Opiate of the masses

Although it is a central premise of the whole Wheat Belly argument and the starting strategy in the New Track Your Plaque Diet, I fear that some people haven't fully gotten the message:

Modern wheat is an opiate.

And, of course, I don't mean that wheat is an opiate in the sense that you like it so much that you feel you are addicted. Wheat is truly addictive.

Wheat is addictive in the sense that it comes to dominate thoughts and behaviors. Wheat is addictive in the sense that, if you don't have any for several hours, you start to get nervous, foggy, tremulous, and start desperately seeking out another "hit" of crackers, bagels, or bread, even if it's the few stale 3-month old crackers at the bottom of the box. Wheat is addictive in the sense that there is a distinct withdrawal syndrome characterized by overwhelming fatigue, mental "fog," inability to exercise, even depression that lasts several days, occasionally several weeks. Wheat is addictive in the sense that the withdrawal process can be provoked by administering an opiate-blocking drug such as naloxone or naltrexone.

But the "high" of wheat is not like the high of heroine, morphine, or Oxycontin. This opiate, while it binds to the opiate receptors of the brain, doesn't make us high. It makes us hungry.

This is the effect exerted by gliadin, the protein in wheat that was inadvertently altered by geneticists in the 1970s during efforts to increase yield. Just a few shifts in amino acids and gliadin in modern high-yield, semi-dwarf wheat became a potent appetite stimulant.

Wheat stimulates appetite. Wheat stimulates calorie consumption: 440 more calories per day, 365 days per year, for every man, woman, and child. (440 calories per person per day is the average.) We experience this, sense the weight gain that is coming and we push our plate away, settle for smaller portions, increase exercise more and more . . . yet continue to gain, and gain, and gain. Ask your friends and neighbors who try to include more "healthy whole grains" in their diet. They exercise, eat a "well-balanced diet" . . . yet gained 10, 20, 30, 70 pounds over the past several years. Accuse your friends of drinking too much Coca Cola by the liter bottle, or being gluttonous at the all-you-can-eat buffet and you will likely receive a black eye. Many of these people are actually trying quite hard to control impulse, appetite, portion control, and weight, but are losing the battle with this appetite-stimulating opiate in wheat.

Ignorance of the gliadin effect of wheat is responsible for the idiocy that emits from the mouths of gastroenterologists like Dr. Peter Green of Columbia University who declares:

"We tell people we don't think a gluten-free diet is a very healthy diet . . . Gluten-free substitutes for food with gluten have added fat and sugar. Celiac patients often gain weight and their cholesterol levels go up. The bulk of the world is eating wheat. The bulk of people who are eating this are doing perfectly well unless they have celiac disease."

In the simple minded thinking of the gastroenterology and celiac world, if you don't have celiac disease, you should eat all the wheat you want . . . and never mind about the appetite-stimulating effects of gliadin, not to mention the intestinal disruption and leakiness generated by wheat lectins, or the high blood sugars and insulin of the amylopectin A of wheat, or the new allergies being generated by the new alpha amylases of modern wheat.

Comments (22) -

  • Judy B

    4/20/2012 4:23:26 PM |

    Unbelievable!  When are doctors going to get a clue?  Thank you, Dr. Davis for giving us the truth.

  • Joe

    4/20/2012 4:31:44 PM |

    Dr. Davis, somehow I've managed to get my Vitamin D, 25-hydroxy level to 90 ng/ml! It's the first time I've had it tested since taking your advice. Is this too high? Or about right?

    I take about 8000 IUs per day (in the form of drops) and get 20-40 minutes of daily sun (in Florida, that's pretty easy to do). That's year-round.

    Nota bene: My HDL/TC ratio was 0.241 (64/265), and TRGS/HDL ratio was 1.4 (94/64), which are pretty good numbers, I think. My LDL was mostly Pattern A (large bouyant), which is also good, I think. Since my doctor said my TC of 265 was still too high, he recommended statin therapy, which I declined.  I've lost ~80 pounds in the past 12 months eating a low-carb paleo diet (and no freakin' WHEAT!), and I've heard that a large weight loss can screw up cholesterol levels for a while.  Could that be the reason the TC is still "high." Should I be concerned? I think my good ratios and large bouyant LDL trump TC, but my doctor thinks otherwise.


  • Galina L.

    4/20/2012 9:50:48 PM |

    I have a question for you as a cardiologist. Does a ketogenic diet affect an edema associated with a heart failure?  I understand that congestive heart failure is a very serious condition, one of my husband's coworkers wife is in a hospital right now with such condition, they removed one gallon of fluid from her legs there, and I am just curious. I had a pitting  edema  at 46 when my pre-menopause issues started, and it got cured with a carb. restriction (together with the rest of pre-menopause issues and asthma). What about edemas associated with other health conditions? Does carb restriction could help to some degree?

  • Eva

    4/25/2012 8:39:55 PM |

    This is interesting info. I am not a big fan of wheat for a number of reasons, the obvious being lack of nutrition and evidence of negative response in celiacs.  Those issues seem fairly certain and I am also open to other arguments.  However, I would like to see some of the research on these particular accusations against wheat, specifically the evidence that wheat is a addictive and that wheat makes you hungrier.  

    If it were merely addictive, then we could just eat more wheat and less other foods.  But then, wheat has lack of nutrition so maybe the desire for nutrition drives us to eat more food in addition, thus leading to more overall food consumption.  In that nutrition is probably somewhat 'addicive' as well, ie the body craves it.  Seems to me that pure addiction could account for a lot.  

    If were were addicted to sugar and addicted to wheat, we'd eat a lot of them both, which on average is what Americans are doing.  Then on top of that, the body might still try to get some scraps of nutrition, so that means yet more food is consumed.  Seems to me, the prob could be a simple issue of being addicted to foods that pack a lot of calories but do not give nutrition in return.  Then you have to eat even more on top of that just to survive and get at least minimal nutrition.  

    So I guess what I am pondering is a subtle variation on the theme of 'hunger' in that  perhaps wheat addiction drives the desire for more wheat consumption (at least in some), sugar consumption drives the desire for more sugar consumption (at least in some), and lack of nutrition drives the desire to eat more in general until nutritional needs are met.  The solution would be that as we have already seen, eating healthy foods and avoiding sugar and wheat naturally returns hunger to normal levels in most people.    

    Another interesting issue is to look at meth users who often become very skinny.  My understanding is even if food is available, hunger is stunted by meth, which implies that meth is able to override all food drives, perhaps even those of sugar and wheat?  I wonder what might be found if that is studied!  (not that I am suggesting we take meth of course for obvious reasons, but the mechanism itself is interesting)      

    I am somewhat familiar with on study that showed rats packed on 25% more fat when fed wheat, which is interesting because rats are seed eating creatures by nature, but that one study by itself is not enough.  I am guessing you have put a lot of time into gathering a lot more research and would be so appreciative if you could list a tad of it if possible.

  • May 2nd | CrossFit-HR

    5/1/2012 9:01:42 PM |

    [...] Opiate of the masses Although it is a central premise of the whole Wheat Belly argument and the starting strategy in the New Track Your Plaque Diet, I fear that some people haven’t fully gotten the message:  Modern wheat is an opiate. And, of course, I don’t mean that wheat is an opiate in the sense that you like it so much that you feel you are addicted. Wheat is truly addictive. Post your 5RM total working time to comments [...]

  • Anna

    5/7/2012 8:28:16 PM |

    Your book said that only 1/3 of people experience withdrawal symptoms when giving up wheat.  If it's as addictive as you say in this article then why do only a third have withdrawal symptoms?
    Perhaps I misread what you said in your book?

  • Anon

    5/8/2012 11:32:23 PM |

    Hi Dr. Davis,

    For the last 5-6 months, I switched over to a low carb (~50-75g/day) diet, mostly making up the calories with whey protein and lots of fats (olive oil, avocado, grass fed butter). It's not exactly bulletproof, but pretty close.

    While a lot of clear markers improved, my total cholesterol and LDL jumped quite a bit, to levels that I believe
    you've mentioned you feel are high. (I'm male and I think you mentioned 220 as a reasonable limit)

    What next tests or changes would you make if you were me?

    Total cholesterol: 204 --> 238 * scares me the most out of all thee numbers. Most say this should be below 220.
    HDL: 60 --> 70 * very nice improvement
    Triglyceride: 104 --> 84 * very nice improvement
    LDL: 123 --> 151 * big jump here. most docs hate to see this, but from what i'm reading LDL doesn't mean very much - only particle size.
    Triglyceride/HDL ratio: 1.73 --> 1.2 * this is considered the best predictor of cardiovascular disease. Very nice change here

    Should I be worried about the total cholesterol hitting 238?  I'm obviously happy about the HDL/TGL numbers.

  • Jane

    5/9/2012 3:42:46 PM |

    Dear Dr Davis

    I have been asked to convey to you some intormation about heart disease and copper.  Some months ago I searched your blog for the word copper and found nothing.  Here is what copper researcher Leslie Klevay says about ischemic heart disease and copper deficiency.  

    '...the Western diet is frequently low in copper. Copper deficiency is the only nutritional insult that elevates cholesterol (7), blood pressure (8), and uric acid; has adverse effects on electrocardiograms (7, 9); impairs glucose tolerance (10), to which males respond differently than do females; and which promotes thrombosis and oxidative damage. More than 75 anatomic, chemical, and physiologic similarities between animals deficient in copper and people with ischemic heart disease have been identified. Copper deficiency is offered as the simplest and most general explanation for ischemic heart disease.'

    Yours sincerely
    Jane Karlsson PhD

  • old timer

    5/10/2012 9:41:37 AM |

    doc what about the stores selling organic wheat . any good?

  • linda Stevens

    5/10/2012 8:16:30 PM |

    At my local library "Wheat Belly"  has 10 holds on first copy returned of 12 copies in our libary system. Many people are becoming informed and educated!!!!!!!!

  • Mark Stenson

    5/29/2012 12:26:09 AM |

    http://cprfordepressives.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/eating-wheat-can-cause-depression/ talks about the link between wheat and depression.

  • Mark Stenson

    5/29/2012 12:27:27 AM |

    http://cprfordepressives.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/eating-wheat-can-cause-depression/ talks about the link between wheat consumption and depression.  I was interested to hear some of the same things that I hear fro you, Dr. Davis.

  • jpatti

    5/31/2012 3:57:48 PM |

    I never quite "got" why you were anti-wheat over-and-above the low carb thing, but this is some interesting info.  I shall have to get this book.

  • simon choo

    6/1/2012 4:45:29 AM |

    Thanks for the info. its really helpful.

  • Robin

    9/7/2012 6:46:57 AM |

    Hi Joe ~
    If you read wheatbellyblog.com, you may have already seen this in a comment from JillOz. It's a very interesting and eye-opening talk (some 2hrs but I stayed focused easily) and may ease your mind regarding cholesterol. You were very wise to reject the statins.

  • P.M

    9/17/2012 5:50:31 PM |

    Thanks for interesting Blog

    I haven't found any published articles about gliadin and appetite in PubMed.  Do you have any hints what are the keywords? I've tried gliadin, appetite or satiety.

Cardiology Confidential

Cardiology Confidential

Okay, so it's a shameless knockoff of chef Anthony Bourdain's titillating Kitchen Confidential.

But the confidences that I've heard whispered in the corridors of health involve something more provocative than how your food was prepared. Any service for humans performed by other humans is subject to the idiosyncrasies and weaknesses of human behavior. That's just life.

In healthcare for your heart, the consequences can be more profound than eating three day old fish on Monday's dinner menu.

Over my 15 years practicing cardiology in a variety of settings in three different cities, I've witnessed just about everything from shocking to sublime. Some of it speaks to the extraordinary commitment of people in healthcare, the unexpected courage people show in the midst of illness, the devotion of family in difficult times. It can also speak of mewling, sobbing carryings-on over the most minor conditions, the meanness that emerges when people are frightened, the vultures circling just waiting for Grandpa to kick the bucket and leave his will declaring the spoils.

For the most part, my cardiology colleagues are a hard-working bunch committed to . . . Uh oh. I was going to say "Saving lives, preserving health." But that's not true. Once upon a time, it was true for many of my colleagues, often revealed over $2-a-pitcher beer-softened, "we're going to save people" conversations in medical school. Ahhh, medical school. I remember walking along the street alongside my medical school in St. Louis, bursting with pride and a sense of purpose.

But, for many of us, something sours our purpose through the years. Maybe it's the smell of money, maybe it's the series of distasteful experiences that show that healthcare providers are, in the midst of health crises, the innocent recipients of anger, frustration, disappointment.

Whatever the genesis, the stage is set for an imperfect scenario that pits healthcare provider against patient in a less-than-perfect system.

This would read as a mindless rant if it wasn't based on such pervasive and pravalent truths, tales of the flawed deliverers of healthcare driven by motives less lofty than "saving people."

Take Dr. S, a doctor who performs a large number of procedures on patients. I'm told he is very capable. He manages an extraordinary amount of heart work--in between jail time for wife beating and Medicare fraud.

Or Dr. C, well-known in the region for his procedural talents, also. Usually acerbic and freely-swearing, he opens up engagingly when drinking--which is most of the time. Paradoxically, as is true for some serious drinkers, he works more effectively while intoxicated.

Or Dr. ST, who proudly admitted to me one evening over dinner that he has accepted 6-figure payments from medical device companies on a number of occasions to use their products.

Or the manic ups and downs of Dr. J, who refers just about every patient he sees for emergency bypass surgery when in his down phase, mangles coronary arteries in daring angioplasties during his up phase.

How about 310-lb Dr. P, who hounds her patients about indulgent lifestyles? That would be excusable as innocent lack of self-insight if it weren't for her propensity to use heart procedures on patients as punishment. "I have no choice but to take you to the hospital."

Dr. M. manages to maintain the appearance of straight-and-narrow during the day, all the way to attending church twice a week with his children. His daytime persona effectively covers up his frequent visits to prostitutes.

We are ALL flawed. My colleagues are no different. But some circumstances cultivate the flaws, fertilize corruptibility, reward it. Such has become the state of affairs in healthcare for heart disease. Why? Is it the excessive potential for money-making that existed until recently? Is there something about the save-the-day mentality of heart disease that attracts imperfect personalities looking for the adrenaline-charged thrill but morphs over time into near-psychopathic lives?

It's not the end of the world. The fact that my colleagues' behavior has reached such extravagant lows signals a bottom: things are about to change.

In the meantime, let me tell you a few more secrets . . .

Copyright 2008 William Davis, MD

Comments (9) -

  • Zute

    6/11/2008 2:50:00 PM |

    Oh my!  Sounds like you have the makings of a juicy book in your head, Dr. D!

  • mike V

    6/11/2008 3:35:00 PM |

    Sometimes I think there is hope for my grandchildren.
    I find you inspiring, Dr. Davis. Not perfect, but nevertheless, inspiring!

  • Anonymous

    6/11/2008 3:48:00 PM |

    Come on Dr Davis... Tell it like it is!

    I Love it. Just plain Love it!

  • Jessica

    6/11/2008 10:25:00 PM |

    It's refreshing to hear this from a physician. So many of them are content with keeping up the perception of perfection and I'm sure its draining.

  • Anonymous

    6/11/2008 10:36:00 PM |

    It is absolutely time for us to wake up to the fire-fighting mentality of the larger medical community.  Sometimes treatment and intervention is necessary, but the focus of medical attention ought to be on Prevention in the most natural way.  Dr. Davis thank you for getting that message to us.

    Recently I came across another book, with a title that might be too strong for some, but it does reflect a very sad, flawed, state of affairs:  "Genocide: How Your Doctor's Dietary Ignorance Will Kill You!!!!  By Dr. James Carlson.



  • Anonymous

    6/12/2008 10:12:00 AM |

    What I have found funny is the large # of people that feel the need to defend hospitals or the practices of  doctor.  It doesn't seem to matter what political persuasion a person is, many just seem to have a need to believe the marketing hype that America has the very best doctors and medical care available, and that doctors always have your best interests at heart.  You don't find this kind of loyalty for other industries.  I often thought this high level of trust is caused by Hollywood shows.  Ever since we were little kids many Americans have been bombarded with movies and television programs glorifying doctors and hospitals.

  • Anonymous

    6/13/2008 12:04:00 AM |

    If only these flaws were limited to cardiolopgy. Over the past 15 years these same themes of unethical and immoral lifestyles has become the norm not the exception in our "new society". It will all end and for the better. The cost for this change to the better will be enourmous.

  • Henry C

    6/14/2008 3:16:00 PM |

    It's amazing what is happening around us and we don't see it.

    Thanks Dr. Davis for opening up our eyes.

    Henry C

  • dotslady

    6/16/2008 2:04:00 AM |

    I befriended my daughter's pediatrician's wife and learned then and there about how imperfect people are.  I learned of his depression and family alcoholism.

    Since my celiac diagnosis (and despite my daughter's medical history he didn't diagnose her as being on the autism spectrum - but that's another story), I've learned so much and have shared with her my thoughts about sugar, grains, carbs etc, which have been scoffed at.  I have all but diagnosed HER son because they have not been enlightened.  It's not appreciated.  And she shared with me about other doctors' lives as well.  What you say is true; you need to be in that culture to know more truths for your own safety!

    BTW, I enjoy living vicariously through Chef Bordain and wonder about his lipid panel ... he smokes and gets out of breath easily.  When the time comes, I wonder what medical advice he'll get.  Knowing him, he won't care.