December 22, 2010

Gluten Protein Alters Brain Prolactin


The following research study demonstrates one of the brain altering effects of gluten.  In this case, a compound in gluten acts as an opioid chemical that leads to the excessive excretion of the neuro hormone, Prolactin.

Gluten exorphin B5 (GE-B5) is a food-derived opioid peptide identified in digests of wheat gluten. We have recently shown that GE-B5 stimulates prolactin (PRL) secretion…Since opioid peptides do not exert their effect on PRL secretion directly, but via a reduced dopaminergic tone, our data suggest that GE-B5 can modify brain neurotransmitter release without crossing the BBB.


Life Sci. 2005 Feb 25;76(15):1713-9. Epub 2004 Dec 20.

Aside from gluten exposure, abnormal elevations in prolactin can be caused by hypothyroid disease as well as excessive stress.  Interestingly enough, we know that gluten can also cause hypothyroid disease.  Additionally, many medications used to treat depression and other mental disorders can cause elevations in prolactin.

Symptoms of elevated prolactin are variable but can include:

  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • loss of libido
  • infertility
  • bone loss
  • erectile dysfunction

In my personal clinical experience treating gluten sensitivity, I have seen numerous patients be able to stop taking medications such as cabergoline to reduce excessive prolactin levels after going on a TRUE gluten free diet.  That being said, ruling out gluten sensitivity should be a primary concern for endocrinologists treating patients with hyperprolactinemia (elevated prolactin levels).

All the best,

Dr. Peter Osborne

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20 Responses to “Gluten Protein Alters Brain Prolactin”

  • Sophia says:

    Is there any way to make this article a little easier for those of us who didn’t go to medical school a bit easier to understand. Especially sense most of us Celiacs not only suffer from the leaky gut syndrome, but also the leaky brain as well. just makes me even more frustrated reading wordy articles like this. :/

  • Hali says:

    A few years ago, back at the height of horrific migraines, I had an MRI to rule out a pituitary tumor due to elevated prolactin levels. This would explain it. Thanks, Doc. :-) Hali

    P.S. I know there are health care professionals as well as laypeople reading your articles. I think you do a pretty good job of keeping it as simple as possible.

  • Sophia,
    In a nutshell,
    Gluten proteins are exerting a drug like affect on your brain’s ability to produce the hormone prolactin. This can contribute to the list of symptoms above.
    Thanks for reading and hope you have a very Merry Christmas!
    Dr. Osborne

  • Patricia Mayhew Russell says:

    I, also, had elevated prolactin levels prior to Celiac diagnosis and I was, also, tested for a Pituitary Gland Tumor. Indeed, they found one but it is considered non-functional after they threw every hormone and vitamin test in the book at me. Apparently, PGT’s are fairly common. They, also, found a pineal gland cyst at the same time which I have read is fairly common, as well. They determined it was most likely the Reglan I was taking at the time for my gastroparesis (long term complication of Type 1 Diabetes) that was causing the elevated prolactin levels. I’m not so sure now!! The blessing in all that was that, of course, I didn’t have a functional PGT that required surgical removal but even MORE so the vitamin levels they tested for in the onslaught of blood tests were dangerously low and that is what tipped off my endocrinologist that I had Celiac! Thank God for THAT diagnosis…. and even though the elevated prolactin levels dragged the doctors around the bush a hundred times by the nose it finally was the ultimate reason I was diagnosed with the Celiac.

  • Christine says:

    Could this also be linked to migraine? I found this interesting article after reading the above:

  • Christine,
    You are absolutely right. Great post. Thanks for sharing.
    Dr. Osborne

  • Saumya Gandhi says:

    Hi ,
    I have just recently discovered that I have high prolactin levels .My level is 35 whereas the normal level lies between 3 and 29 . I am trying to lose weight and my dietician suggests that I take capgolin 0.5mg once a week for 4 weeks . I am not able to exactly understand that will this help ? And what exactly is required to be removed from my diet to keep the prolactin levels low ? Also is this level a matter of concern ?and do prolactin levels directly affect your weight necessarily ?

  • suzanna says:

    I have an 8mm Prolactinoma with a prolactin level of 85ng. I was just wondering if i went on a wheat free diet would this reduce my prolactin levels ? Would it be reasonable to try a wheat free diet first to at least see if the levels come down before taking the Cabergoline.
    Do I need to be completely Gluten free or can i just remove wheat from my diet ?

  • Suzanna,
    Please read the following article:

    I have seen this problem resolve in multiple patients. I have seen patient get off of Cabergoline without problems.
    All the best,
    Dr. O

  • Anna says:

    Dear Doctor,
    I have had elevated prolactin levels for 7 years. I do not have a tumor. I suspect that gluten might be the cause because celiac disease is in my family. I have been on a gluten free diet for several months and was wondering how long would it take for my prolactin levels to go down to normal levels.

  • Hormone responses vary so it is hard to say. Depends on diet compliance – TRUE gluten free vs. traditional, nutritional status, presence of other allergens, etc.
    I have seen the levels change within a few months.
    All the best,
    Dr. O

  • David says:


    Is it possible for the dysregulation of prolactin to cause a gluten sensitivity due to hormonal imbalances from hyperprolactineia disrupting the intestinal tract?

    What is the mechanism as to how gluten raises prolactin levels?

  • Angela says:

    I have been refered to the hospital as I had migraines on and off most my life, they got really bad 2 years ago I was having them after my period for a week to 10 days at a time. they started testing me in Nov 2011 they have been steadily testing all my levels including my thyroid and FSH, LH, Testosterone and of course found high levels of prolactin. I go back every 4 months. In this time it has come down 300 points. In 2011 it was 812 mu/L to the last test it was 506mu/L ( which is just under range in the UK). I have been following a gluten free diet more or less since December 2012. I haven’t tested for celiac at the GP as in order to do this I heard you have to eat gluten for 6 weeks for the antibodies to show up when tested. This would be really difficult for me. My mum and sister have undiagnosed celiac, but have been following a GF diet for 4 years. What would you recomend Dr O?

  • Angela,
    Genetic testing does not require gluten consumption for accuracy. Go here and get tested asap. Migraines and hyperprolactinemia can both be caused by gluten.
    All the best,
    Dr. O

  • Alice says:

    I’m new to gluten dangers. After getting pregnant with my baby, I completely changed the way I/we eat: Healthy, organic, wholesome, olive oil, coconut oil, all of that. So, I’m still learning. My questions are- since I was a teenager, I’ve had the opposite problem of most females, I’m skinny & tiny and have tried many times to gain weight (muscle mass plus a little fat). I’m not unhealthy, it’s a body image thing for me. I’m 33 and still look like I have the body of a pre-pubescent girl. I just started another “go” with weight training (high weight, low reps), and after speaking to a nutritionist, I’m eating between 3,800 and 4,300 calories a day in 3 meals and 1 shake (I’m a single mother of a 2 year old, I work, go to school, work out and I’m relactating (to breastfeed again)- all of which burn lots of calories. It was suggested I take domperidone (widely used to help breastmilk supply by raising prolactin levels), however after much research, I found out that drug prolongs QTc intervals, and that’s just not something I will ever risk for myself or my baby. I’m trying to find alternatives to raising my prolatin level and the prescription drugs that do so just arent safe enough for me. SO, getting to the point. I know that your website is dedicated to living a gluten-free life, however, with the weight gaining issue that I have, and the need to raise my prolactin levels to help my breast milk supply, doesn’t it seem feasible that raising my gluten intake would be the way to go?? Even if it’s for a short time, say several months, then back off of it.

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  • Heather C says:

    I recently had some blood work done and my prolactin level was 35. I was told that could mean there’s a mass on the pituitary gland and that an MRI is needed. I came home to research and found a link between prolactin and celiac. I was diagnosed with celiac 6 years ago. The past 3 years I’ve been completely grain free. I do not eat packaged food. I don’t see it possible that I am ingesting hidden gluten. Is it possible to have a high prolactin level with celiac disease if gluten isn’t present in the diet?

  • Heather,
    Yes it is possible. Are you consuming dairy at all?
    Remember, that although gluten can cause and contribute to a lot of problems, it is not the only thing that can can disrupt prolactin production.
    All the best,
    Dr. O

  • Andreia says:

    I also suffer from a prolactinoma (11mm tumor). Could you please give me all the dietary guidelines I should follow? No dairy. No gluten.Anything else? Thank you so much!

  • sarah says:

    Andrea- Soy and Sugar makes the tumor grow. If you consume dairy, try to get the hormone free kind at the very least.

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