Continuing an excellent interview with author, editor and teacher, Ron Hoggan. This is on the technical side, but full of good information.
“With current trends in obesity, insulin resistance, learning disabilities, behavior problems, and addiction, gluten grains may well be contributing to each and all of these enormous social ills.” Ron Hoggan
Q: Describe what opioid peptides are and what they do?
A: This is an enormously broad question and one that I am only partly qualified to answer.
Christine Zioudrou and colleagues discovered morphine-like peptides (partial proteins) in the incomplete digests of wheat gluten and alpha casein, a protein in milk. They reported their discovery in The Journal of Biological Chemistry in April of 1979. Since that time, their findings have been repeatedly replicated, and the characterization of the moprhine-like peptides from gluten has been further characterized into five separate opioids. Because they behave like endorphins but come from outside the body, they were originally dubbed exorphins by Zioudrou and colleagues.
The morphine-like action of these opioids leads to a variety of changes in the body. These include addiction, appetite enhancement, altered neurotransmission, altered tension in blood vessel walls, and they sometimes seem to inhibit our ability to foresee consequences and feel empathy.
One of my own publications suggests that the elevated cancer risk, in the context of celiac disease, is the result of the down-regulation of natural killer cells by opioid peptides from gluten. Natural killer cells are part of the innate immune system (more on this later) and they are our bodies’ first line of defense against cancer. So the down-regulation of these cells can have a powerful impact on whether we develop malignant tumors and whether we can recover from them.
One difficult patient with lymphoma is a powerful case in point. He was diagnosed with a B cell lymphoma. He refused all other treatments except Naloxone, which blocks attachment of opioids to opioid receptors. The patient experienced a full recovery from his lymphoma on Naloxone treatment alone. That certainly suggests the possibility that my hypothesis is correct.
Addiction is also a very important facet of the impact of gluten because, as with other addictions, there is a large component of denial involved. We are habituated to these peptides from infancy, when we are first given a cookie to slobber on. And by the time we were weaned, most of us were eating breakfast cereals, porridge, bread, cake, pasta, processed meats, and many of the other foods that increasingly contain gluten.
Gluten opioids, as with morphine and other opioids, slow the speed of neurotransmission. That is how they attenuate pain. Sometimes that is a good thing, except that pain is one of the tools by which we learn. I remember the pain of burning my hands by sliding down a rope on a swing my father built in our back yard. I think that was before I started school. I can tell you that I have always been reluctant to hold a moving rope or climb on a rope without gloves since that experience. Thus, by feeding our children gluten grains, we may inhibit their learning capacities.
But that is just a small facet of the tremendous impact that grains can have on learning and behavior. Alexandra Blair reported in the Times Online that the gluten free diet induced improvements in reading and writing for between 70% and 90% among two groups of children with dyslexia. One group (70%) lived at home with their parents, while the other group (90%) resided at the school where the school had total control over their diets.Over a six month period, these children achieved improvements expected for one year’s schooling in children without learning disabilities. Some of these children experienced up to 3 years’ progress in just six months. My own professional experience echoes this report. I have seen startlingly positive results from a gluten free diet alone.
Many children with attention deficit disorders also experience dramatic improvements from a gluten free diet.Gluten has been reported to alter blood vessel-dilation, thus altering blood flow patterns in the brain. Perhaps this is a factor in these learning and behavior problems. We can only await relevant research in this area.
We also know that ingesting these exorphins leads to decreases in endorphin production in the brain. Again, more research is needed to determine what impact that has on learning, cognition and other brain functions.
One way we can tell that these opioids may sometimes be involved in unwanted weight gain is that when binge eaters, obese subjects, and people of normal weight are given Naloxone, a drug that blocks opioid attachment, there is a spontaneous reduction in appetite without any sense of hunger or being deprived. One study reported those reductions at 400 kilo-calories per day. (It is not hard to see why this would lead to rapid weight loss.) Thus, by implication, gluten opioids cause unwarranted appetite enhancement.
With current trends in obesity, insulin resistance, learning disabilities, behavior problems, and addiction, gluten grains may well be contributing to each and all of these enormous social ills.
“The dramatic improvements must speak for themselves, recommending the diet for each and all who suffer from psychiatric illness, learning problems, mood disorders, behavior problems, or any of the host of other problems that frequently improve after removing gluten from the diet.” Ron Hoggan
Q: How can someone’s mental and emotional state be changed by removing gluten?
A: There is clear evidence that a subset of people with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders are benefitted by a gluten free, dairy free diet. Whether gluten’s impact is with a major psychiatric disorder or a relatively minor emotional disturbance, the gluten-free diet can be enormously beneficial for some of these people. They may experience a period of withdrawal and anxiety, but once they have passed through this stage they will experience newfound calmness, peace, and serenity. I was fortunate in my own experience. On the third morning after beginning the gluten-free diet, I awoke to a pervasive sense of anticipation and joy. I don’t know why I was spared the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms, but I am grateful. As with many such things, I now take these feelings for granted.
There are many theories about what causes these changes in mood. Chronic intestinal inflammation may consume most of the available serotonin, leaving little of its precursor, tryptophan, for the brain to convert into this feel-good neurotransmitter. Or there may be many other issues at work. Only further research will solve this mystery.
From the earliest descriptions of celiac disease that I’ve read, children with celiac disease are characterized as cranky and whiny. Some researchers have attributed this to their illness. Others harken to the nutrient deficiencies these children experience. But neither of these explanations is satisfactory. Why do some experience a wave of well-being after just a few days on the diet, long before they have been restored to good health or their nutrient deficiencies have been corrected? There is something more there, but it we just don’t know enough about gluten’s impact on the psyche to go beyond the observations.The dramatic improvements must speak for themselves, recommending the diet for each and all who suffer from psychiatric illness, learning problems, mood disorders, behavior problems, or any of the host of other problems that frequently improve after removing gluten from the diet.
“. . . our results show that a gluten free diet induces dramatic changes in school readiness . . .” Ron Hoggan
Q: What do we know about gluten and learning disabilities? How can removing gluten from the diet help a child improve in school?
A: As mentioned earlier, dramatic improvements are often seen following removal of gluten from the diet. Supporting evidence does not seem to be found in the peer reviewed medical literature, but that may be explained by the gate-keeper function of the peer review process. Dr. Rodney Ford and I conducted a retrospective study of the school readiness of more than 900 children both before and after six months on a gluten-free diet. Our work has repeatedly been refused publication. I suspect that the pre-conceived notions of the reviewers are what have led to these denials. Perhaps they cannot bring themselves to believe that our results could be correct. But the reality is that our results show that a gluten-free diet induces dramatic changes in school readiness across a number of gastrointestinal complaints and a variety of other variables.
Thank you again Ron!