What do Salmonella, E coli, and bread have in common?

Say you happen to eat some chicken fingers contaminated with bacteria because the 19-year old kid behind the counter failed to wash his hands after using the toilet, or because the kitchen is poorly managed with unwashed counters and cutting boards, or because the food is undercooked. You get a bout of diarrhea and cramps, along with a desire to banish chicken from your life.

Here's yet another odd wheat phenomenon: About 30% of people who eliminate wheat from their lives experience an acute food poisoning-like effect on re-exposure. You've been wheat-free for, say, 6 months. You've lost 25 lbs from your wheat belly, you've regained energy, joints feel better. You go to an office party where they're serving some really yummy looking bruschetta. Surely a couple won't hurt! Within a hour, you're getting that awful rumbling and unease that precede the explosion.

The majority of people who experience a wheat re-exposure syndrome will have diarrhea and cramps that can last from hours to days, similar to food poisoning. (Why? Why would a common food trigger a food poisoning-like effect? It happens too fast to attribute to inflammation.) Others experience asthma attacks, joint pains that last 48 hours to a week, mental fogginess, emotional distress, even rage (in males).

Wheat re-exposure in the susceptible provides a tidy demonstration of the effects of this peculiar product of genetic research. So if you are wheat-free but entertain an occasional indulgence, don't be surprised if you have to make a beeline to the toilet.

Comments (22) -

  • Steve

    1/28/2011 3:55:24 PM |

    I'm finishing a jar of "dry" (not oil suspended) Vitamin D3 capsules and taking them with enteric coated fish oil. Might the enteric coating prevent the fish oil from helping the "dry" D3 absorption?

  • kathyj333

    1/28/2011 4:03:56 PM |

    Really interesting post. I think I'm sensitive to wheat, but can't seem to stop eating it right now. Once I gave it up for about two months and lost 20 pounds. I should probably try to eliminate it again. Thanks for the insight.

  • Geoffrey Levens

    1/28/2011 5:05:26 PM |

    Interesting.  I have just the opposite experience though.  My very rare (maybe once every 6 months or so) consumption of wheat causes no obvious symptoms whatsoever though I have in the past had severe sinus allergy response to wheat/gluten

  • Laurie D.

    1/28/2011 5:09:28 PM |

    When I first went gluten-free, I was not as careful as I am now and had several incidences of acute joint pain (with incredible heat) upon exposure to minute amounts of gluten.  The last time I knowingly ate gluten (crumbs from a crouton on a salad) I woke up the next day with the most intense back pain I have ever had.  My usual response to gluten is in the form of migraines. This pain was definitely not muscle pain but neurological with squeezing pains from my spine to the front.  That was the last time I had any gluten - I am extremely careful now and I have been GF 3 years and feel so much better.   I think gluten is a poison, plain and simple, and everyone would be better off not consuming it in any way.

  • Haggus

    1/28/2011 5:18:55 PM |

    I'm one of the lucky ones.  I caved during the silly season and stole a couple of my sisters' delicious homemade double chocolate cookies.  Alas, no mad dashes to the procelean apparatus.

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    1/28/2011 5:53:36 PM |

    Wheat breeding sounds to be at fault for the way it's protein folds into an antigen trigger for a lot of people. Granny gave me jam with bread, pie and sugar cookies which didn't provoke malaise, but that was older breed of wheat.  

    Now-a-days professional diet advice is to avoid sugar, substitue sweetener. So, many don't get that sugar binding to  the gluten protein fragments. For people with metabolic syndrome adding back in sugar doesn't make sense; they can't use it to "goop-up" the gluten. Cutting out the wheat for them solves the dilema.

  • Tony

    1/28/2011 6:13:19 PM |

    Gluten are metabolized into opioids. Both the digestive system and the immune system have lots of neurons AFAIK. Is a nice system to protect the brain, I would guess. Evolution and natures way to say: Don't eat that, it'll mess you up.

  • Anonymous

    1/28/2011 6:21:51 PM |

    Why diarrhea with wheat rechallenge etc.?
    Perhaps because your bacterial intestinal flora has changed since wheat/grain elimination.

  • Paul Rise

    1/29/2011 1:11:19 AM |

    I have suffered from gastroparesis for 20+ years. Some medication has helped, but nothing has worked better than a carb/wheat free diet. If I avoid them my digestion seems fine. One cookie and within a few hours the rumbling and belching begins . . .

  • Anonymous

    1/29/2011 1:24:45 AM |

    There's this Ethiopian restaurant here in LA. They serve a flat bread called Injera.

    I must have it once or twice a year, I tell you, I must! Even though it causes sores in my mouth by the next morning. It never did that when I was eating wheat regularly. Now that I've given up wheat, BAM! Sores!

    Otherwise, I'm a sore-free, wheat-free good boy the rest of the year. Smile

  • Sean Preuss

    1/29/2011 1:37:21 AM |

    Dr. Davis,

    Great post.  I believe I have experienced exactly what you described.  I gave up drinking beer (my only grain) last summer and recent grain encounters led to stomach pain and quick trips to the bathroom.  One time I felt really sick for hours.

    There are never a shortage of reasons to avoid grains.

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    1/29/2011 2:27:08 AM |

    @ Anonymous,
    I did some work in Ethiopia in 1970 & ate a lot of Injera;
    fermented Teff grain with a soaking phase. This increases the % of Arginine amino acids in Injera. People with cold sores are often agravated by arginine foods. Your sensitive mouth tissue is probably reacting to the high level of arginine. (Your individual sensitivity would likely extend to Indian Idli, soaked/fermented rice with dhall bean puff; it's bio-converted a lot of arginine too.)

  • Patricia D.

    1/29/2011 5:24:16 AM |

    For those of us that are cutting way back on wheat in our diets, but not eliminating it - what are our best options?  I'm finding heirloom wheat flour available on the internet.  And here's an interesting article I found on Heirloom wheats:
    'Are Heirloom Wheat Varieties the Next Big Baking Trend?"

    And what about Kamut?  Any comments?  Here's a write-up on it - it has some very nice features.

  • majkinetor

    1/29/2011 12:39:23 PM |

    I try to avoid wheat all the time.

    However, I found one bread here, that is made without Flour but uses wheat sprouts instead. The recipe is made by Russian academic scientist.
    You have some English language info at


    What do you think about it ?


  • caphuff

    1/29/2011 1:02:17 PM |

    My digestion was always lousy (but I didn't know it) until I cut out wheat.

    Now if I reintroduce the reaction varies depending on the form of poison. Pasta is worst, sending the gi tract into the red zone for a week, plus migraines and sinus.

    other forms (cookies, pizza) the reaction is less volcanic, but still noticeable. The baseline reaction is the sensation that the lining of my stomach has been scrubbed with a brillo pad, and sometimes joint and back pain, with a touch of sinus fun.

    All this I used to think of as"normal".

    Anyone have any success with enzyme products (like "Gluten Ease“) to help deal with occasional exposure?

  • brec

    1/29/2011 2:03:44 PM |

    "The majority of people who experience a wheat re-exposure syndrome will have diarrhea and cramps..."

    This seems to say that of those who DO have symptoms ("experience a ... syndrome"), a majority will have diarrhea and cramps and a minority will have other symptoms.  But what proportion experience any symptoms?  Like Geoffrey above, I don't.

  • Mark__S

    1/29/2011 4:31:33 PM |

    Wow... that just happened to me.  But only after being wheat free for like a week.  I was experimenting with a gluten free paleo diet but went out with some friends to the mall to see a movie.  I drank one beer ate 4 slices of pizza and a big cookie.  I ended up screaming at a friend over a stupid comment, nothing serious, but I felt SO angry .  Something that is not usual for me.  Then that night I woke up in the middle of the night with stomach pain and diarrhea.  
    This was after just 1 week with no wheat.

  • Mark__S

    1/29/2011 4:32:57 PM |

    I forgot to add that I had bad headaches just 30 minutes or so after eating the pizza slices too..

  • Anonymous

    1/29/2011 11:46:04 PM |

    Don't you think this could also have something to do with the 1 in 133 statistic for celiac disease? Alot more are gluten intolerant and on down the spectrum to gluten sensitive.  

    That adds up to a whole lot of people out there who are on the continuum of mere sensitivity --->celiac

  • Robin

    2/2/2011 9:16:41 AM |

    That's me in a nutshell. Re-exposed to wheat and it was two days of unspeakable nastiness... I lapsed into this silliness as an experiment with the 4HB which necessitates a weekly wild day. It was wild alright...

  • jimbo

    2/13/2011 1:19:46 PM |

    Great post. I would love it if someone could explain the mechanism by which this re-exposure horror happens.

    Since cutting out gluten, even tiny exposures have sent my stomach into paroxysms of pain. This is accompanied by nausea and an all over sick feeling, like I have been poisoned.

    My bloods tested negative for coeliac though so I don't understand why I have such a bad reaction.

  • Jane Kaylor

    2/15/2011 4:18:18 AM |

    I am one of those people prone to headaches, migraine and colds. Usually, my first recourse is White Flower Embrocation (embrocation.50webs.com), also called White Flower Oil