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.
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
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
- Vitamins B1, B6, B12, Folic Acid, A, D, E, K
- Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
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.
“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!
Celiac Notes by Dr Charles Parker on August 2007
Dangerous Grains by Ron Hoggan
Gluten Free Choice Consulting by Wendy L Cohan, RN, November, 2010
The Gluten Syndrome
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