Cereals or toast for breakfast, a cake or pastry for elevenses, sandwiches for lunch, and pasta of pizza for dinner – do you have a hidden wheat addiction?

You might be surprised to learn that research has shown that wheat addiction is a real thing, and about 30% of people who eat it actually experience withdrawal effects if they stop eating it.

Why does this happen?

Wheat Addiction

Back in the 70s Dr Christine Zioudrou did some fascinating research about gluten, which is the main protein found in wheat.

During digestion gluten is broken down into protein fragments and these have the unusual ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. This barrier is usually highly selective about what it lets cross from the general blood stream into the sensitive area of the brain.

Once it’s over the barrier this wheat protein fragment can attach itself to the brain’s morphine receptors. This is the exact same place that opiate drugs bind to. You can see where this is going can’t you!

So when you eat wheat, morphine-like compounds pass into the brain and attach to your morphine receptors. This gives you a mild uplift in your mood. Have a think about your personal ‘comfort foods’, are they wheat based? Could wheat addiction be part of your life without you realising?

About 30% of regular ‘users’ (people who eat wheat on a daily basis) can experience some unpleasant withdrawal effects if they suddenly stop eating all wheat – things like fatigue, mental fog, irritability and low mood. You get complete relief from this on having your wheat-based comfort food.

A further study looked at what would happen if you blocked the opiate-like effect of wheat. Two groups of people were studied – both were ‘using’ wheat regularly. One group were given the opiate blocking drug (this would block the wheat proteins binding to the morphine receptors), the other group were given a placebo (basically a sugar pill).

One really interesting thing that came out of this study was the group on the opiate blocker ended up eating significantly less calories, pointing a big fat finger at wheat being an appetite stimulant.

Of course this makes sense, because you tend to want more of the things that make you feel good, and if they stop making you feel good you want them less – in fact you’re more likely to listen to your natural appetite instead.

Isn’t is funny (not) that this information was coming to light at the same time that governments were beginning to peddle the ‘healthy wholegrains’ message, advising us to eat less fat and more cereal based food.

And what’s happened since to people’s weight?

In my next blog I’m going to look at how you can tell if you’ve got a problem with wheat addiction, and what to do about it.

Until then, notice your relationship with wheat.

Dr Julie