means that we need to be open to novel explanations,
    particularly where a treatment is showing some effectiveness.

    > … which conditions from the long list you just posted (caused by wheat consumption)
    > may resolve or reverse …

    I suspect it is too early to tell. Onset and progression is slow with many of these conditions. Remission is apt to be so as well, and it’s been only 2 years since Wheat Belly was published (although Dr. Davis may have some indications from clinical experience prior to pub.).

    Also with many of these conditions, periodic random remissions and flare-ups are common. This makes it more difficult to interpret anecdotal reports, compare to say, T2D and IBS, where relief and relapse are obvious, prompt and easily demonstrated.

    > I had no idea of the massive amounts of autoimmune diseases induced by gliadins.

    In reading the base article here, I didn’t get the impression that gliadins are the only culprit. I can think of other recent dietary shifts that might be co-conspirators (all addressed by the WB approach to diet). The thing to do is shut them all out, starting with the super-villain wheat, and see what happens.

    An anecdote, however, is “data” when it’s your anecdote.

    • Uncle Roscoe

      Dr. Fasano’s contribution to humanity is simply incredible. Dr. Fasano discovered zonulin and wheat-induced intestinal permeability. Subsequently other researchers discovered that 1) the intestines release zonulin in response to other antigens, and 2) wheat causes zonulin release because it mimics these antigens. Do these subsequent discoveries make the wheat-to-permeability connection less significant? No. They solidify the pathways involved.

      Nobody can complain that the wheat connection lacks credibility. It is simply fact.

    • Culinary Adventurer

      Thank You Boundless!

      It helps to be reminded just how rapidly this has taken place. Although there have been people warning us about carb intake prior to and concurrent with Dr. Davis, to my mind, there has not been any work as compelling, clear, or as instructive as his Wheat Belly book.

      As my family approaches a full twelve months of being wheatless, it is natural to want to know if all these improvements are permanent. While there haven’t been any particular setbacks, I have noticed some variation in the rate of how some improvements are taking hold so we are trying both food combinations and some basic supplements to “tweak” things into being more consistent. (Minimum doses of Iodine and Potassium for example and Vitamin D-3)

      Understanding that the changes in our diet have been dramatic as well as relatively short term, we didn’t even anticipate achieving such huge successes as we have experienced. We are so incredibly grateful to Dr. Davis and to everyone contributing to this blog. We believe we will learn much more from each other and as the important research continues it will provide ground breaking results. — CA

  7. Nobelly

    My brother was one of the first generation to be diagnosed with hypogammaglobulin anemia in the 1950’s. Since it is a hereditary disease, it is difficult to see the connection with wheat? But it is interesting that this disease was only identified then.

  8. Ginny Bolin

    I have been wheat free for almost two years and rarely eat any other grain, (occasionally oats) not much sugar or fruit. Have far less joint pain (have osteoarthritis) , fewer hypertension drugs, no more acid reflux, no swelling ankles, great bloodwork, and most important; no shaky hunger an hour after eating. However I have only lost 20 lbs and need to loose about 70 more. During this time I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and have had my thyroid removed. I am taking 150 mcg of levothyroxin and TSH is .370. are there any suggested supplements that I might try? Was particularly wondering if I needed iodine since I have no thryroid. I’m 70 years young. Could be inability to loose is connected to too many nuts and I do use cheese and cream.

  9. Erik 2

    Dear Dr Davis,

    A short report from Sweden. Today the 8th of October Swedish media reported some very sad statistics. I will try and summarize below. Commentators to the article on different forums make reference to your book.

    Quote (my translation):
    ” Sweden has more gluten intolerant people than practically any other country. New data show that the decease debuts later and later in life. No one knows why and healthcare cannot handle the situation. Only one third of all affected get a diagnosis.

    Since the 1990s the number of children with celiak has increased 5 times from 0,5%. So far no one knows why this has happened in Sweden. The greatest increase is not among the very young rather among older kids and adults.
    Dr Lars Stenhammar says: “Now we se older children that are sick and have problems growing. It is a drastic change.
    According to the University of Umeå the median age of diagnosed children has gone from 1 year olds to 7 year olds since 1990.
    – Anneli Ivarsson says about 50% of Swedes have genetic pre disposition for celiak. One problem could be the large amount of flour that we consume. Some flour makers even add extra gluten to flour. How can they do that in a country with such potential for gluten related issues. In a few years we will look back and say that was insane. She works with scientists in the Netherlands to find solutions.
    Scientists at Umeå University say that only 1/3 of celiak patients get the diagnosis and some have to wait for 10 years to get it. “That is maybe not so strange since an enumeration of the symptoms would be like reading the book ABC for Doctors; weight loss, tired, stomach issues, blisters in your mouth, bone pain, infertility.” Symptoms can change over the years.”

    • Loekie

      The great mystery is why the medical world does not tell patients who suffer from a lot of problems, to try a wheat free period of time. Why not?
      If they are just able to diagnose one third – I think it is less – why let the other two third suffer? Why not just propagate to everyone who has stomach issues and so on, to try it? So many people would be greatful.

      • VibeRadiant

        I beleive it’s because what doctors learn in med school is outdated and if you buck the knowledge, you don’t graduate. Plus, many beleive it’s not what you eat that makes you sick but how much of it you consume. We know better thanks to pioneers in nutrition like Dr. Atkins, Dr. Davis, Dr. Perlmutter and Dr. Lustig as well as so many others who take chances and risks to let the masses know that there is another way to health other than through drugs and ignorance. After all, if doctors cured all their patients simply by prescribing a healthy way of eating, they would be unemployed! lol

        • Loekie

          Doctor thinks: if I give you tablets, I keep you as a patient, someday you will be here for more tablets or other tablets.
          If I give you a food advice, there is a chance I see you never again.

        • Neicee

          Don’t forget Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt over – he’s got quite a good article posted on it….oh, and one about Pat Robertson’s attempt to make a statement about low carb/no grains an issue that is contrary to God’s law (you know, give us this day our daily bread).

          • Neicee

            Sorry, when I was writing the reply to VibeRadiant I took too long and Loekie beat me to post in between :)

  10. VibeRadiant

    Narcolepsy? I thought that was a neurological disorder? You mean that my mother who has been diagnosed with narcolepsy for 52 years is just suffering from wheat consumption? I understand the link with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and all of her other ailments (like fatty liver), but narcolepsy?

    • Barbara in New Jersey


      It just depends on your individual genetic makeup, over all health and whatever illnesses or stresses that are placed on your body. The inflammations caused by wheat vary in everyone. Every organ in your body is effected, All illnesses have their roots in specific areas of the body that become inflamed and the normal systems no longer work the way they should, eventually becoming a “condition”, then an “illness” and then a “disease”. Wheat as grown in this country is a major contributor to this inflammation process. As one system or organ is stressed, another joins in to aid the organ that doesn’t work too well, placing stress on the second system. Adding more inflammatory foods to your diet makes everything worse. Nerves eventually become strangled or don’t respond to the signals they are supposed to respond to. It takes a long time to recover from nerve damage caused by inflammation, but it does happen.

      • VibeRadiant

        It’s truly amazing how the human body works isn’t it, either for or against itself depending on what we put in it.

  11. Fred Rathje

    Dr. Davis,
    You have enlightened so many of us concerning wheat and its impact on health. Your book has been critical to this awakening as has been your blog which captures the testimonials of so many who have been helped by avoiding gluten.

    The research and discoveries of Dr. Fasano are central to understanding these disorders and how gliadins impact the absorption of nutrients (and poisons) into the blood stream.

    In most of the discussions, the focus has been primarily on the affects of wheat gluten. The glutens of barely and rye are not getting the same amount of attention. You have emphasized in your book and elsewhere the significance of the changes to the modern wheat which you indicate are at the heart of our problems. However what is not discussed in any detail that I am aware of is the herbicide/pesticide residue in today’s (non organic) wheat. For example, studies coming out of Europe are showing that very minute (0.1 ppm) traces of glyphosate which is remains on wheat, will kill beneficial bacteria in the gut of cows. The glyphosate is showing up in the urine of Danish cows and in wheat bread in tests done recently in the UK. The spraying of the glyphosate herbicide is now no longer restricted to the early germination of the wheat growing process but is now recommened to be sprayed prior to harvest to kill remaining tramp weeds. Further, Italian research is showing that fungal toxins during the wheat harvest are able to avoid detection by linking with glucose and subsequently become liberated by bacteria in the large intestine when consumed. It seems to me that wheat in particular, being less hardy than rye, is getting blasted with this herbicide which then also contributes to the significant health issues that you mention.

    I personally have removed wheat from my diet although the organic ciabatta that I would have for breakfast each morning was total pleasure and without issues that I was aware of. Nonetheless, my reason for eliminating wheat was your book and Dr. Fasano’s research on gliadin. I continue to consume (organic) rye and find no issue with it but at the same time realize that gliadins (perhaps different from wheat) are also in this grain.

    My last observation relates to my family members (in Canada) who have been wheat sensitive for a long time but who had no issue with consuming wheat while vacationing in France. Could it be that spraying of glyphosate in the way it is practiced in the UK and in North America is as significant as the other reasons that have been expressed on your website?


    • Dr. Davis

      All legitimate points, Fred. The book focused on the changes introduced into wheat, this thing that is embraced by so much of the world . . . wrongly. But there is so much more to this issue. I will cover much of it in another book coming out in 2014.

      There is a list of reasons why the wheat experience in France yields less gastrointestinal issues, such as variation in strains. But I would not regard this as meaning that wheat in France is benign. Far from it. There is still lots of celiac disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disease in France, all caused by wheat consumption.

  12. Brittany

    Dr. Davis,
    My husband and I just started a wheat-free diet thanks to your book. We are 6 days in and feeling great – already lost 2 lbs (and neither one of us had wheat withdrawals)! Neither one of us are overweight and we have always attempted to lead a healthy lifestyle (e.g., organic fruits and vegetables, organic free-range meat and dairy). However, my husband has high cholesterol (40 yo, total LDL = 238), and has been struggling with it for about 10 years. I do not know his exact numbers, but his HDL is also low, and his triglycerides are high. He has taken fish oil for several years but recently switched to Red Yeast Rice. After listening to one of your podcasts, however, he is switching back to fish oil and is also taking Vitamin D. You talk a lot about the size of the LDL particles, but my husband’s GP does not seem to know anything about this. Instead, his GP prescribed him statins last week. He took it for a few days, said he felt weird (twitchy jaw muscle) and discontinued it. So I have two questions for you: 1) Is there anything else we can be doing to lower his cholesterol? 2) Do you happen to know of doctors who abide by your school of thought in the Boise, ID area? Or do you have any tips for how we can find one?

    I have two more somewhat unrelated questions. Last night, we made the chicken pesto pizza and the chocolate chip cookies from your cookbook. The rest of the night and today my husband and I have both experienced some bloating and stomach upset (cramping, gas). Is this common? Also, we did not like the taste of the stevia that we used. I see that you have recommended combining different types of sweeteners for optimal taste. However, I am all about natural, real food, and these “artificial” sweeteners make me leery. Somewhere down the road, will we find out that these sweeteners are linked with diseases too? So, I’m wondering, provided that baked goods are reserved for special treats, rather than a regular part of our diet, can we just use organic raw cane sugar?

    Thank you!!

    • Barbara in New Jersey


      There is a great deal of information on sweeteners in this blog. Look on the left hand side for the archives. There are many sweeteners available. You might also want to check the supplements that are recommended to help your intestinal flora/digestive issues.

      Sugar is not recommended. Neither is fructose.

  13. NoMohWheat!

    One autoimmune condition not on the list is Pemphigoid (specifically Bullous Pemphigoid which I was diagnosed with last year). The condition causes blisters all over the body and scalp (similar to Dermatitis herpetiformis). It was awful to deal with. The idiot I had for a “dermatologist” could only prescribe steroids. While it did help to keep the blisters at bay the wheat I was ingesting made them flare back up regularly. I still have many scars from those blisters.
    Looking back I believe that I had been dealing with gluten intolerance for many years due to the IBS symptoms I’d dealt with.
    I read Wheat Belly and some other works that stated that anyone dealing with an autoimmune disorder should cut wheat out of their life. Since I’ve done that the blisters have gone away.
    I recently had a beer that brought new blisters to new areas that hadn’t been impacted last year. LEARNED MY LESSON! No more wheat for me!

    • Dr. Davis

      Yes, indeed: This relatively obscure condition should be on the list!

      I’m thrilled you had such a positive response.

  14. blakester214

    Dr. Davis I have been wheat free and observing your food plan for 4 weeks now and have lost only 5 pounds. I seem to be stuck at this weight which is about 15 pounds from my target. I have not cheated and keep my sugars less than 40 grams per day.
    Can you offer any insights for weight loss?
    I do feel great off all wheat and have much less hunger impulse.
    thanks in advance and good luck in Canada
    Gliadin is a potent opiod like peptide and has strong effects on my receptors. Thank God I have detoxed from that monkey on my back. I know there are at least 4 opiod receptors in the brain and CNS but only one causes analgesia the others are responsible for the unwanted side effects of narcotics like itching…
    Would love to see better numbers on the scale..

  15. blakester214

    Thank you I read that website information.
    I will now cut out all dairy for the following week and check my keto sticks in the urine each morning to see if
    I go into ketosis.
    this will give me feedback that the carbs are gone and any from the whey protein that can cause insulin production.
    I am scheduled to have my thyroid panel done later this week and will cut out all dairy and replace it with eggs and raw nuts.
    thanks that was a great review and explains why I have not seen ketones in the urine

  16. Deb

    One of the auto immune diseases listed about against wheat is Type 1 Diabetes – does this people who have been on insulin since childhood could get off the insulin with a total wheat elimination?

    • > Type 1 Diabetes – does this people who have been on
      > insulin since childhood could get off the insulin with
      > a total wheat elimination?

      For one of the Doctor D’s more provocative articles, see:

      There are T1D sufferers who manage their condition primarily by diet (nutritional ketosis), with minimal or no insulin.

      Eliminating gluten-bearing grains is an obvious “why not” step. Even Dr. Bernstein (“The Diabetes Solution”), alas, doesn’t seem to be aware of the peculiar hazards of these grains.

      Then we have the open question of what triggers T1D. Perhaps eliminating wheat for a couple of generations, in an adequate statistical population sample, might provide some hints.

      • Barbara in New Jersey

        I seem to remember some articles about diary products being an allergen and triggering type 1 in children. This was during the 1960’s when certified raw milk was banned. The idea was that pasteurization killed many of the beneficial bacteria which left a product that children easily developed allergic reactions from.
        They weren’t allergic to breast milk, raw milk, goats milk, only pasteurized cows milk caused distress and then diabetes 1.

        Now, we have ultra pasteurized milk (that means it is boiled (212*F to 230*F) which increases shelf life. Even more of the good bacteria is boiled away so the profit margin increases. Doesn’t even taste like milk anymore.

        • Neicee

          Hi Barbara in New Jersey, I have a question….If the info you noted about milk/dairy products is true, what happens when we use them for cooked recipes like chowders/creamed soups, desserts, etc.? I very often purchase way too much and it will spoil before I can get rid of it so I use them up in cooked dishes. I’ve not seen nor read anything addressing that issue?

          • Barbara in New Jersey


            Most recipes for using dairy products are cooked below boiling point. You want it to thicken, just like eggs, and not be boiled which changes the taste.

            I freeze milk when I can’t use it up before it sours. When I travel, I freeze any left over right in the container, taking it out and placing it in the refrigerator to defrost when I get home which is usually late at night. It is defrosted and ready for my coffee in the morning!

            Perhaps there is a chemist who reads this blog and can contribute more scientific information.

            I grew up on certified raw milk and remember the change in taste when the State of NJ decided to make it illegal. Pasteurized milk still tastes like a processed milk drink to me. I do like the taste of cheeses like Red Witch that are made from raw milk.

    • Barbara in New Jersey


      Any condition that causes blocked glands and their secretions seems to improve with a grain and sugar free diet.
      This way of eating reduces inflammation everywhere and helps your cells to normalize. You certainly have nothing to lose and everything to gain by eating this way.