The Trouble with Wheat #4: Addiction!

January 09, 2012

The Trouble with Wheat #4:  Addiction! 

 Reference:  Wheat  Belly by Bill Davis, MD (Milwaukee Cardiologist:

Ever been accused of being an addict!  Well, we’ll take care of that in just four short paragraphs.  Wheat is yummy.  We love warm bread.  Every culture around the globe makes warm bread and we find it irresistible.  Have a little more.  And a little more.  A little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Or, a touch of butter and jam.  Or some cheese, tomatoes, and pepperoni.  We love our wheat. The problem is that we like it just a bit more than we realize.  In fact, we eat that little bit more with just a touch of compulsion.  We can’t really resist it.  Munching on some pretzels?  Chewing on a breadstick?  You find yourself unconsciously being directed to eat a bit more.  

Why?  Because the proteins in wheat get broken down into characteristic pieces that penetrate both the gut and the blood-brain barrier. (Other foods don’t do this – it’s characteristic of gluten from wheat)  And there those peptides bind to the brain's opiate receptors.  Well, that sets off your internal fix and your brain says, “Whoopee” and you eat some more. Now, the house of medicine has invented some marvelous drugs that reverse and completely block the opiate receptor.  If you give it to an overdosed heroin addict in the ER, and give them an IV opiate blocker they get really, really mad because you take away their high.  (Never mind you saved their lives) Naloxone and naltrexone are two examples.  

Guess what happens when you give these drugs to people who are trying to lose weight and being fed a diet of wheat?  Come on, commit yourself to a guess!  Correct!  You give up eating as much.  Bill Davis documents in Wheat Belly that folks put on naltrexone will lose as much as 24 pounds in a few months because they just don’t have the inclination to eat that 6th piece of pizza, or 12th bread stick, or 100th Wheat Thin, or……   (My personal record is a clean 12  Krispy Kremes) Twenty percent of human calories come from wheat.  If you are inclined to have 10% fewer calories because you eat one piece of french toast instead of three, you might start to lose weight too. 

  Exorphins are the name for those peptides, and we’ve known about them since the 1970s.  There are a few other foods that make them.  Wheat makes a bunch and we eat a lot of wheat.  Combine that with its availability and rapidly digested carbohydrate, and consequent fast release of insulin, and we eat wheat compulsively and store those calories assiduously.  You lose. That’s the argument.  Unique among food, wheat provides the easy calories and the addicting exorphins to make each of us “wheat addicts”.  And you get fat, from wheat. 

WWW.  What will work for me?  Try the experiment.  Go five days without wheat and see how you feel.  Watch your own behavior when you start eating it again.  The question arises, “what about trying long-term naltrexone therapy as a way to lose 24 pounds”?  Now that we have named the enemy, you can stand up at group and confess that you too are an addict.  To wheat.  (Problem #4)

Pop Quiz

1.   What is the name of those little chemicals that get released in wheat that nudge you to eat more?    Answer:  exorphins.

2.   If you give narcotic blocking drugs to folks trying to lose weight, does it help?       Answer: Randomized trials prove that to be so.  Narcan can be a weight loss drug

3.   Wheat activates parts of your brain that is your pleasure center.  What's its name?       Answer: No fair.  This information was found in the future after this column was written.  The work of Susan Peirce Thompson (Bright Line Eating) hadn't been written when this column was first produced.  The nucleus acumbens is activated by wheat, just like it is activated by heroin. Edited 1/15/22)

4.    When you order pizza, you do it for the topping or the cheese or .......?        Answer: The bread. 

Written by John Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield WI