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Gluten Withdrawal: Everything You Need To Know

Can Someone Be Addicted to Gluten?

Many people who go gluten-free will initially notice an improvement in their health. But on the flip side, many go on the gluten-free diet and start feeling gluten withdrawal symptoms. Gluten Withdrawal Syndrome is a very real phenomenon. In essence, gluten has addictive properties that can create severe side effects for those initially trying to go gluten-free. Learning to recognize it is important for long-term compliance with a gluten-free diet. In the video below, I break down Gluten Withdrawal Syndrome. You can also read the breakdown below the video.

What is Gluten Withdrawal Syndrome (GWS)?

Researchers have identified that when gluten is being digested in the gut, it can be broken down into protein fragments called gluten exorphins. These exorphins are opiate-like proteins that mimic the effects of opiate medications. Often referred to as gluteomorphins, these proteins can mimic the actions of the opiate drug, morphine. If you aren’t familiar, opiates are a class of medication commonly used to help people suffering from chronic pain syndromes. Just like opiate drugs, gluteomorphins can be highly addictive. And just like people who stop taking these pain medications can suffer from severe withdrawal symptoms, some people who stop eating gluten and grains go through major “drug” withdrawal – AKA – Gluten Withdrawal Syndrome.

Can Someone Be Addicted to Gluten?

It is important to understand that many people who feel worse when they go gluten/grain free, are actually suffering with GWS. Just like drug addiction, gluten addiction is very real. And trying to take gluten out of the diet can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Low-grade fever, hand trembling (the shakes), headaches, stomach cramping and pain, muscle pain, irritability, mood swings, depression, sensitivity to bright light, and nausea are all possible symptoms that may manifest in people attempting to go gluten-free. For many, these symptoms are relatively short-lived, lasting a few days in mild cases, and as long as four weeks in more severe cases.

GWS should not be a deterrent from staying on a gluten-grain-free diet, and understanding that this could happen to you can be helpful in “staying the course” until the symptoms subside and resolve.

If you don’t know whether the gluten-free diet is the right move for you, consider genetic testing, or taking this short gluten intolerance quiz.

Gluten Can Mask Its Own Toxicity

Researchers have described how gluten can actually “mask” its own toxicity. See the highlighted study below.

addicted to glutenBecause gluten proteins can be broken down into morphine-like compounds, it can mask its own toxic inflammatory effects. Case in point – many people have been diagnosed with what is referred to as “silent celiac disease”. They don’t suffer from the gastrointestinal pain, diarrhea, indigestion, bloating, or inflammatory pain that is common with gluten-induced disease because the gluteomorphin helps to mask their symptoms. It is because of this that we developed a more comprehensive quiz for people to help identify whether going gluten-free or not is the right thing for them to do.

Yeast Overgrowth In The Gut Can Mimic Gluten Withdrawal Symptoms

Yeast overgrowth in the GI tract is common. Especially in industrialized countries where heavy carbohydrate diets combined with frequent alcohol consumption and widespread use of antibiotics are the norm. Yeast in the GI tract thrive on carbohydrate-based foods that break down easily into sugars. A gluten/grain-free diet is much lower in these types of carbohydrates. As a result, people who have yeast overgrowth can manifest similar negative side effects when initially going gluten-free, because by reducing dietary sugars, they are “starving” the yeast population in the gut. This can lead to what many experts refer to as a “yeast die-off” reaction. Common symptoms of this include headaches, muscle pains, intestinal bloating, cramping, and discomfort, irritability, mood swings, and severe sugar cravings.

Taking natural herbs that have natural anti-yeast properties can be very helpful in this regard. Taking a strong pro-biotic can also be of great value to help support the microbiome during your transition to a gluten/grain-free diet.

What Else Can Be Helpful To Minimize Gluten Withdrawal Symptoms?

If you are struggling with Gluten Withdrawal Syndrome symptoms, there are several things that you can consider to successfully overcome them.

  1. Let your loved ones know about GWS and what to expect. Just like drug withdrawal, having support around you can be the difference between success and failure.
  2. Prepare yourself mentally for this possibility. Knowledge is power. Knowing allows you to anticipate. Knowledge and preparation can help you from “falling off the gluten-free wagon”.
  3. Consider supporting yourself nutritionally. Addiction research shows that using higher doses of nutrients like vitamin C and vitamin B3 (niacin), can be very helpful in minimizing symptoms and expediting recovery. You might also consider using a potent multivitamin/mineral. Remember that gluten can damage the GI tract leading to nutritional deficiencies. Nutritional deficiencies can create a challenge in the healing process. So supporting your body with a high potency, gluten-free multi can make a huge difference in how you feel.
  4. Use a high-quality, gluten-free probiotic supplement. Research shows that bifidobacteria can help degrade the opioid-like gluten-derived proteins, thus possibly reducing exposure and minimizing the risk for addiction and withdrawal.
  5. Work with a functional medicine practitioner. Having someone on your team with experience can make all the difference in the world. A qualified expert can guide you through this process with confidence and make additional suggestions that may be very helpful for you on your healing journey.

Now it’s time to share…

Did you go through GWS on your journey?

Were there things that you did that made the process easier?

Leave your comments below. They may help another reach gluten-free warrior status. #Help100Million

Always looking out for you,

Dr. O – The Gluten-Free Warrior



  1. Pruimboom L, de Punder K. The opioid effects of gluten exorphins: asymptomatic celiac disease. J Health Popul Nutr. 2015 Nove 24;33:24.
  2. Sakurai T, et al. Degradation of food-derived opioid peptides by bifidobacteria. 2018 Jun 15;9(4):675-682.
  3. -Dr Abram Hoffer MD – Drug Addicts Recover on Vitamin C & Niacin, No Withdrawal Symptoms

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