Dr. Christine Zioudrou and colleagues at the National Institutes of Mental Health got this conversation going back in 1979 with their paper, Opioid peptides derived from food proteins: The exorphins.
Exorphins are exogenously-derived peptides (i.e., short amino acid sequences obtained from outside the body) that exert morphine-like properties. Mimicking the digestive process that occurs in the gastrointestinal tract using the gastric enzyme, pepsin, and hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), Zioudrou et al isolated peptides from wheat gluten with morphine-like activity. They followed this research path because of the apparent association of wheat and mental illness.
In the bioassays used, wheat-derived exorphins competed successfully with the endogenous opiate, met-enkephalin. Interestingly, casein-derived (i.e., casein milk protein) exorphins were also identified that also displayed opiate-binding activity, though less powerfully. The morphine-like activity was also blocked by the drug, naloxone (the same stuff given to people exposed to morphine overdose).
Among the many devastating effects of celiac disease , the immune disease that develops from wheat gluten exposure, are mental and emotional effects, such as anxiety, fatigue, mental “fog,” depression, bipolar illness, and schizophrenia, that disappear with removal of gluten. Many parents of autistic children also advocate wheat-free diets for similar reasons.
Among the many wonderful comments posted on the last Heart Scan Blog post, “I can’t do it,” was Anne’s:
I am not the Anne in your post, but I was addicted to wheat. It was my favorite food. I lived on and for breads. Then I discovered I was gluten sensitive and I did go through a withdrawal of about 4 days. After 4 days I noticed my health problems were disappearing. Depression, brain fog and joint pain are 3 of the many symptoms that disappeared. That was 6 yrs ago.
Tell Anne that I had dreams about bread in the beginning – they will pass. Now the donuts, breads, cookies and cakes in the stores and at work don’t even look good. In fact, I don’t like the smell of bread anymore. It takes time, but the cravings do pass.
Combine wheat”s exorphin-driven addictive potential with its flagrant blood sugar-increasing properties, and you have a formula that:
1) makes you fat
2) increases likelihood of diabetes, and
3) makes you want to keep on doing it.
Reminds me of nicotine.
My personal view: I have absolutely no remaining doubt that wheat products have no place in the human diet. Not only does the research provide a plausible basis for its adverse health effects, but having asked hundreds of people to remove it from their habits has yielded consistent and remarkable health benefits. Just read the reader comments here and here.
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