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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

12 Responses

  1. My arthritis used to ache very badly. Cortisone shots helped temporarily but we’re not a good long-term option. I went gluten free for a month and my pain was gone. I tested the outcome by eating one slice of regular bread. The following morning my joints in my hands were red and swollen, very painful to move. I have never gone back. Gluten and I have had a complete parting of the ways. Wish I had done it years ago

    1. I have the same experience! No more gluten for me. My son is gluten free and is now easier to get along with, he also thinks more clearly, and no more post nasal drip. My husband is gluten free, and no more “Hay fever”, much happier, more energy.0

  2. When I went gluten free 7 years ago, my body did not want to join me on this new life adventure. I had been hospitalized so many times and the last two week stint was given the diagnosis of malnutrition and leaky gut…with no directive or explanation at a major medical research center. I asked about going gluten free, but no that’s not necessary my team said. Fed up with doctors, I went rogue. I followed the celiac food guide and I had to learn what I could about how long it takes for the body to release itself of the deprivation of the addiction foods have after 68 years of living…sick. Oh, I was well aware of every week that I won the battle and after almost a year, I was free. I never cheated because I now learned gluten was poison to my body and my body reacted joyfully. I’m 75 now, my autoimmune issues are in remission, I supported my return to health with supplements, gut support meds and good high lactobacillus strains of probiotics.

  3. When I stopped all gluten and dairy I felt amazing for 4 or 5 days. My digestive symptoms completely cleared up and my depression and anxiety disappeared. I was excited about life again. Then on day 6 I became extremely frustrated, sad, irritable, and some gut issues / constipation returned (although nowhere near as bad as when I was eating gluten and dairy). It’s now 2 weeks in and I feel like I’m going through major withdrawal (I know what it feels like due to giving up smoking many years ago). I have been extremely vigilant with my diet so no chances of cross contamination. Everyone says I look so much healthier but I feel awful. Is this normal to feel better for a few days and then for the withdrawal to set in? Thanks

    1. Hi,

      I’m experiencing the same thing currently. I was just diagnosed with celiac along with Hashimoto disease. I have cut out gluten completely, and I’m also not supposed to have any dairy / sugar.

      The first week I felt great! I had mental clarity, I had the energy to exercise. I felt happier too. All of a sudden over the last week I’ve felt awful. I’m tired all the time no matter how much I sleep. I feel depressed, irritable and almost feel like I have a low grade fever. I think it is starting to pass, but it was definitely discouraging, as I thought the diet wasn’t working. Glad I found this article /comment

      1. I hope you’re feeling better now. This is the second time I’ve removed gluten from my diet and have had the same symptoms both times. It’s a wild ride!

  4. Hi George, Yes absolutely. I’ve tried getting off of gluten, dairy and sugar many times separately or all together and I have the same reaction, better at first then feel worse and worse mentally/emotionally, cognitively and physically as I keep staying away from those things. I’ve just learned about the problem with all grains a few weeks ago so I stopped them and I for the first 3 days I had the most improvement I’ve had in years for my chronic back, joint and muscle pain that I’ve had for about 10 years that’s been getting worse every year and that I’ve tried many things to help. Going grain free was an amazing improvement at first now a week in I’m feeling more pain, harder to think clearly, and flu like symptoms all of which come and go through the day. But I’ve lost 3 to 4 pounds and the deep redness all over my face is clearing up. Also there are times the chronic pain is better than it has been in years in between the bouts of pain. Hope this helps and hang tough brother!

  5. The first 3-4 days for me felt normal, but after the first week I got waves of crushing depression and anxiety was the worst I had in over 10 years. I also noticed my tolerance for coffee or alcohol plummeted and they both hit me much hard. After the 2.5 weeks of depression and anxiety I was pretty much back to normal.

    Fast forward 3 months, and I feel normal except for I have random dull aches that pop up through out the day, and the locations are also random. There’s no pain, just a very dull achey feeling. I went to the Urgent Care and the guy told me my intestines could take a few months to heal. Is that true? Every time I google it the internet just tells me I am dying of cancer haha

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