The Opioid Crisis–In Your Cupboard

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The opioid epidemic of the last 20 years has served to illustrate the powerful addictive properties of anything that binds to opioid receptors of the human brain. Lives are ruined by opioid addiction, more than 100 deaths now occurring every day from overdose as people either take more and more to overcome the partial tolerance or new potent drugs like fentanyl make their way into street versions. Drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl bind to the brain’s opioid receptors provoking a “high” while causing the user to desire more opioids as partial tolerance develops. And make no mistake: Much of the opioid epidemic was the creation of the pharmaceutical industry and the doctors who fell for misleading marketing. Emergency rooms now must stock plentiful naloxone administered urgently to counteract overdose and prevent cardiopulmonary arrest.

We also know that foods contain proteins that, upon partial digestion, yield components that exert opioid behavior and even resemble the structure of morphine. The gliadin protein of wheat and related grains yields so-called gliadorphins, while the casein protein of mammary gland products yields casomorphin. (Casomorphin has a lower binding affinity to the opioid receptors and thereby exerts a less potent opioid effect than gliadin-derived opioids.) We also know that the varied effects of gliadin-derived opioids can be blocked by naloxone, consistent with its opioid properties.

Food-derived opioids, especially those coming from gliadin, do not, of course, make us “high,” but yield many of the other effects of opioids such as appetite stimulation. We see this in its most exaggerated form in people prone to binge-eating disorder and bulimia, conditions associated with unremitting 24-hour-per-day food obsessions that reverse within days of removing all grain-sourced gliadin from their diet. For the rest of us without such eating disorders, gliadin-derived opioids only cause us to take in around 400-800 more calories per day, every day, reflecting its appetite-stimulating effect.

We do not, of course, overdose on gliadin-derived opioids, at least not in the conventional sense. But, because gliadin has other effects besides its opioid potential, and because wheat and related grains contain numerous other components, the list of human diseases caused by wheat and grain consumption is not a short one. Just consider the diseases that we KNOW are often caused by wheat and grains (responsible component in parentheses):

  • Celiac disease (gliadin)
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (gliadin)
  • Cerebellar ataxia (gliadin)
  • Peripheral neuropathy (gliadin)
  • Iron deficiency anemia (phytates)
  • Magnesium deficiency (phytates)
  • Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance (amylopectin A and wheat germ agglutinin)
  • Type 1 diabetes (gliadin)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (gliadin)
  • Auditory hallucinations and paranoia in selected cases of paranoid schizophrenia (gliadin)
  • Behavioral outburst in children with ADHD and autistic spectrum disorder (gliadin)

That’s a partial list. Throw in the other consequences of insulin resistance (e.g., heightened risk for cancer, heart disease, and dementia), dysbiosis and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (autoimmune conditions, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, colorectal cancer), and allergy to varied wheat and grain proteins and the list of conditions caused by wheat and grains reads like a textbook of human disease.

No, nobody is going to the emergency room with acute bagel or muffin overdose. The health effects of wheat and related grains are less acute, more chronic, but no less important. And the process of being freed from these effects is complicated by the opioid withdrawal syndrome that about half the people who stop consuming grains experience.

You may not inject heroin or snare a supply of Oxycontin tablets off the street but, if you consume wheat and related grains, you are still subject to an extraordinarily powerful form of opioid addiction and all its health consequences.


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