I find it incredible that, buried in the common advice to consume more “healthy whole grains,” is advice to consume what is, in effect, a mind-active drug. Wheat and grain consumption have very real effects on the brain, thinking, and emotions, some of which are reversible, some of which are permanent. Many of the effects are due to the gliadin protein of wheat, rye, and barley. Dr. Alessio Fasano has mapped out the segments of the gliadin protein that, upon partial digestion (humans are incapable of complete digestion of this grass protein) yield the following peptides (protein fragments):
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
Interspersed among these segments are shorter, 4- to 5-amino acid long segments (not color-coded) that are act as the opiates (opioids) that exert mind effects. Gliadin therefore exerts myriad disease effects, among which are powerful mind effects that manifest in different ways depending on individual susceptibility.
Below is an excerpt from the Wheat Belly Total Health book discussing the reversible mind effects of wheat and grains.
It’s Not Your Imagination: Reversible Mind and Brain Effects of Grains
Reversible mind effects begin with the gliadin proteins of wheat, rye, and barley that undergo digestion to smaller 4- or 5-amino acid-long peptides, small enough to penetrate into the brain and bind to opiate receptors (Zioudrou 1970). The effects of these peptides, dubbed “exorphins,” or exogenously derived morphine-like compounds, vary depending on individual susceptibility. In some conditions, a reversible autoimmune process has also been documented (positive gliadin antibody). The conditions associated with these phenomena include:
Appetite-stimulation—Grain derived exorphins trigger the grain consumer to take in 400 more calories per day, every day. This is an average value; some people consume more, others less. At worst, it can cause calorie intake to be 1000 or more calories per day or higher and trigger food obsessions or other addictive food behaviors. Appetite is specifically stimulated for carbohydrates, such as pretzels, corn chips, and cookies, and, to a lesser degree, for fat. And the effect tends to be addictive, with cyclic and recurring desire for such foods driving dietary habits, even dominating thoughts and fantasies. Rid yourself of gliadin derived opiates and calorie intake drops by 400 calories per day (Bardella 2000). Food obsessions and addictive food relationships are also typically reduced or completely eliminated.
Mind “fog”—Disrupted concentration, inability to focus, impaired learning, impaired decision-making ability, and sleepiness are exceptionally common after consuming wheat, rye, and barley. Gliadin derived opiates are the most likely culprits for these effects, given their known ability to affect the mind. It’s also likely that the blood sugar fluctuations—high, then low—an effect shared by all grains, likely contribute, especially the low of hypoglycemia.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autistic spectrum disorder—While these disorders are unrelated, they share a similar response to gliadin derived opiates. Children (and now adults, since so many children in the growing epidemics of these conditions are now reaching adulthood) experience behavioral outbursts, such as temper tantrums or emotional “storms,” without reason, and impaired capacity to sustain attention. Kids with these conditions begin with impaired ability to learn and pay attention for more than a few seconds or minutes; grain derived opiates just make it worse (Vojdani 2004; Lahat 2000). A recent analysis demonstrated that kids with autism lack the markers for celiac disease (such as transglutaminase antibody), but they do have increased levels of IgG antibodies to gliadin, especially if abdominal symptoms like diarrhea are present (Lau 2013).
Binge eating disorder and bulimia—People with binge eating disorder tend to eat in large binges, eating well beyond their need, unresponsive to signals that turn off appetite, feeling ashamed at their lack of restraint. Bulimia is a similar condition, with binges followed typically by “purging” the excessive quantity of food from their stomachs by vomiting. People with these eating disorders describe intrusive, 24-hour-a-day food obsessions that occur even after finishing a large meal or during the night, triggering nighttime binges. Both conditions are socially incapacitating, ruin relationships, are associated with low self esteem, and rot the teeth of the bulimic sufferer who puts a finger in the back of her throat to bring up food, exposing tooth enamel to corrosive stomach acid.
Paranoid schizophrenia—The worsening of paranoia, auditory hallucinations (hearing voices and receiving warnings or commands), and social disengagement were among the first observations made with wheat consumption, attributable to the gliadin protein derived opiates (Dohan 1978) and since corroborated by a number of psychiatric studies (Okusaga 2013; Dickerson 2010). This effect may be confined to schizophrenics who express an autoimmune response to the gliadin protein, the group most likely to improve with wheat, rye, and barley avoidance (Kalaydijan 2006; Jackson 2012).
Bipolar illness—We know that people with bipolar illness express higher levels of antibodies to the gliadin protein, similar to the phenomenon observed in schizophrenics (Dickerson 2011; Dickerson 2012). Gliadin derived opiate peptides likely also play a role in generating the distortions in judgment and reality experienced with this condition.
Depression—If there is predisposition for depression, grains, especially wheat, rye, barley, and corn, can magnify or unmask the tendency (Volta 2012). Depression due to the gliadin and prolamin protein derived opiates can be mild, resulting in a pervasive feeling of unhappiness and lack of interest, or it can be incapacitating and life threatening, complete with obsessive thoughts of suicide or self-harm. Both wheat and corn are also responsible for reductions in brain serotonin that regulate mood (Choi 2009).
Obsessive-compulsive disorder—Very similar to the food obsessions experienced by people with binge eating disorder, the person with obsessive-compulsive disorder helplessly gives in to the impulse to obsessively and compulsively perform some action or engage in some thought, behaviors that have been associated with wheat consumption (Sharma 2011). It might be compulsive hand washing, or housecleaning, or checking and rechecking (and rechecking and rechecking) figures in a ledger. Being locked into such behavioral loops can be debilitating for the sufferer, as these rituals can dominate thought and behavior, as well as booby-trap success in school and work and disrupt the health of relationships.
A world of research has yet to be performed to further explore these mind-altering phenomena that develop in people who follow advice to consume more grains, studies that may reveal, for instance, via MRI, PET, and other brain imaging modalities, why and how schizophrenics tend to suffer more auditory hallucinations with grain consumption, or why kids with autistic spectrum disorder experience impaired attention span. Notably, while some mind effects are associated with an immune response against one or more grain proteins, many mind effects do not. But remember: If grains cause such deteriorations of mind control, it also means that you have gained an understanding of how to undo all these effects or, as one of Keanu Reeve’s fellow rebels in the Matrix remarks, “Buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy, ‘cause Kansas is going bye-bye.”