What does wheat have in common with heroin and morphine?

You might think I’m crazy after reading the title, but hold on for a second and let me explain.

Wheat is something almost everyone consumes, and many people consider it to be healthy. It seems far fetched that it would have something in common with hard drugs like heroin.

Well, it turns out that when the proteins in wheat (gluten) are digested they turn in to substances that are able to stimulate the same receptors activated by heroin and morphine in the brain.

It is also known that during coeliac disease, which is a serious case of gluten intolerance, substances from gluten are able to cross the digestive tract and into the body.

A picture of a Wheat Field

Wheat fields can be incredibly beautiful, especially at sunset

Amino acids, peptides and proteins

Amino acids are the building blocks of the body. When they are linked together in large numbers, they form peptides and proteins.

You can think of peptides as a bunch of linked amino acids, sort of like beads on a string. Proteins are simply very long peptides that can be folded and joined into massive structural units.

In other words, amino acids are linked to form peptides, and proteins are simply very long peptides.

Meet gluten, a possible cause of wheat addiction

In the digestive tract there are things known as enzymes which help with the breakdown of food.

Some of these enzymes cleave proteins into smaller peptides in order for us to digest them. You can think of those enzymes as scissors that cut proteins (like beads on a string) into smaller pieces.

For example, the imaginary protein A-B-C-D-E-F-G gets cut by an enzyme in to A-B-C and D-E-F-G.

Well, a bunch of researchers decided to cleave wheat glutens with digestive enzymes. When that was over, the glutens had formed a bunch of smaller peptides.

The next thing they did, was put those small peptides on to so-called “opioid receptors”, which are receptors in the body and brain that are affected by natural substances in the body such as endorphins, but also by opiate drugs like heroin and morphine.

It turns out that those peptides from wheat gluten are able to activate those opiate receptors (1).

The theory is, that those peptides are able to pass through the digestive tract, in to the blood stream, through the blood-brain barrier to activate those opioid receptors and cause addiction.

Of course, the addiction wouldn’t be nearly as strong as heroin or morphine addiction, but it might still exist even though the effects are subtle.

Meet the opiate-blocker: Naltrexone

A side effect of one drug that is used to treat alcoholism and opiate addiction, is that it causes reduction in appetite and reduction in calorie intake.

Dr. William Davis believes that this is because this drug also blocks the effects of those opioid peptides formed from gluten, just like it blocks the effects of other opiate drugs.

Conclusion

There is also some evidence that gluten consumption can exacerbate mental disorders like schizophrenia in some patients, which is another indicator of it being able to cross the blood-brain barrier (2).

People with coeliac disease, a severe form of gluten intolerance, are also much more likely to become schizophrenic than the rest of the population (3).

I think the case for wheat having addictive properties is pretty strong, especially when you factor in all of the anecdotal evidence of people craving foods with wheat in them.

Ever crave and overeat on pizza, donuts, cakes, cookies or wheat bread?

It may not be simply because of the sugar.

I believe that wheat helps cause these unnatural cravings and that it is a major player in the development of junk food addiction.


 

3 Comments

  1. I had heard those suffering from autism do better when on a gluten-free diet – this article helps to understand why.

  2. Carmie Brent says:

    Wheat is the basic source of food in some country, it;’s unbelievable that it can compare to heroin and morphine. I don’t a lot of knowledge a bout drugs, thanks for the post i understand the meaning of it.

  3. Hey Carmie, thanks for commenting.

    I’m not really saying it is “as bad” as heroine or morphine, I’m rather suggesting that there is a physiological mechanism for wheat being addictive that shares some features with opiate drugs. :)

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