Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wheat contains opiates. Really? REALLY???

I have been reading the book "Wheat Belly," by William Davis.  I have a lot of trouble reading sciency things written for non-sciency people because generally, well, they are often WRONG.  In trying to simplify the issues, author's often miss the mark and end up writing things that are dead wrong.  Given that, when I first read that wheat proteins (specifically the gluten family of proteins) were broken down into peptides that stimulate opioid receptors in the brain, I was all WHAT????  Naturally.  Aren't you?

What's an opioid and why am I freakin' out about it being in my food?

An opioid is a chemical that can elicit a response in the brain via the opioid receptor pathway.  We have lots of these "pathways" in our brains - some make us happy, some sad, some tired, some hungry, some painful, some cold, hot, angry, euphoric, etc.  For each feeling you have, you have a pathway set up to monitor that feeling.  To turn it on and off at the appropriate time. Each of these neural pathways are activated by a family of chemicals.  They have their own receptors or "locks" that they fit into which activate the pathway.  Imagine this:  the "key" is the opioid chemical and you have the key in your hand.  It fits into the "lock" which is the opioid receptor in your brain -- like the lock on your front door.  Once the door is open (or the pathway is activated), you walk down the "hallway" turning on light switches as you go.  Each light switch represents a part of the pathway that is being activated by that one action - the joining of key and lock (in this metaphor, you are "energy" being transmitted along the pathway, turning things on and off as you are programmed to do).  The end result is a brightly lit room which is "activated."  In this case, there are a plethora of possible outcomes of opioid pathway activation.  Among these are:
  • analgesia (you feel no pain)
  • antidepressive effects (you feel happy and if you're clinically depressed, your depression lifts)
  • euphoria
  • hyperactive behavior
  • physical dependence (once you experience life with the lights on, you don't want them off again)
Common opioids you may find in your daily life?  Morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, heroin, methadone -- amongst many, many others.

They are really physically addictive.  For heroin in particular, ONE EXPOSURE can lead to physical addiction.  They are bad news.

And they are in your food.

Opioids in food?  Surely you jest.

OK I will be honest with you.  You're not eating pure opioid chemicals in your bread.  It's the process of digesting it that is the issue here.  And of course, everyone does this (digesting) differently because we are all slightly different and unique snowflakes.  You know what gluten is, right?  That protein found in wheat endosperm?  It's there as a protein source for the growing wheat seedling along with tons of starch.  It actually exists in a complex with two gluten proteins, gliadin and glutelin, and starch.  I haven't read a ton on glutelin, but there certainly exists a whole body of literature on gliadins and what the body makes of them while digesting them.  But first things first.  Gluten is a protein found in wheat seeds.  Over the years, "we" (I use the term we to signify humans; not scientists, not laypeople, just US in general cause I'm damn straight not taking the blame as a scientist for this nonsense that our diet has become in the USA) have bred wheat plants to contain pretty high level of gluten.  Once food chemists realized that gluten makes things springy and elastic, it started to get added to many foods (bread being only one of HUNDREDS of foods on the market that contain gluten - just ask any Celiac).

So what does the body do with gluten?  The same thing it does with any protein - it gets digested into smaller and smaller units as it passes through the intestine.  These smaller units are called peptides.  Imagine gluten like a pearl necklace with each pearl representing the simplest unit of a protein, an amino acid (there wont be a test, bear with me here).  When you string together a few amino acids, you get a peptide.  When you make a whole necklace, either circular or just a long string, you get a protein.  Gluten is the protein, peptides are what you get when you cut up gluten in your digestive system.  These little pieces of protein, peptides, are the result of digestion of ANY protein in your body.  We call them "exorphins" when they come from protein digestion.  They are really small and can enter your bloodstream through conveniently-located blood vessels inside of your intestinal walls.  So you've got peptides/exorphins in your blood.

Don't be alarmed, it's normal.  What's really interesting is that some exorphin peptides LOOK just like keys that fit into certain locks.  Imagine, then, what would happen if we digested a protein into peptides that looked just like the key to the opioid receptor (lock)?  Whoa.  There you have it - that's exactly what happens when we digest gluten.  Specifically, when we digest gliadins, some of the resulting peptides fit into the lock which is the opioid receptor, making them OPIOIDS.

Wheat is addictive

Ask me, now, if I believe that this could really be true.  Just because these peptides LOOK like opioids, do I believe that wheat could have some of the same properties as morphine, heroin, codeine?

I absolutely do.

NO, they aren't akin to heroin.  I'm not an idiot, don't look at me like I'm crazy!

I've experienced wheat "addiction" if there is such a thing.  I just couldn't give up carbs (specifically wheat).  I just couldn't.  I could stop eating sweets all I wanted and I could damn HFCS to the eternal pits of hell, but I still wanted pasta, bread, crackers, cereal, etc. ALL.THE.TIME.  Ask my friends that have been with me through this nutritional journey.  Wendy?  Claudia?  Lesley?  You've heard me say it a million times, right?  Once I gave up wheat, I haven't even WANTED a grain or carby snack since.  I don't even want Quinoa.  I just don't want the carbs at all ever.  No lie, I swear!  BUT:  when you let a little bit of wheat in..............the "addiction" floods back.  I ate those gluten and wheat-containing sausages on Sunday night (see here) and Monday I spent the day thinking about how much my life sucked because I couldn't have some ice cream, bread, cookies, *enter other carby treat here.*  I white-knuckled it through the day/night and didn't cave and felt better for it by Tuesday, but wow.  Just wow.

I have one more thing to tell you and I hope everyone is listening to this because I don't want to say it since I've been railing against it from Day 1 of this journey.

Those Paleo people might be on to something -

- because milk proteins (casein) are digested into opioid-like peptides too.  It turns out that wheat and cow's milk - two things we really aren't evolved to properly process or digest, both produce these addictive peptides as byproducts of normal digestion.  Does everyone make these peptides?  Probably not as research into the link between mental health and nutrition shows.  Only a certain percentage of schizophrenics experience symptomatic relief from a gluten-free diet.  Is everyone that makes opioid peptides as sensitive to them as, obviously, I am?  Probably not.  Who knows.  

I am running the risk of becoming a fruitarian more and more each day.

Don't believe me?  Read this peer-reviewed article on how the effects of gliadin peptides exacerbate psychiatric illnesses like schizophrenia.  Then be a good scientist and follow the references within:

Kalaydjian AE, et al 2005. The gluten connection: the association between schizophrenia and celiac disease, Acta Psychiatr Scand 2006: 113: 82–90.

For a great layman's read, see "Wheat Belly" by William Davis, available here


To none other than ALDI brand turkey brats.  Yeah, yeah I know that sausages are bad for you and whatnot (I am hearing Claudia's voice in my head right now).  But you can't just throw away food - and I had some in my freezer.  Monday morning I woke up with all of the familiar things:  swollen face, puffy eyes, lethargy, fatigue (and not cause it was just Monday).  A check of the ingredients list on the sausages made me realize that they have all of the bad culprits:  tons of chemical preservatives, gluten, wheat, etc.


I took an allegra and went to bed Monday night and now, Tuesday morning, I'm feeling well again.

Most importantly - the scale is stalled despite a stellar eating weekend.  If my body's normal behavior holds true, this will last about 3 days.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

What's cooking in my crazy kitchen

So I'm now 100% gluten free and my net carbs are limited to 50 g a day.  According to the anit-inflammation diet, which I read and loved and reviewed on the blog here, I still have work to do.  Since I'm not 100% off of my allergy meds (I'm still taking singulair, allegra and about 3x a week I take my inhaled steroid), there could still be a food allergy or sensitivity at play here.  But I'm fine with hanging out at this stage for a while as I adjust to my new diet/lifestyle.

What do I eat, you may be wondering?

Here's a copy/paste from my food journal on My Fitness Pal

Your Food Diary For:

Thursday July 12, 2012
 As you can see, my calorie goal that day was high - I rode my bike for 1.5 hours and earned an extra lotsa calories but didn't eat them all.  Also, you can see that my net carb intake is somewhere around 50 g daily (don't forget that net carbs is total carbs minus fiber grams).  I'm often way over "target" for a "normal" diet on fiber, fat, protein and way under "target" for carbs and sugar.  This is good for someone that has high insulin and doesn't want to trigger a big overreaction by her body.  A big insulin dump would mean an end to fat burning until the insulin "wears off (for lack of a better term, we will discuss that further in a future post)."

Are you interested in almond butter?  I made it myself using this recipe.  It's a great tutorial and the pics were really helpful when I almost panicked about the big ball 'o' nuts that was spinning around in my Cuisinart at the middle-stage.  Just push through, its worth it!

How about the pulled pork I ate?  I added zero carbs to this, so it only has what's in the pork naturally.  I used this recipe, but instead of beer, I added low carb (homemade) chicken stock.

So that's what I'm eating right now.  I try to avoid overly processed foods, but I eat "processed" dairy.  This is the next step to limit/eliminate but as I said, I'm trying not to go "whole hog" just yet.  We are easing into it at this point.

How do I feel?  Well.  Let's talk about that, shall we?
  1. I no longer have that sluggish "I didn't sleep at all last night" feeling when I wake in the morning.
  2. I no longer look all puffy like I got beat up in my sleep when I wake up.
  3. I don't need any more than ONE CUP of coffee in the mornings and if you know me, you know that's significant.  I used to have 2-3 cups of coffee and a diet soda daily.  Sometimes I still have a diet soda - I know its bad but honestly its twice a week MAX - because I want the carbonation and the taste, not cause I cannot live without it.
  4. I can exercise.  I don't fall asleep on the couch every day at 8PM.  I have worked it into my schedule (despite it cutting into my manuscript writing time!) and I'm enjoying it.
  5. I'm losing weight.  SO FAR, the scale is moving down.  We shall keep a close eye on that one because I plateaued very quickly last time I said that!
So how's that?  Worth a diet/lifestyle change?  I think so.