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  • Writer's pictureJoan Rothchild Hardin

Addictions – Gluten

There are many addictions besides drugs like tobacco, alcohol and narcotics. They all involve the gut-brain axis. For example, there’s wheat addiction.

Substances produced during the digestion of wheat, called polypeptides, are able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier separating the bloodstream from the brain. Once inside the brain, wheat polypeptides bind to the brain’s morphine receptors, the very same ones used by opiate drugs.

In a World Health Organization study of 32 wheat-consuming schizophrenics with active auditory hallucinations, the opiate-antagonist naloxone was found to reduce their hallucinations, alerting researchers to the mind-altering effects of wheat.

And, in case you need further evidence of the addictive quality of wheat: It has been shown in laboratory animals that administrating the opiate-blocking drug naloxone also blocks gluten-derived exorphins from binding to the opiate receptors in the brain.

Furthermore, in two separate studies, opiate-blocking drugs administered to non-opiate using, non-psychotic, wheat-eating humans with uncontrollable appetite have been shown to reduce both calorie intake and cravings – and the effect seems specific to wheat-containing products.

Ever crave bread or cookies when you feel anxious or upset and nothing else will do? And then, after feeding your addiction, you feel better but need to keep dosing yourself at regular intervals. You are addicted. During the many years I consumed wheat, I’d often find myself feeling sleepy and foggy brained after meals – which always contained bread or a wheat-based dessert. Back then I had no idea I was addicted to gluten and was nodding off after consuming it. And I certainly craved and baked cakes, cookies, breads – anything containing wheat. They were my comfort foods and my family was addicted right along with me.

Wheat is clearly a food with potent central nervous system effects. It can alter mood, induce pleasurable effects similar to those of alcohol and narcotics – and as I well know, there’s a withdrawal syndrome when it’s withdrawn. (Davis, 2011)

I’ll also point out that the gluten in wheat products produces considerable inflammation in the body. Dr Kelly Brogan’s excellent article This Is Your Gut (and Brain) on Wheat lays out a clear explanation of what happens in the body when it is fed wheat. (Brogan, 2013)

Add refined processed sugar (such as high fructose corn syrup) and trans fats to wheat and you augment the addiction process.  A study showed that Oreos are just as addictive as opiate drugs. The research was investigating the potential addictiveness of high fat/high sugar junk foods. It found that eating Oreos activated more neurons in the pleasure centers of lab rats’ brains than exposure to cocaine and morphine did. (Mercola, 10/23/2013) That yummy filling in Oreos is basically sugar flavored Crisco. And it’s hard to feel satisfied with just one.

If you’re interested in keeping your body as free of inflammation as possible – ie, as healthy as possible, read Dr Brogan’s article and also take a look at Dr Davis’s book Wheat Belly: Lose the wheat, lose the weight, and find your path back to health. On this Allergies and Your Gut site I’ve talked about how gluten produces inflammation, leading to many long term adverse health problems. See in particular INFLAMMATION.

And remember:  Inflammation in the body may be present for many years before overt symptoms are noticed or a recognized illness makes itself known.

People often ask what’s left to eat if you give up gluten. Having asked that question myself and then finally becoming so unwell I was virtually forced into becoming gluten free, I can assure you there’s a world of interesting foods – and good health – awaiting you.


Now you might reasonably think something labeled like this, as ‘Certified Gluten-Free’, would contain no gluten – but you would be wrong. This label means that the product is probably safe for people with celiac disease but still may contain some gluten. I can tell you from personal experience that many products so labeled have given me a big gluten reaction, what those of us with diagnosed gluten sensitivity and gluten allergies call ‘being glutened’. For me that reaction feels like being hit over the head with a shovel. Read this article for more information. (Anderson, 2013)


 I accidentally got zapped with some gluten hidden in my lunch at a Japanese restaurant two days ago. Made my brain foggy and the energy all fell out of my body – that being-hit-over-the-head-with-a-shovel-feeling I get from gluten. I always order so carefully but the restaurant’s chef yesterday apparently felt the need to be creative and added some tempura crumbs to the sushi.

It took 8-9 hours for my brain and energy to return to working order but then I started feeling like I was coming down with something viral and my sinuses got all stuffed up at bedtime. I haven’t had much sinus congestion for many months, since getting my gut into really good shape. So my hunch is that the gluten weakened my immune system. I did some manual lymphatic drainage on myself and took two Dr Shen’s Yin Chiao tablets. I had to repeat the drainage and tablets again yesterday morning to get rid of the viral feeling but my sinuses were still blocked up. Woke up much clearer this morning, two days later.

Yin Chiao is a Chinese herbal product I take at the first sign of something viral (a cold or flu) to avoid fully becoming sick. If the pathogen is especially strong, I’ll need to take the dose more than once, an hour or more apart, before it fully vanquishes the invader.

If I ever needed an example of what gluten does to me in the short run, this was it. Inflammation, inflammation, inflammation!

BTW, if you’re a sushi or gyoza fan, you can purchase individual packets of gluten free organic tamari to carry with you so you can have some in Japanese restaurants that don’t offer GF soy. An order contains 240 packets so, unless you eat Japanese food out daily, you might want to share it with a friend or two.


Anderson, J. (2013). What Is Gluten-Free? Foods With Gluten-Free Label Still May Contain Some Gluten: Gluten-Free Labeling by Manufacturers Voluntary. See

Brogan, K. (2013). This Is Your Body (and Brain) on Gluten. See

Davis, W. (2011). Wheat Belly: Lose the wheat, lose the weight, and find your path back to health. 48-51.

Mercola, R. (10/23/2013). As the EU Launches Shocking Fructose Health Claim Label, Oreos Are Found to Be as Addictive as Cocaine. See

A version of this page content will appear in my forthcoming 2014 Oriental Medicine Journal article THE MICROBIOTA-GUT-BRAIN AXIS: The constant two-way communication between our guts and our brains.

© Copyright 2013-2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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