This is your brain on wheat II

In the original Heart Scan Blog post, This is your brain on wheat, I discussed how opioid peptides (i.e., small proteins that act like opiates such as heroine or morphine) that result from digestion of wheat cause unique effects on the human brain, particularly addictive behaviors. I also briefly reviewed how elimination of wheat has been shown to reduce auditory hallucinations and other psychotic behaviors in a subset of people with paranoid schizophrenia.

These two phenomena, addictions and schizophrenia, are most likely the result of exorphins that cross the blood-brain barrier. Exorphins--exogenous morphine-like compounds--can be blocked by opiate-blocking drugs like naloxone and naltrexone. Naloxone is used in hospitals to reverse morphine or heroine overdoses; naltrexone is being repackaged into a weight loss drug, since blocking wheat-derived exorphins reduces appetite. (Yes: The USDA tells us to eat more wheat, the drug industry sells us the antidote.)

There's another way that wheat can affect the brain and nervous system: immune-activated damage.

This is similar to the effect seen in celiac. There's even overlap with some of the antibody markers used to diagnose celiac, like the anti-gliadin antibodies and the anti-endomysium antibodies.

The most common immune neurological syndrome consequent to wheat consumption is cerebellar ataxia, a condition in which an immune response causes damage to the Purkinje cells of the cerebellum, the portion of the brain responsible for balance and coordination. This results in stumbling, incoordination, incontinence, and eventually leads to reliance on a cane or walker and wearing a diaper. Average age of onset: 53 years. A shrunken, atrophied cerebellum can be seen on an MRI of the brain.

Problem: Most people with central nervous system damage caused by wheat do not have any intestinal symptoms, like diarrhea and abdominal pain, the sort of symptoms usually associated with celiac disease. It means the first sign of wheat-induced brain damage may be bumping into walls and wetting your pants.

Comments (24) -

  • LeonRover

    7/28/2010 9:18:57 PM |

    Being Irish an' all, my jeans will only allow me to thrive on a few spuds served with lashin's of butter an' onions and o' course sides of bacon and eggs washed down with Whiskey Go Leor, sometimes called The Juice o' the Barley.

    Minimal wheat.

  • Thrasymachus

    7/28/2010 10:35:34 PM |

    It only makes sense that there are vast numbers of people actually addicted to food, not metaphorically, but in the same way people are addicted to drugs and nicotine. A good start would be stop subsidizing this addiction, but since we have a government of the grain farmers, by the grain farmers, and for the grain farmers, that's not likely.

  • Anonymous

    7/29/2010 4:26:28 AM |

    Is wheat induced brain damage reversible, if one goes off wheat say at 50.?

  • Anonymous

    7/29/2010 5:34:31 AM |

    I would bet good money that this post will get more people off wheat than all your posts about wheat and heart disease combined!

  • Hans Keer

    7/29/2010 6:35:47 AM |

    You are totally right the devastating effects of wheat and its palls goes from gut to brain VBR

  • Anonymous

    7/29/2010 10:22:18 AM |

    Dr. Davis

    As usual you are SPOT ON. exactly right with the symptoms and age. Just amazing all clinical symptoms described were seen by me in my father from 53 (stumbling and falling) to 58 (requiring help walking) to 60 (epilepsy hallucinations and fears)to 61 (bedridden) to 64 (last year November) death.

    Come to think, it was so simple to save him. It is just unreal.

  • Yogi Sinzapatos

    7/29/2010 3:55:16 PM |

    Sprouted wheat however is I believe extremely good for health.

  • Anonymous

    7/29/2010 3:59:26 PM |


    Does anyone how tequila is made?

  • lisa32989

    7/29/2010 6:16:37 PM |

    No wheat in tequila Smile

  • stop smoking help

    7/29/2010 9:05:39 PM |

    Is it time to join the bandwagon? No more drinking, no more smoking, no more wheat? Really, did I just write that? I have to say, I really enjoy my PB&J on whole grain wheat bread, as do my kids.

    Eating wheat is like apple pie and July 4th fireworks. How can we possibly do without and find a relatively cheap substitute? Is rice any good or is that a bad carb too?

    To eat healthy, is it just you need to eat organic and nonwheat foods and watch your carb-mix?

    Does it have to be this complicated? Has anyone written a book with easy to find, cheap/healthy ingredients that is easy to prepare in 30 minutes or less and feeds a family of 4?

    Right now, we're basically down to grilled chicken/fish/pork with steamed fresh brocolli/green beans and long-grain rice. That's pretty much all we eat anymore, with the occassional cheeseburger/steak indulgence.

  • Anonymous

    7/29/2010 9:38:25 PM |

    I started Low Dose Naltrexone 2 months ago to help with Autoimmune Disease.  I started at 1.5 and now am at 3.0
    I will increase to 4.5 in 2 weeks.

    I eliminated grains and dairy 1 month ago.

    I have lost 10 pounds.

    I could be as simple as the diet changes but I think more is going on.

    I have less pain which allows me to sleep through the night.
    I have more energy.
    I am more active and actually exercising.
    I am supplementing Vit. D and getting daily sun exposure (my Vit. D level was 41).
    My moods have greatly improved.

    Ironically, any time I have been prescribed an opiate pain medication, I have had severe allergic reactions.

    As far as the Neuro symptoms, I do have Meniere's complete with dizziness and vertigo.  So far I have not noticed any positive impact but still hopeful.

    Thanks Dr. Davis for all your information.


  • Anne

    7/30/2010 2:36:19 AM |

    "This results in stumbling, incoordination, incontinence, "

    I know you are right on. I was having mild ataxia and stress incontinence. Off gluten for 7 years and balance is better and no stress incontinence.

    This also affects dogs. My 12 year old cairn terrier was stumbling, falling over and urinating in her sleep. Got her off grains 2 years ago and she improved immediately.

  • Anonymous

    7/30/2010 4:35:39 AM |

    I can not say it enough times..............  Be healthy, not Paranoid.

    Dr. D emphasizes extremes for effect.  Do not fall into either side of the trap. Complacency nor paranoia.  informed decisions are critical for you and your family's well being


  • Anonymous

    7/30/2010 7:28:00 AM |

    i'd agree with Trevor as well.

    sourdough wheat (traditional preparation) and boiled raw milk go together.

    sourdoughing helps breakdown anti nutrients in wheat making the nutrients more bio available. Further Raw milk takes care of the rest by providing necessary enzymes (phystase etc) to digest wheat completely.

    pasteurized milk and wheat consumed without sourdoughing give both milk and wheat a bad name and will improve health when stopped simultaneously.

    traditional preparations eliminate such problems to a large extent.

  • Parag

    7/30/2010 9:55:55 AM |

    Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.  Is an inherited, autoimmune disease in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged from eating gluten and other proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats.
    celiac disease symptoms

  • Alex

    7/30/2010 10:48:56 AM |

    Sprouting wheat begins the process of breaking down gluten, but it is not a complete process. Same goes for fermenting. Making a suboptimal food less bad for you does not mean that food is now good for you.

    As for boiled raw milk, taking raw milk to a boil heats it to an even higher temperature than is done during regular, non-UHT pasteurization, and it keeps it at that high temperature for a much longer time than any commercial pasteurization process. Raw milk that's been pasteurized at home at a higher temperature for a much longer time is not somehow magically superior to commercially pasteurized milk.

  • Anonymous

    7/30/2010 2:51:05 PM |

    I'd personally like to see an experiment on sourdough whole wheat combined with boiled raw milk to see what Dr Davis notes. That should settle it.

    Alex share your experience rather than float around in clouds.

  • Anonymous

    7/30/2010 5:08:37 PM |

    Just out of curiosity, I would like to know what is the point of buying something raw (supposedly because "raw" holds more benefits) only to then get it home and cook it. Boiling raw milk, in my estimation, defeats the purpose of consuming raw milk. Boiling kills everything. I buy raw milk weekly and I drink it "raw." That's why I buy it.  
    Am I missing something? (serious question).

  • Alex

    7/30/2010 5:33:10 PM |

    Anonymous, I don't have acute gluten sensitivity, but I've read enough about gluten sensitivity to know that sprouting and fermentation are not 100% effective at making wheat a tolerable food for people with gluten sensitivity.

    Why cling desperately to consumption of a crap quality food when it's so much easier and simpler to just not eat it at all? One personal experience I can draw on is the addictive nature of wheat. I've been addicted to both tobacco and alcohol, but the most addiction-triggering image I can visualize in my mind is a loaf of locally made, crusty Italian bread. I think people cling to wheat consumption because it's addictive, plus it's deeply embedded in human culture.

  • Anonymous

    7/30/2010 5:45:51 PM |

    raw milk is a relatively new fad in usa while india is the highest wheat and milk consumer since hundreds of years. The way they consume raw milk, is, after boiling it and the way they consume whole wheat is after making sourdough.

    I personally consume raw milk without boiling but whats important is to understand the effects of consuming wheat and milk traditionally on health viz a viz consuming it in modern style.

  • Anonymous

    7/30/2010 6:15:05 PM |

    Alex wheat is sub optimal as are many other foods. the only complete food is milk, everything else is had in combination with a complementary food.

    Wheat is also not easy to avoid while its consumed traditionally  daily in the east, it is everywhere in its modern avatar in the west.

    its not a bad idea to figure out wheats' complement and how it works than declare wheat suboptimal and write it off.

  • Tommy

    7/30/2010 8:13:55 PM |

    I think that more than the problems wheat may cause for some, the problem is the amount of wheat we consume. Consuming the bulk of your calories from wheat (or grain) is a problem, even for those who don't have any existing conditions. Drinking beer all day or more than you should isn't good either but that doesn't mean that a beer here and there or even one per day is a big deal. For an alcoholic one beer is a bad thing but for the average person 1 or 2 isn't. For someone with a problem, wheat is bad; for the average person a little here and there in moderation isn't. There are a lot of things modern man eats that he didn't eat at one time. But then again, there are many things in life in general that modern man does that we didn't do years ago. We will always look to make things easier and in doing so compromise ourselves in some way. The best thing is to be educated enough to make good decisions but not get too carried away in either direction.
    Eating store bought chicken and meat tainted and chemically enhanced isn't good either. What does that do to us long term? What about our children. Eat less wheat and grains and avoid one illness but get another from mystery meat. So I guess we can't win no matter what we do. We can't get crazy, we just have to make good decisions.
    Middle of the road always seems like a good starting point.

  • Anonymous

    8/3/2010 2:59:12 AM |

    "The most common immune neurological syndrome consequent to wheat consumption is cerebellar ataxia"

    Where is the study or other reference that supports this statement? How common is this neurological syndrome in the American general population?

    Thank you.

  • elwiemo

    8/18/2010 10:43:52 PM |

    How exactly are the Purkinje cells damaged, and how specific is the effect to gluten/wheat?  What is your source for this?