This is your brain on wheat

Here's just a smattering of the studies performed over the past 30 years on the psychological effects of wheat consumption.

Oddly, this never makes the popular press. But wheat underlies schizophrenia, bipolar illness, behavioral outbursts in autism, Huntington's disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The relationship is especially compelling with schizophrenia:

Opioid peptides derived from food proteins: The exorphins.
Zioudrou C et al 1979
"Wheat gluten has been implicated by Dohan and his colleagues in the etiology of schizophrenia and supporting evidence has been provided by others. Our experiments provide a plausible biochemical mechanism for such a role, in the demonstration of the conversion of gluten into peptides with potential central nerovus system actions."

Wheat gluten as a pathogenic factor in schizophrenia
Singh MM et al 1976
"Schizophrenics maintained on a cereal grain-free and milk-free diet and receiving optimal treatment with neuropleptics showed an interruption or reversal of their therapeutic progress during a period of "blind" wheat gluten challenge. The exacerbation of the disease process was not due to variations in neuroleptic doses. After termination of the gluten challenge, the course of improvement was reinstated. The observed effects seemed to be due to a primary schizophrenia-promoting effect of wheat gluten."

Demonstration of high opioid-like activity in isolated peptides from wheat gluten hydrolysates
Huebner FR et al 1984

Is schizophrenia rare if grain is rare?
Dohan FC et al 1984
"Epidemiologic studies demonstrated a strong, dose-dependent relationship between grain intake and the occurrence of schizophrenia."

Comments (32) -

  • Mike

    12/9/2009 11:27:37 PM |

    Dr. Davis,

       Excellent post!  It's quite apparent the auto-immune stimulating qualities of WGA are behind a plethora of chronic diseases.

    Regarding both cardiovascular disease and obesity, though, is it a similar mechanism, strictly related to inflammation, or a combination of autoimmunity AND inflammation?  I'm often asked why wheat is "worse" than other forms of dense carbohydrates, but I'm at a loss for a simplistic explanation.

  • Charles R.

    12/10/2009 12:24:59 AM |

    You don't have to convince me.

    A number of years ago, I realized wheat was causing me problems, mostly at that time energy problems. If I ate a breakfast with toast, I would get tired almost immediately after. It was probably carbs in general, but I just stopped eating all wheat.

    About 5-6 months after that, I came home, saw a box of saltines on the counter, and devoured them. Within an half-hour, I was going through an incredible depressive episode to the point of having suicidal thoughts. It was like someone had turned on a crazy switch in my brain.

    Totally anecdotal of course, but I tried the same thing a couple of other times and really noticed immediate changes in my ideation and feelings, so got the message and stopped wheat altogether.

  • Michael

    12/10/2009 1:55:00 AM |

    I use wheat grass tablets from Pines.  Is wheat grass harmful like wheat?  I assume the answer is no because there is no gluten in wheat grass.  Am I correct?

  • Kennedy

    12/10/2009 2:31:57 PM |

    Very scary.

  • Anonymous

    12/10/2009 4:11:37 PM |

    How interesting! Thank you for sharing this.

  • Zach

    12/10/2009 4:59:49 PM |

    Dr. Davis,
    I hope you take this as a compliment!  I follow your blog regularly.  Thanks for all of the great info and wisdom that you've shared over the last year with me since I've been an avid reader of your site.

    I also follow Jimmy Moore's site, and saw your picture/name as a participant for an upcoming Low Carb/Fitness Cruise.  I was struck by how your face has really leaned out and is much more muscular/healthy looking.  The picture you currently have on your blog looks good!  I was just wondering whether since your blog picture was taken whether you've leaned out since really bearing down and following a gluten-free diet especially over the last 12+ months?

    Wish I could join you on this cruise, maybe next time.  Thanks again for being at the front of the "normal carb" revolution.

    Best Regards,
    Zach (over at The Paleo Garden)

  • Drs. Cynthia and David

    12/11/2009 12:48:52 AM |

    Here is another report for your list (from Eric Westman at Duke): "Schizophrenia, gluten, and low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets: a case report and review of the literature"

    They report the resolution of long standing schizophrenia using a ketogenic diet.

  • Anne

    12/11/2009 4:21:13 AM |

    My brain on wheat(gluten) was fogged and depressed. In fact, I did not know how depressed I was until I stopped eating gluten. I never knew I could feel so good.

    It is well established that gluten can cause seizures and other neurological problems. You can read articles and abstracts about the neurological effects of gluten in The Gluten File

    What does this have to do with my heart? Well, my pitting edema and shortness of breath disappeared when I stopped eating wheat.

  • Michael

    12/11/2009 4:35:39 AM |

    I take wheat grass tablets by Pines.  Is wheat grass harmful like wheat?

  • Adam

    12/11/2009 6:44:24 AM |

    I've been on a no wheat diet for over a month now. Unfortunately, I can't say I've felt anything in the way of mental benefits. Or any benefits at all really.

    But then, I'm pretty healthy overall. I exercise at least an hour a day, and I'm relatively young.

    I must conclude that abstaining from wheat is either most beneficial to the unhealthy/elderly, or is a bunch of a hooey Smile

  • Tim

    12/11/2009 12:06:50 PM |

    Do you have more information on wheat and Huntington's Disease? Has anyone been able to prevent this disease by eliminating wheat from the diet? What evidence is there?


  • Dr. William Davis

    12/11/2009 12:52:47 PM |

    Wheat grass and breads like Ezekiel, to my knowledge, have no gluten. This makes them less harmful, though the bread still poses carbohydrate challenge issues.

  • Dr. William Davis

    12/11/2009 12:53:58 PM |


    Dr. Loren Cordain of The Paleo Diet has talked about the relationship of wheat and Huntington's recently in his latest newsletter. He sums up the literature very nicely.

  • Nigel Kinbrum BSc(Hons)Eng

    12/11/2009 6:42:49 PM |

    According to Cereal Grains:
    Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword,
    gluten can cause C(o)eliac Disease, Dermatitis Herpetiformis, Sjogren's Syndrome and Cerebellar Ataxia.

    My ex-G/F used to get intensely itchy spots on her skin and she also had dry eyes. When she went gluten-free on my suggestion, the itchy spots disappeared and her eyes got a little less dry, but she still has to use artificial tears. She also commented that her belly was less bloated since going gluten-free. Result!

    A lady I know has a son with Xeroderma Pigmentosum and Cerebellar Ataxia. When she put her son on a gluten-free diet after reading the above article that I'd e-mailed her a link to, he improved dramatically and began doing things that his mum thought he would never be able to do, as he was previously deteriorating. Result!

  • Aileen

    12/11/2009 11:15:55 PM |

    I think this is a bit extremist. Whilst those effects do exist in some people, along with problems with other food groups such as Solanaceae they are not ubiquitous by any means.  There are lots of people out there who can eat anything including wheat, dairy and other food groups with gay abandon and suffer NO adverse effects. Opioid peptides are also acknowledged as occurring in other foods such as eggs and OATS and when you think about it the potential is there for them to come out of ANY protein since all proteins are broken down into peptides for digestion.

    So, whilst people do need to be aware that they can have intolerances to a wide range of foods for various reasons I think making blanket statements such as this that may compel people to exclude large numbers of food products from their diet for perhaps no good reason, is dangerous and irresponsible.

    Anyone suspecting problems with food groups should see an allergist and go through the process of a proper food elimination diet.

    I do also appreciate that food intolerances can come and go for a range of reasons.

  • Anne

    12/11/2009 11:31:23 PM |

    Food for Life makes Ezekiel bread and it is not the list of gluten free products.

    Other breads that people often ask about are Sami's and Delands. Although they contain no gluten grains, when tested they showed high amounts of gluten.

    So if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you need to avoid these products.

    Wheat grass would be gluten free as long as there are no seeds.

  • Dr. William Davis

    12/12/2009 12:04:02 AM |

    Hi, Zach--

    Started thyroid replacement when my T3 went real low. I think that did it.

    Thanks for noticing.

  • Dr. William Davis

    12/12/2009 12:06:12 AM |

    Sorry, Aileen. All proteins do not break down into the same polypeptides, since there are numerous and varying sequences of amino acids that differ, say, between oats, wheat, beef, nuts, etc.

    So a polypeptide is not always the same polypeptide. Referring to a basic biochemistry text would show this quite clearly.

    If you think you've escaped the ill-effects of this ubiquitous, more often than not you're wrong. You just haven't realized it yet.

  • JPB

    12/12/2009 2:09:30 AM |

    Now you should write a post on the effects of wheat plus statins....

  • Aileen

    12/12/2009 6:37:26 AM |

    I do know my biochemistry thanks!  I didn't say all proteins break down into the same peptides. Also having been through a proper elimination diet in te past I can say with certainty that gluten/wheat/dairy give me no ill effects.

    As with all things in life everyone is different, different populations of receptors in the brain hence different sensitivities and responses.  You can't blanket say gluten (or anything else) is bad for you.

    And as with many other things in life - often you don't find stuff out till you look for it.  How many studies on red wine are quoted and its only now they are beginning to look at white wine and find many of the same effects!

  • Anonymous

    12/13/2009 9:05:50 PM |

    Aileen, YOU GO GIRL!  Dr D., you were a bit quick on the put down.

    I like that Dr Davis is passionate about CAD risk reduction but I frequently post here when I see generalizations based on limited or cherry picked studies. That is the sort of thing, oh I don't know, big pharma would do.

    We don't all have to live like Inuit, there are plenty of vegetarians that are healthy and have no ill effects from eating wheat gluten every day. Or does someone have a study to say all vegetarians are lethargic and overweight?


  • Anonymous

    12/15/2009 12:40:28 AM |

    Hi there,

    Just wondering if you are a member of THINCS ( run by Dr.Uffe Ravnskov,

  • Anonymous

    1/30/2010 4:27:51 PM |


    Yes of course not all will get mental illnesses from gluten and a big proportion will not get immediate reaction to gluten. However, it has been shown that it can cause schizophrenia in a small part of the population. Around 30% of normal healthy people produce antibodies to gluten that can be measured in the stool. There are even reports of disappearance of schizophrenia, all sorts of unexplained fatigue and other mental illnesses. There is a strong correlation between gluten consumption and schizophrenia as well.

    Now, cannabis has been shows to cause schizophrenia and other mental problems too. Not all will get it and a lot of people can live reasonable lives with it. Would you say cannabis is bad and causes mental illnesses, when similar to gluten it causes various mental problems in a significant proportion of the population? The difference between them is that cannabis has immediate psychoactive properties in almost everyone, so people have no problem believing it's problematic. Gluten does contain exorphins, which do have opioid-like activities. Also the immunogenic factor causing gut malfunction and nutrient malabsorption. How you will handle the opioids and what effects the antibodies and immune system activation will have on your body, no one knows.

    Even if you don't get immediate reactions from wheat, I wouldn't bet my life on its harmfulness.

  • lib

    4/17/2010 10:03:30 AM |

    3 months ago i began to eliminate processed food and alchohol from my diet.It has been hard but i have lost 7 kilos and have been feeling great.
    Yesterday i was excessively bad ,gave in (the story of my life) and had 3 weetbix,foccacia bread,2 jam donuts.2 beers and 2 pieces of white flat bread.
    Well today i feel dreadful.This afternoon i yelled,slammed doors,verbally abused my husband went into depression and had suicidal thoughts.
    I have suffered from depression in the past but never as severe as this!
    I strongly believe it was due to the wheat consumption,so I went on to the web and typed in 'wheat and depression" and found your site.After reading a few of the blogs i thought i muat be right.Incredible.
    Well i will be avoiding wheat now as i have another reason too not just for weight loss.
    I'll introduce wheat say in another 2 months time and see if i get the same reaction.It may not be pleasant but will convince me.

  • Anonymous

    7/12/2010 7:39:24 PM |

    Hi, just found your site.  A year ago after going thru horrible female issues and tons of unexplained medical problems I met a nurse who told me to cut out wheat.  I was in the process of having biopsies because no Dr. could figure out what was wrong with me.  

    I have no cancerSmile I won't list all the things wrong with me at the time but it was bad, and I was doubting my sanity.  I've always struggled with depression. Cutting out the wheat has helped so much. Most of my health problems went away.  

    I may eat a little bit here and there, but not often. I find myself in tears soon after and the depression and body aches come back.

    It is a shame that so many Dr.'s know nothing of this or tell me it's all hype. Thank God for the internet, at least now we know we aren't crazy and the wheat problem is finally getting some attention.

  • buy jeans

    11/3/2010 9:10:14 PM |

    Oddly, this never makes the popular press. But wheat underlies schizophrenia, bipolar illness, behavioral outbursts in autism, Huntington's disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

  • Anonymous

    2/8/2011 6:51:25 PM |


    If people limited all gluten grains to just 2 or 3% of their diet it would probably be fine.  BUT, the huge problem is that people think their cereal is healthy.  Then they think their whole wheat bread is healthy.  Then they think their pasta is healthy.  By now we are approaching 50 to 75% of their diet.  Then people serve breaded chicken nuggets to their kids.  It is literally killing people.

    Dr. Davis is a hero!  Many Drs. do not even take the time to care.

  • majkinetor

    3/9/2011 9:49:18 AM |

    Anonimous said: "Now, cannabis has been shows to cause schizophrenia and other mental problems too. Not all will get it and a lot of people can live reasonable lives with it".

    Cannabis DOES NOT cause schizophrenia, that is outdated and probably politicized research. The marijuana smoking is a symptom rather then cause of schizophrenia. Brain CB1 receptors are endogenously used by Anandamide neurotransmitter which is very low in schizophrenic people. THC is more potent version of Anandamide and thats the reason schizophrenic people use it more then regular people who already have normal levels of endogenous version. Cannabis is used as a medicine for most of the history.

  • JT

    7/11/2011 12:11:31 PM |

    Crackers make you want to kill yourself?
    Your problems stretch far beyond wheat, sir.

  • stuart

    8/24/2011 3:55:54 PM |


    Just because you don't understand the entirety of the problem, try not to belittle Charles.  Charles may have been exaggerating a bit.  Yes, the problems extend far beyond wheat because wheat infects almost all junk food, processed food, fast food, and "premium" prepared foods.  

    Maybe it is time you wise up JT.  Just go to a restaurant with a Gluten free menu.  Then compare all the offerings on that menu to the regular menu.  You guessed it JT,  EVERYTHING else has gluten.  Even the minestrone soup, coffee creamer, ice cream, etc.  Why?  Wheat is the quickest and cheapest way to "thicken" and to make products seem "rich".  

    Wheat is just another method of control.  Keeping the rich wealthy and the poor dumb and sick.