Diarrhea, runny noses, and rage: Poll results

Here are the results of the week-long poll asking the question:

Have you experienced a wheat re-exposure syndrome?
Yes, undesirable gastrointestinal effects 223 (41%)

Yes, asthma or sinus problems 51 (9%)

Yes, joint pains and/or swelling 85 (15%)

Yes, emotional or other nervous system effects 59 (10%)
No, nothing, nada  107 (19%)

No. Wheat is sacred and you're all nuts  13 (2%)

There are several interesting observations to make from this informal poll. First, as I have observed, the most common wheat re-exposure syndrome is gastrointestinal, usually involving cramps, diarrhea, and lame explanations to your dinner partner.

Second most common: joint pains and/or swelling.

Third: asthma or sinus congestion.

The incidence of emotional or nervous system effects surprised me a bit. I didn't expect 10% of people to share this effect. This is an effect I also experience personally, along with the gastrointestinal consequences.

To be sure, this is a skewed poll, since many people likely come to this blog in the first place because of such issues. But I was nonetheless impressed with the relatively modest proportion of people who did not share such a re-exposure syndrome: only 19%.

Beyond the interesting numbers provided by readers, a good many also provided some fascinating and graphic comments. Here's a sample:

Sassy said:

Reflux -- starts a day later and goes for up to a week. And Bloat:2-5 inches on my waistline in a day, lasting up to three. Miserable. And why, having experienced this once, have I done it often enough to verify the connection with certainty? I am working on that one.

Anonymous said:
Wheat increased hunger with even with only a small amount. Crackers in soup was enough to set it off.

Also, when I was trying to get off wheat, I noticed that 2 eggs and 2 bacon and I could go 5 hours before hunger, or 2 eggs and 2 bacon and toast was good for three hours before hunger. That was the final step to giving up wheat. Now three years and 59 Kg [130 lbs!] loss later, there is no doubt in my mind that wheat is evil, and I do not regard it as suitable for human food. I speculate that it increases ghrelin or cortisol.

Anna said:
For me, in the two years since I began eating Gluten-Free (Low Carb for 6 years), the few times I've had re-exposure to wheat, I've experienced fast onset and intense abdominal pain (known exposure during the daytime) and heartburn, indigestion, intense nausea, and disrupted sleep (exposures during evening meal not discovered until the next day).

My husband wants to think he's fine with wheat (though I know that he has at least one gene that predisposes to celiac), but IMO, he isn't. He eats no wheat at home because that's the default, and he's OK with that. But if he goes out to dinner at a restaurant that serves "good" artisan bread, he will indulge in a few bites (he does restrict his carb intake, so it's still a limited amount). More often than not, he will sleep fitfully on those nights, snore more, and wake in the night with indigestion. He wants to bury his head in the sand and will only acknowledge the discomfort being due to eating too many carbs, not the wheat itself. I notice he sleeps fine if he eats a small amount of potato or rice. Go figure.

Our 12 yo son has been eating GF for two years also. About 6 months into GF, he unknowingly ate wheat a number of times (licorice candy laces at a friend's house), which resulted in outbreaks of canker sores in his mouth each time. He also exhibits mood and behavior changes when he eats wheat, which is what prompted me to test him for gluten intolerance in the first place.

Mark said:
If I go for 3-4 days without wheat, grains or sugar and then go out and binge on a pizza and ice cream or something like that I become explosive within 20 minutes to an hour. It's like a wheat and sugar rage.(I'm not saying this is an excuse for rage, I'm saying it has happened to me and I believe partly do to re-exposure) It seems the combination of the wheat plus sugar can be the worst.

I get red rashes around my neck sometimes right away and sometimes up to a day or later and sometimes get bad diarrhea. 
I think it can be almost dangerous to cut things like gluten and sugar suddenly out of the diet without being very serious about keeping them out. I have found it very hard to cut out wheat without binging on it later after 4 or 5 days. I don't believe that my symptoms are just psychological either.

I was also diagnosed with ADHD as a young kid and then rediagnosed with adult ADHD by 3 different doctors. I also have bouts of mania at times too. I am considering trying to go completely gluten/refined carbohydrate free to see if it helps with the symptoms and gives me some relief.

I have never been tested for celiac or gluten intolerance but I would like to be. I think it would help explain to my girlfriend, family and friends why I can't go out and eat pizza or have a beer or ice cream. Right now they all think I'm a hypochondriac. At times I have experienced an intense fatigue the next day like I can't wake up and also sharp pains in my body and headaches.

Anonymous said:
I ditched wheat a year ago after my wife was diagnosed celiac. I immediately experienced a number of health improvements (blood lipids, sleep, allergies, etc.).

Fast forward: We all suffered some inadvertent wheat exposure yesterday via some chocolate covered Brazil nuts (of all things). This accidental A-B-A experimental design resulted in the following:

1. My celiac wife experienced what she calls "the flip" within an hour of exposure (i.e., intense GI distress).
2. My five-year old son went to bed with some wicked reflux.
3. I woke up with some twinges in my lower back and an ache in my football-weary left shoulder. I was also complaining to my wife about fuzzy-headedness that refused to respond to caffeine or hydration. I could only describe it as "carb flu"...

And then I read your post!

Anne said:
Depression, agitation and brain fog if I get glutened. Some times this comes with abdominal pain and a rash on my back - I think it is dose dependent. Cross contamination with wheat is a big issue when eating out. Needless to say, I eat out infrequently and then try to stick with the restaurants that are the most aware of gluten issues.

Terrence said:
Several weeks ago, I started Robb Wolf's 30 day challenge.

The first two weeks were brutal - calling it a withdrawal flu was a massive understatement. So, I thought I would try some wheat and see what happened (could not be worse, I thought). Well, it was.

I still felt extremely crappy, but I was now MASSIVELY GASSY - AMAZINGLY GASSY, for about 48 hours - flatulence on wheels, in spades. I did not go out at all in those 48 hours - when the gas came on, it went out, LONG, and QUICKLY and LOUDLY.

I am easing back into wheat and grain free. I am gluten free today and tomorrow (Sunday and Monday). I expect to try a small amount of wheat on Thursday, then maybe a little more the following Thursday.

Donald said:
I have limited wheat consumption severely over the last 8 months. I have lost 120 pounds, no longer have bouts of illness, asthma, depression, or low energy. I also take vitamin D and other supplements that have helped (many are from your blog recommendations).

Last week I ate a small piece of cake and dessert pizza. Shortly thereafter I started sneezing, had a scratchy throat, and runny nose. I called off sick the next day for fear of being contagious. My symptoms subsided quickly and I am now attributing them to the processed flour eaten at my work luncheon. I think it was an allergic reaction since I recall having much more severe symptoms fairly regularly in my wheat eating days. Those were attributed to an "allergy" of unknown origin back then.

John said:
I suffered from Ankylosing Spondylitis, Iritis, Plantar Fasciits, etc for a number of years. I restricted carbs, especially wheat and I've been symptom free for the past two years now.

Lori said:
I found wheat to be one of the worst things for giving me gas bloating and acid reflux, and I'd had sinus and nasal congestion my whole life. When I ate that cookie, it just re-introduced old problems. I can occasionally eat a gluten-free, grainy goody at my party place without any side effects. I also have a little sprouted rice protein powder every day.

Another odd thing about wheat: it was hard for me to stop eating it once I started. I could go through a whole box of cookies in one sitting, even though I wasn't a binge eater. But I can have a couple of gluten-free cookies and stop.

Paul said:
Except for one slip up this recently past holiday season, I've been sugar-grain-starch free since July 2008. Mental fog was the most noticable re-exposure symptom I had.

My mom has had the worst acid-reflux for 40-plus years. It had become so bad that she was on three medications just to deal with the symptoms. After much training and coaxing, I finally got across to her 
how to totally get off wheat. Not at all to my surprise, after being wheat free for a few weeks, she lost weight and her acid reflux was GONE!

But she had been addicted to wheat for so long, she relapsed, and the reflux fire soon returned. Wheat must be akin to heroin with some people. Even though they know it's very bad for them, they can't help themselves.

Onschedule said:
Re-exposure often leads to diarrhea for me, or such a heavy feeling of tiredness that all I can do is lay down and pass out. A local pizzeria makes a darn good pie, but since I started practicing wheat-avoidance, I can't keep my eyes open after eating there. I can't say for sure that it's the wheat causing it, but definitely something in the crust. Diarrhea, on the other hand, is definitely triggered by the wheat for me.

My mom complained of gastric reflux for years, but never filled the prescriptions that her doctors would give her. I suggested wheat-avoidance- gastric reflux disappeared within 3 days and hasn't returned (has been 6 months now). I've already commented elsewhere on this blog about how much weight and bloating she has lost...

Steve said:
Interesting that I should sit down, turn on my computer and find your poll. Having gone several weeks, maybe months, avoiding gluten, I took my daughter and her boyfriend out to eat because my wife has been working late at the office lately. Although I was thinking I would just eat my steak and chicken, I succumbed to the temptation of eating about a dozen greasy, breaded shrimp that my daughter and her boyfriend ordered. It's 1:39am and I still do not feel sleepy. My left nostril is completely blocked, my stomach feels bloated, really, really full and I've been burping. In your poll I checked sinus problems but could have chose gastrointestinal or nervous problems just as well. 

A few weeks ago my daughter brought home a pizza and, once again, despite my knowing that I shouldn't, I ate a couple of pieces. I was sick for two days. The pain in what I think was my transverse colon was so bad I thought I might have to go to ther emergency room. Before I ate the pizza I had never gone grain-free that long before. I did this after reading Robb Wolf's book. 

I AM CONVINCED. No more wheat for me! Please, Lord, give me strength.

LV said:
What don't I experience! I typically avoid wheat (and gluten for that matter) as I'm pretty sure it makes me sick, but when I slip (or someone else slips me some) I end up with massive amounts of joint swelling and tenderness, diarhea, cramping, gas, bloating and brain fog. I'm absolutely miserable. Just that alone is enough to keep me off gluten. I have RA, so if I have repeated exposures I'll have a flare which SUCKS!

Comments (19) -

  • Anonymous

    2/6/2011 2:06:13 AM |

    One voter commented about what I would call acute increase in hunger shortly after consuming wheat. If that had been an option in the voting, I would have marked that. I find it certainly increases my hunger after having it. Otherwise I experience no effects from consuming it.

  • Anonymous

    2/6/2011 2:21:11 AM |

    I missed your poll but I banished wheat shortly after I found this site maybe 1 1/2 to 2 years ago.  My sisters talked me into having one lousy piece of cake for my birthday last year and boy was I sorry.  When I wasn't flat on the bed with a migraine (the first in over a year), I was running to the bathroom with IBS (also not experienced for over a year) all the next day.  Never again!

  • Rachael

    2/6/2011 3:17:55 AM |

    I have to add that since I have been gluten free my sleep apnea/UARS is worlds better.  I only need to use my CPAP when I am glutened, have a cold, or drink too much.  My BMI is 25, I am youngish (41) and not a usual candidate for sleep apnea.  My theory is that Celiac caused chronic respiratory inflammation, and being GF has reduced the inflammation enough that my breathing improved.  However, it's equally likely that there are neurological benefits to being GF that reduce the over reaction to airway disruption.

  • Anonymous

    2/6/2011 3:28:52 AM |

    Thought that this recent article was quite interesting in regards to your recent posts:

    Gluten Causes Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Subjects Without Celiac Disease: A Double-Blind Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial.

    Biesiekierski JR, Newnham ED, Irving PM, Barrett JS, Haines M, Doecke JD, Shepherd SJ, Muir JG, Gibson PR.

    Monash University Department of Medicine and Gastroenterology, Box Hill Hospital, Box Hill, Victoria, Australia.

    OBJECTIVES: Despite increased prescription of a gluten-free diet for gastrointestinal symptoms in individuals who do not have celiac disease, there is minimal evidence that suggests that gluten is a trigger. The aims of this study were to determine whether gluten ingestion can induce symptoms in non-celiac individuals and to examine the mechanism.

    METHODS: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled rechallenge trial was undertaken in patients with irritable bowel syndrome in whom celiac disease was excluded and who were symptomatically controlled on a gluten-free diet. Participants received either gluten or placebo in the form of two bread slices plus one muffin per day with a gluten-free diet for up to 6 weeks. Symptoms were evaluated using a visual analog scale and markers of intestinal inflammation, injury, and immune activation were monitored.

    RESULTS: A total of 34 patients (aged 29-59 years, 4 men) completed the study as per protocol. Overall, 56% had human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DQ2 and/or HLA-DQ8. Adherence to diet and supplements was very high. Of 19 patients (68%) in the gluten group, 13 reported that symptoms were not adequately controlled compared with 6 of 15 (40%) on placebo (P=0.0001; generalized estimating equation). On a visual analog scale, patients were significantly worse with gluten within 1 week for overall symptoms (P=0.047), pain (P=0.016), bloating (P=0.031), satisfaction with stool consistency (P=0.024), and tiredness (P=0.001). Anti-gliadin antibodies were not induced. There were no significant changes in fecal lactoferrin, levels of celiac antibodies, highly sensitive C-reactive protein, or intestinal permeability. There were no differences in any end point in individuals with or without DQ2/DQ8.

    CONCLUSIONS: "Non-celiac gluten intolerance" may exist, but no clues to the mechanism were elucidated.Am J Gastroenterol advance online publication, 11 January 2011; doi:10.1038/ajg.2010.487.

  • Missy

    2/6/2011 2:40:13 PM |

    I was one of the 19% who said "nothing, nada". Because I only had increased hunger the evening after a glutenous lunch.

    I should have waited another day to take the survey, because apparently the gastrointestinal effects can take 48 hours. It was two mornings later that I spent some quality reading time in the bathroom.

    But even before the explosive morning, I'd gone back to gluten-free after that one piece of pizza and the hunger that followed.

  • Becky

    2/6/2011 5:49:18 PM |

    Had I been around to vote, I would have checked every yes box available. I can handle the gastro side effects, and the swelling, but dear Lord...I have a sandwich and within 2 hours I'm having a panic attack. I still have the hint of panic attacks without wheat due to GAD, but they never manifest into anything beyond a slightly funny little worry. With wheat, I'm pacing back and forth begging my husband to take me to the E.R. for a heart attack.

  • Anonymous

    2/6/2011 6:11:00 PM |

    A different twist from your good article about wheat and the distress it can cause for many -  having had IBS for a number of years I've wondered about the relationship wheat has with milk.  It is just a curiosity of mine.  I've wonder if it would be possible for people to eat, day after day, wheat with out consuming a milk item with it?  

    Wheat and milk are two foods that tend to go hand in hand.  Chances are if you ate an item with wheat in it, you also had dairy.  Some examples of that common food combination; bowl of breakfast cereal with milk, toast with butter, pizza, spaghetti with parmesan cheese, cheese burger, etc.  

    Other grains, rice and corn, tend to not be eaten with milk items.  And these grains tend to be easier to tolerate.  

    I'm just mentioning this wheat milk combination because on this Superbowl Sunday, known for its TV commercials, I'm sure to see a probiotic item or two for sale in order to sooth over a grumpy gut.  Jamie Lee Curtis will likely make an appearance with her yogurt.  

    Probiotics are common items taken by people suffering from IBS.  Calcium tablet is another supplement IBS-D suffers take in large quantities to find relief.  And of course milk, and in particular cultured milk items, tend to be naturally high in both probiotics & calcium.  

    My wild guess is with out milk in the western diet, I think wheat would be even more distressful on our GI tract.

  • Anonymous

    2/7/2011 12:54:31 AM |

    Frequently reader here.  

      I just wanted to let you know that celiac.com is an excellent resource to scour if you have the free time.

      I was shocked by the amount of people who have psychological symptoms from gluten ingestion.  I'm talking about pages of testimonies talking about severe anxiety, rage, irritability, bipolar, schizophrenia (familial cure stories, check it out!) n so much more.  



  • Anonymous

    2/7/2011 2:51:23 AM |

    I skipped the poll, since I haven't had wheat exposure during the three months I've been gluten-free.  But I'm another one who had frequent reflux issues for over thirty years.  When I finally tried giving up the gluten, the reflux vanished almost instantly.

  • Dr. William Davis

    2/7/2011 1:26:03 PM |

    As several commenters point out, hunger is indeed a powerful effect arising from wheat consumption. That was yet another item I could have added to the poll!

  • Anonymous

    2/7/2011 3:52:20 PM |

    Severe menstrual cramps stopped completely when I gave up wheat. When I reintroduced them, I had the most intense cramps ever. My breast-fed baby had rashes and eczema when I ate wheat.

  • Anonymous

    2/7/2011 3:58:45 PM |

    After going gluten free I can drink as much wine as I like; but a couple beers will cause me to wake up in cold sweats during the night...

    -mike h

  • Anonymous

    2/7/2011 4:51:58 PM |

    Small correction - 21% said No. Smile

  • Anonymous

    2/8/2011 10:05:55 AM |

    Reflux, fluid retention/ hot swollen ands and feet/ restless legs, wheezing, sore stomach, soreness all over my body, increased hunger, racing, jumping heart.

    These symptoms are what I lived with daily (and there were others) until I cut out gluten. Corn causes me a milder version of the same symptoms interestingly. I was needing ventolin round the clock and still constantly wheezy, now I am drug free. The hunger was uncontrollable, and even if I ate little I gained weight.

    I am currently sore and stiff all over as I ate some gluten free bread which contained a small amount of corn, 8 days ago. The other symptoms come on within hours, but the soreness comes 4 days after and then lasts for a few days.

    When I was wheat free I wondered why beer brought on symptoms, but wine didn't. Now I know, it's gluten.

  • Anonymous

    2/8/2011 6:38:29 PM |

    gluten is not even the only problem with wheat. Grains are the seed of the plant, as such they will protect themselves from predation with a variety of toxic chemicals. Gluten is one of them. The others are gliadin, lectins, WGA (wheat germ aglutinnin).

    WGA binds to N Acetyl Glucosamine, modifying its structure, thereby destroying it. N Acetyl Glucosamine is what the cell walls of bacteria and fungi are made of. The exoskeleton of insects is composed of N Acetyl Glucosamine. In humans it is essential for joints, cartilage and bones. Grains fight off all these predators by binding to their structures with WGA and destroying them. Hence why humans have arthritis and joint problems with grains.

    In addition grains contain anti-nutrients such as phytic acid (phytates), and contain excitotoxins glutamic acid and aspartic acid (what MSG mimics). These excitotoxins fry your brain nerves.

    grains, are seeds, they are the most vulnerable and crucial part of the plant, they will protect themselves. They are not grown as ready made "healthy" foods for us to conveniently eat.

    for references regarding the above toxins:


  • Anonymous

    2/16/2011 4:00:34 AM |

    I have some long term skin issues that have cleared up since I went grain free 3.5 months ago.  I haven't seen any of these mentioned in other posts:  Very thin and fragile skin on my shins and bald head that injure easily and heal slowly, now seem to be tougher and definitely heal faster from surface wounds (I'm a klutz!).  Dry, cracked soles of  my feet now are fine without any oils or lotions.  Also, I have had hemorrhoids that would bleed every time I had constipation and that seems to have stopped (although less constipation with grains...) Wheat free is great and I think grain free is even better.

  • Megaera

    2/24/2011 6:52:11 PM |

    Actually, since a good deal of your respondents are probably self-reinforcing, the 19% isn't really that surprising.  The placebo effect works both ways, you know.  If you are a true believer, you will find bad effects from a killer exposure just as you will find good effects from a beneficial exposure.  I'm definitely one of the 19%; I'm also one of the ones who's still scanning the horizon in vain for even one of those magnificently beneficial effects of abandoning wheat and sugar that you tout, but I have yet, after several months, to see any of.  At all.  Zero weight loss.  Zero change in blood sugar -- in fact, it may have changed for the worse, since it used to be lower.  I actually have nothing to show for all my effort, which pretty much comports with past experience ... guess I should have known better.

  • Jane Kaylor

    3/7/2011 9:52:20 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

  • Lindas

    9/27/2011 9:06:53 PM |

    I feel an increased , nawing, listless hunger. Low Blood sugar like. Blurred vision and increased stomach and belly-bloat. Sense of forboding and depression. Restless and edgy.    At times just don't feel well.

    I have a lot of problems with MSG , I think it is wheat based, in some of its forms.  eg. " Hydrygolized" (sp?) wheat protein  etc.     ..........it totally effects my heart and body.     MSG is much easier (although still much watch closely) to avoid with "track your plaque" way of eating  .    Linda