Wheat withdrawal: How common?

In response to the recent Heart Scan Blog poll,

Have you experienced fatigue and mental fogginess with stopping wheat, i.e., "wheat withdrawal"?

the 104 respondents said:

Yes, I have experienced it: 26 (25%)

No, I stopped wheat and did not experience it: 65 (62%)

I'm not sure: 3 (2%)

I haven't tried it but plan to: 7 (6%)

I haven't tried it and don't plan to: 3 (2%)

So 25% of respondents reported experiencing the fatigue and mental fogginess of wheat withdrawal. This is similar to what I observe in my practice.

I counsel many patients to consider the elimination of wheat, as well as cornstarch products, in an effort to regain control over:

--Low HDL
--High triglycerides
--Small LDL
--High blood sugar
--High blood pressure

All of these issues respond--often dramatically--to elimination of wheat and cornstarch.

Why would there be undesirable effects of eliminating wheat?

One clear issue is that elimination of wheat and other sugar-equivalents deprives your body of glucose. Your body then needs to resort to fatty acid metabolism to generate energy. Apparently, some people are inefficient at this conversion, having subsisted on carbohydrates for the last few decades of their lives. However, as fatty acid metabolism kicks in, energy generation improves. That is my (over-)simplified way of reasoning it through.

However, are there other explanations behind the mental fogginess, drop in energy, and overwhelming sleepiness? Some readers of this blog have suggested that, since opioid-like sequences (i.e., amino acide sequences that activate opiate receptors) are present in wheat, perhaps withdrawal from wheat represents a lesser form of opiate withdrawal. I find this a fascinating possibility, though I know of no literature devoted to establishing a cause-effect relationship.

Whatever the mechanism, I find it very peculiar that this food widely touted by the USDA, American Heart Association, and other agencies actually triggers a withdrawal syndrome in approximately 25% of people. Spinach does not trigger withdrawal. Nor does flaxseed, olive oil, almonds, and countless other healthy foods.

Then why would whole wheat grains be lumped with other healthy foods?

Comments (11) -

  • Anonymous

    10/7/2008 12:29:00 AM |

    Eliminate wheat and cornstarch, check.

    What about other grains?

    Is it necessary to eliminate ALL grains to get control of small LDL, etc., etc.?

    What about oats, as oat bran is a mainstay fiber of the TYP program?

    Are cooked oat groats (whole oats) an acceptable grain on TYP?

    So many questions... perhaps better to post these on the TYP members forum.  Smile

    Thanks for this informative blog!


  • Anonymous

    10/7/2008 2:45:00 AM |

    Well somebody should invite a "Wheat Patch" -
    The withdrawals are very very strong for me and have taken some time to subside.

  • Peter

    10/7/2008 10:57:00 AM |

    Hi Dr Davis,

    Here's an intro

    the peptides

    more on the peptides

    male breast enhancement?

    behavioural effects

    Insulin effects

    I like that last one as it provides a link through exaggerated pancreatic response to carbohydrate, subsequent hyperinsulinaemia leading to reactive hypoglycaemia. Then hunger triggers another bagel, more hyperinsulinaemia and then an anticipatory bagel becomes habitual as hunger is unpleasant and can be avoided. This sets up for chronic hyperinsulinaemia with pathological insulin resistance as a survival tactic for muscles to avoid sugar poisoning. Chronic hyperinsulinaemia equals metabolic syndrome, small dense LDL etc etc...

    Both spinach and haemoglobin contain similar sequences, but wheat is verging on indestructable in its structure, plus it opens the tight junctions between eneterocytes to gain access to the systemic circulation, not a feature of many other foods...


    The schizophrenia links would be off topic on a CVD blog...

  • Anonymous

    10/7/2008 1:29:00 PM |

    What implications are there for someone to eliminate wheat if they are not overweight and their triglycerides and LDL particle size are both in a good range?

  • Nancy LC

    10/7/2008 2:11:00 PM |

    I was lucky not to have the brain fog on quitting wheat, but I had it when I was abusing wheat!  

    Truly, it feels like I got my old brain back, the youthful, smart one, when I quit eating wheat and all gluten.  Such brain fog that stuff gave me.

  • Anne

    10/8/2008 12:18:00 AM |

    Not only did I have withdrawal symptoms when I eliminated wheat (and barley and rye), but I become fatigued, irritable, foggy brained and red eyed if I get even the tiniest bit of these grains. I have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Tests by Enterolab revealed my body makes antibodies against gluten(the carrier proteins in these grains).

    The heart connection? For me, I think wheat contributed to or caused the inflammation that blocked my heart vessel. I cannot prove this other than to say my health has improved dramatically since giving up wheat and other related grains. I have also found I need a diet low in carbs to keep my blood glucose low. That eliminated all the other grains.

    How common is gluten sensitivity? There is a growing number of doctors who believe this affects 10-30% of the population. Add to that, the people who have a wheat allergy(wheat is among the top 8 allergens), and you have a lot of people who should not be eating even a smidgen of wheat.

    Peter, thanks for the links.

  • Margaret P

    10/8/2008 2:45:00 AM |

    I haven't eliminated wheat, but after eliminating corn and its derivatives from my diet, my already painful and increasingly serious sinus infection cleared up.  I also went from needing 11-12 hours of sleep to 9-10.

    I think allergies to corn are very common but almost never recognized.  Corn is in almost every processed food.  I was sick for a decade before a friend suggested avoiding corn and it took only two days to see a dramatic improvement in my health.

  • Anonymous

    10/9/2008 12:53:00 AM |

    I can only speak from my own experience, but after eating wheat (all grains) for 50 years, my immune system is shot. Now if I consume even a couple of items (pasta or muffin or bread), within a day my feet swell up and my left knee is so painful I can barely walk nevermind the pain in my back. Those are just the first warning signs. If I dare continue, I know that within a short time I could possibly die. After a week of no grain and sugar, I'm practically jumping out of bed with no pain whatsoever anywhere. I have tested this several times (stupid me) and no longer experiment.

  • Anonymous

    12/12/2008 9:45:00 PM |

    i have been off wheat and soya for two weeks, for the first week i felt fine, but now i feel half asleep, like i haven't got enough energy for anything and could just fall asleep at any given moment.  i though i was alone! I have also dropeed two dress sizes in the past two weeks and am becoming concerned about how quickly i am losing weight? should this slow down soon? I am a little over weight, but not massively so i don't want to lose too much.

  • Anonymous

    6/5/2009 3:46:15 PM |

    i eliminated wheat from my diet and had the  fogginess and headaches.

    very informative blog, thank you

  • Anonymous

    1/21/2011 7:05:42 PM |

    I'm on day 4 of wheat removal and it's very tough.

    I know from experimentation that potatoes, rice, fruit, corn (corn flakes), and even artificial sugars like a chocolate bar don't affect these withdrawal symptoms.  

    I haven't tried oatmeal or barley out of a fear of gluten, but just to add to the discussion that I'm finding wheat uniquely bad for withdrawal even though I'm getting plenty of carbs from white rice and fruit, also getting plenty of meat and fat and veggies.  Adding in wheat makes the withdrawal symptoms go away, although I feel much worse physically.  Thus, I'm having heavy fatigue and headache constantly despite having a moderate amount of carbs with each meal.  Also, from experience, the rice I eat with each meal gives me very mild negative effects physically, so I'm positive all of this headache and fatigue is from wheat withdrawal.  It's become very consistent by now.  I hope this goes away soon...