Withdrawal Symptoms Associated with the Addictive Nature of Gluten

The addictive nature of gluten is often overlooked. We, as celiac, gluten allergic and sensitive sufferers alike, all have a disadvantage to being fit and healthy. Being on a gluten-free diet can be extremely difficult, often causing weight gain, weight loss, severe cravings, feeling disoriented, irritable, depressed, as well as having 
mental fogginess, fatigue, and/or shortness of breath. I’d like to share with you my experience with it, as well as the information I have found that is a clear cut answer to why we suffer as much as we do.

Withdrawal

The following post is one I found to be extremely accurate, and unfortunately all too common, when describing the addictive behavior associated with gluten:

“Can eating gluten cause addictive behavior and mood changes? I’ve been gluten free for a about a month and I noticed within that time that my depression started to lift and I started to feel a lot calmer BUT last week like an idiot I thought I could handle eating a cookie so I did. Then because I didn’t have a reaction within a couple of minutes I thought I’d try something else, fast forward 1 hour and I’d consumed several items of gluten filled food. Needless to say I was ill, I had the full works: headache, stomach cramps, a foggy head, feeling irritable/agitated and vomiting. The thing is I spent the next 24hrs in agony but my cravings for everything gluten based started to go totally out of control. It’s 2 weeks later and I feel like a lunatic, I’ve got myself into a cycle of stuffing myself stupid with all these foods then spending the next few days in pain feeling like I’m going to die. My mood swings have come back with a vengeance and I’m irritable all of the time. I know it’s making me ill but I can’t stop!! Why have I lost so much control? Is this normal??? Can gluten cause this or am i just imagining it? I’m so annoyed with myself.” -Celiac forum

This passage is so profound, as it points out the same feelings nearly 70% of celiac disease and gluten allergic/sensitive sufferers have while trying their hardest to live on a gluten-free diet. I myself, have also experienced this agony, which is why this article is so important for me to write. I know how awful it feels when you literally feel like a slave to the very substance that is hurting you. The awful torment it causes on your self esteem, not to mention your health.

“Powerful addictive cravings and disabling withdrawal symptoms are reported in over 30 percent of delayed food allergy patients when they stop eating food. Immediate food allergens primarily affect the skin, airway and the digestive tract. Virtually any tissue, organ or system of the body can be affected by delayed food allergy. This includes the brain, joints, muscles, hormone-producing glands, lungs, kidneys, and nervous system. Additionally, delayed-onset food allergy is linked to over 100 medical conditions involving every single part of the body and some 100 different allergic symptoms.” -bettercontrolofhealth.com

This photo was taken from Health Now Medical

It is always amazing to me how much power gluten has on our brain, and as the previous passage stated, virtually every system in our bodies. Another great example of this is in the following passage found in the article, Neurological Effects of Gluten Intolerance by Wendy L Cohan, RN, November, 2010 reads as follows:

“Gluten sensitivity can lead to neurological and mental health effects in various ways, including: Triggering inflammatory autoimmune responses throughout the nervous system; Producing narcotizing effects on the brain; Inducing changes in brain perfusion, or blood flow; And, through celiac disease, causing the malabsorption of key nutrients necessary for optimum neurological and mental health. We know that certain foods, including gluten, can trigger neurological and behavioral symptoms; we also know that people who exhibit learning disabilities, mood instability, mental illness, and even criminal behavior, can change their diets and overcome previous behavioral patterns to live healthy, productive lives.”

There are also patients who have experienced depression or crying spells in the beginning of going on a gluten free diet. This reaction can be mild to severe. Research has shown that this reaction resolves with time once the initial reaction is over. These types of withdrawal symptoms have been linked to the removal of certain types of gluten or milk that have a drug like opiod structure, similar to opiates, called gluteomorphins and casomorphins. They affect the brain in such a way that their removal triggers a temporary reaction that resembles drug or alcohol withdrawal.

The following are direct passages from the celiac.com forum of personal experiences with going on a gluten-free diet:

“I´m dealing with some very severe depression. It feels like PMS almost all of the time, crying practically every evening, and feeling anxious.”

“I had terrible depression when I first went gluten free. It really did clear up for me though after a couple months. It does come back if I eat gluten though – so I’m very very careful now.”

“I was extremely depressed the first 2-3 months after going gluten-free. I would cry all the time. It was almost like I was in mourning for the way my life used to be.”

Some people have found taking vitamins seem to help with the withdrawal process. Personally, I have switched to gluten-free vitamins. More often than not, gluten sufferers lack the proper amount of vitamin and mineral levels, so I think it’s worth a try. To be certain, you may want to have your vitamin and mineral levels checked to see exactly where you are deficient.

Celiac Disease Induces Mal-Absorption of the Following Nutrients

  • Minerals
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • Vitamins B1, B6, B12, Folic Acid, A, D, E, K
  • Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids


Cycles & Symptoms

There are cycles that are associated with gluten itself and the entire process of going gluten-free. It starts out by eliminating all gluten from your diet. This is not easy to keep up as you begin to feel the withdrawal symptoms associated with the detoxification from 
gluten. The gluten-derived opioid effects our brain, causing neurochemical imbalances. So in other terms, gluten releases a drug-like effect on your brain (exorphins) that urges you to keep eating, and it makes gluten-allergic sufferers crave more food. This then causes you to form destructive eating habits.

Often times, one may turn into a compulsive eater just to maintain these awful eating habits. Over-eating is not due to lack of self-discipline but rather the fact that you are allergic to the chemical and substance of gluten. The villi in your small intestines, which are responsible for food absorption, are damaged which means your body is not getting the nutrients it needs.

Even despite the drug-like effect gluten is having on you, your brain is still thinking it is hungry due to the fact that it has not obtained sufficient nutrients to function correctly. You then feel a forced feeling of hunger and often times out of control. This can lead to overeating, vomiting, as well as a very messed up digestion tract. It is then hard to eat because you aren’t able to digest food very well. Eating becomes the worst task of your day, which can cause you to begin skipping meals. To end this cycle, one may give up on the entire process, (which will only leave you deprived and sick) or one may attempt to, yet again, go on a gluten-free diet.

The following is an excerpt from Killer Cravings:

“Addictive substances cause the body to become dependent on an unnatural substance for homeostatic balance. Removing it causes withdrawals. During withdrawal, the addict suffers through the painful readjustment as the body cries out for the missing substance. In a desperate attempt to maintain homeostasis (chemical balance), the body demands the very substance that caused the imbalance. The body’s homeostatic balance is affected by diet. Consumption of massive amounts of sugar, salt, caffeine or fried foods drastically affects homeostatic balance.

Natural hunger becomes distorted as the body craves the substances necessary for balance. The body reacts as it would to any addiction. Powerful cravings override the body’s natural needs. Food allergies can also cause an addiction-like dependence due to homeostatic disturbance. Your favorite foods are usually the ones to which you are addicted. You usually feel better immediately after eating the food that you are addicted to, but shortly afterward the allergic reaction produces a feeling of irritability. It causes flatulence, nausea, depression or headaches.

Milk, wheat and eggs are the most common allergic foods. Each contains large protein molecules with strong glue-like bonds. If the appropriate enzyme necessary for digestion is not available, these protein molecules enter the blood undigested. The immune system attacks these fragments as if they were invaders. Homeostasis has been interrupted and if these foods are continually eaten, the body needs them for homeostatic balance, causing an allergen-based food addiction.”

Note: I have also found this other article about gluten intolerance by Dr. Vikki Petersen to be very relevant, informative, and important for everyone to read, especially for those who experience seizures associated with gluten intolerance.

This is a very serious condition, which can have life-long effects on your health. If you or someone you know suffers from these symptoms, I advise you seek help from a health care professional. If you are unsure and would like to know more, read “Celiac Disease Symptoms and Diagnosis.” It is because of this horrible cycle, that I have started this blog. I am trying my best to heal myself through living heathy while eating an all-natural and nourishing gluten-free diet. I keep a tell-all version of my day-to-day struggles in my journal. I urge those of you suffering from food allergies to follow me along my Quest to Health! Thank you so much for your support, and remember… you are not alone!

XOXOX F

Sources:
Celiac Notes by Dr Charles Parker on August 2007
Celiac.com
Dangerous Grains by Ron Hoggan
Gluten Free Choice Consulting by Wendy L Cohan, RN, November, 2010
The Gluten Syndrome
BetterControlOfHealth.com

21 thoughts on “Withdrawal Symptoms Associated with the Addictive Nature of Gluten

    • Hi Cindi,

      From what I have learned yes that is normal. When pathogenic microbes die off, they release toxins which when produced faster than your body can process or remove you may experience “die off” which can last up to several weeks. Just as with food reactions, it is hard to know whether you are experiencing die-off or a normal reaction to eliminating a food. Some helpful tips are to drink lots of water and fresh fruit/vegetable juice. http://myglutenfreequest.com/raw-vegetable-juice/ Also take detox baths with a quarter cup of epsom salts. You may also benefit from starting a good quality probiotic. I use BioKult.

      I hope this helps and good luck!

  1. Hello from Norway!
    I had severe withdrawal symptoms for about 3 months after going gluten/dairy/sugar free: problems breathing (I could not speak for more than a few seconds at a time, problems walking more than a few steps at a time, sleep disorders, food got stuck in my throut/problems swollowing food, depression (I thought I was going to die!). My doctor knew I was going gluten/dairy free/sugar free, but did not mention withdrawal symptoms at all. Rather; he said my symptoms were caused by pollen allergy! I switched to paleo at the same time I quit grains, and that caused severe reflux so I ended up in the ER convinced I had a heart attack – which was not the case. If I get in contact with gluten now I get reactions such as stuffed up nose, joint pain and I get really tired and also sleeping disorders. I get reactions after a couple of hours just by touching a slice of bread – that’s enough to get joint pains and stiffness. Another thing is that I had severe mineral/vitamin deficienies and intestinal bacteria overgrowth. Now, after 14 months on paleo I have developed additional food intolerances (almonds, egg yoke). The test last summer showed intolerances for egg white, wheat, barley, rye, oat, spelt, casein, Brazil nuts. I can’t Digest Food Rich in starches, and fruit leads to bloating.
    I have also taken a hormone test, which showed that I am low on progesteron, testosteron, cortisol, DHEAS and ostradiol! (I am female, 50 yrs). No wonder I am tired. My biggest problem is still reflux/digestion and despite digestive enzymes and Hcl I can’t digest food properly. Anyone out there who has experienced such long term problems? Any suggestions as to what I can’t do to improve my digestion? Could glutamin be a an idea?

    • Hello Norway! I’ve gone gluten/milk/corn/egg free and have been doing so for 8 plus weeks. My withdrawal has been intense…to the point I’m not sure anymore if that’s what’s going on or I’m just crazy. I tested intolerant to all those foods and since there has been no relief I am wondering what I am missing. :( Until your post, I’ve not seen anything on any site that talks about length of withdrawal being this long, so I’m thankful you mentioned that. (Except that the half life is 3-4 months.) I am desperate to know I’m on the right track and that eventually it will be worth it. I hear it will be, but with so long and still no relief, I’m questioning whether food intolerance has been the reason for my problems at all. (Issues are anxiety, depression, body pain – all over, ear ringing…). While I can’t help you, I hope we can find comfort in knowing we’re not alone. (By the way, my doctor has me on gelatin (glutamin?). He say’s that’ll help heal my gut.) I pray we’ll both find answers SOON!

      • I highly recommend to the both of you to read the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride as well as the GAPS Guide that is sold with it. It answered so many questions for me, plus I was finally able to relate. I wish I had known about it sooner… this info is like GOLD to me.

        XOXOX F

      • Hi again, the results from my gasto came today, turns out I have inflammation in my stomach/small intestine (I hope this is the correct terminology in English!). So I guess glutamin is the thing to keep on eating/drinking…? And probably stay away from too much fiber. My doctor could not give me any adivce on what to do with this problem! Chris Kresser has very interesting articles on his website concerning all the damage that will show up when you switch to paleo. (caused by your old diet, not the paleo). It takes time to reverse all the damage we have done to ourselves by eating grains (and sugar) so be patient. Good Luck!

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  3. I have been gluten free for months. I have been in terrible mood lately. I had one cookie and wondering if this could have caused my horrible mood or is it that I am dealing with detoxing from wheat? i read that it can take a year for all the wheat to leave your system.

  4. I quit all gluten couple weeks ago because my skin was so itchy and knew it had to be gluten. Well since quitting gluten my skin stopped itching, but I actually have flu like symptoms, cold spells, crying spells, congestion, runny nose, watery eyes. How long does this last?

  5. I’m so happy to have found this site. Been through some major mood swings since I started going gluten free (worse than when I was on the gluten) and my hubby is convinced that my new diet is the reason (and wants me to go back on gluten). I went gluten free, because I suspect I have hypothyroidism if not Hashimoto’s and since my baby girl was born my hormones have been getting the best of me. Think a pregnant lady is hormonal, try seeing me now. This is one of the hardest things I have ever done, mood up and down, constantly feeling hungry and cold, except for the last two days where it’s been around 30 Celsius here. So to everyone else here, you guys rock. I was about quit, but knowing I’m not insane and that this is just withdrawal symptoms, it’s given me some willpower to stick to this.
    On another note, I am surprised this doesn’t mention anything about blood sugar and imbalances. I recently listened to a webinar and there was a whole session on blood sugar and how this doctor (dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo) has her patients check their blood sugar throughout the day and record it to see which foods spike it up a lot and do this for a month. Then the next month they eliminate all those foods, eat healthier and get the supplements they need. The following month they slowly try to incorporate the eliminated foods and off course check to see that they now don’t spike the blood sugar levels. The key being to check your levels a lot. She says that it takes 2 hours from eating a meal for your blood sugar to go back to your base level, which is why the standard blood sugar test at the doctors doesn’t really tell you much. Anyway I imagine that since gluten usually makes up for a large amount of carbs and I’m not an expert, but carbs play a big role in blood sugar levels (correct me if I’m wrong), I wonder if going off the gluten then doesn’t also impact the amount of carbs eaten and thereby somehow our blood sugar levels (and thereby cortisol levels, insulin levels and hormone levels/production). Honestly I’m just beginning to learn about this stuff, so anyone with more knowledge feel free to pitch in some thoughts… And sorry for the long post :)

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  7. I am on day 6 of no gluten. The last couple of days I felt sort of dizzy, faint. Today was the worst so far. I felt like I was going to pass out- started to sweat, heart racing due to the anxiety of feeling like that. Also bloated and I feel so full after eating small amounts of food.I’m sure it will get better. Does anyone out there going off wheat check their glucose. I’m wondering if I should. Thanks.

  8. Do You think Gluten intolerance (not allergy) can cause breathing problems? I’ve had an allergy for a few years that totally distresses me. My nose blocks and my chest feels heavy and I feel like I can’t take a deep breath. I find that doctors don’t take intolerance too seriously and only give me meds to handle the symptoms (inhalers and antihistamines). I don’t want to live on medication and want to find a permanent solution. I did a food intolerance test recently and Gluten came back as a strong positive. I would love to have your opinion on this. I feel irritable, anxious, can’t sleep well, can’t lose weight and have the breathing issues on and off.

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  10. Thank you! This site has been very helpful and has given me so much encouragement. I feel like I am dying, so depressed, overwhelmed and at my wits end and I hurt all over! It has only been a week gluten, dairy and sugar free. Ugh! Yuck! Help! This is horrible, I feel like a hypocondriac! Toni :(

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