Can Certain Foods Be As Addicting As Heroin?

Have you ever wondered why you can’t seem to stop eating bread once you have started? There have even been entire books written about the issues and negative effects of grains such as Perlmutter’s Grain Brain and Dr. Davis’ Wheat Belly. Yet people can’t seem to get away from it even with the highest of self-regulation and willpower. It’s just so addicting. Even I have been put to the test recently over it!

After spending 3 months on a strict Paleo protocol with not even one bite of any non-paleo foods, such as bread or dairy, I finally caved and ate a cheeseburger while taking a “zero-day” during a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail, at a mountain resort called Vermillion Valley Resort. My “hiker’s appetite" made me want to eat everything in sight! The next day I woke up with back acne, dandruff, constant smelly farts, diarrhea, and a sullen attitude, yet I couldn’t stop thinking about more bread and cheese! I ended up fiendishly looking for another hit of something, so I go to the breakfast line and ordered pancakes, eggs, and a piece of boysenberry pie with ice cream. When I was done I was so ashamed of myself wondering, “What was I thinking?!”. This led me to question, “Are some foods as addictive as heroin”?! So, in this blog, I am going to share some research studies that explain how some foods are as addictive as heroin and can actually make you crave them as much as the drug!

In a paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Christine Zioudrou and two other researchers found that proteins in wheat (and other foods) contain opioids called exorphins (exogenous morphine) (1). Heroin is an opioid drug just like morphine, and it seems as though wheat contains compounds similar to them.

In a study on the “prolactin and growth hormone response to intracerebroventricular administration of the food opioid peptide gluten exorphin B5 in rats”, they found that for the first time that an opioid peptide (which was derived from wheat gluten, called GE-B5), “has an effect on the pituitary function when administered; its mechanism of action appears to be mediated via classical opioid receptors” (2). This means that it acts just like classic opioid-inducing drugs such as Vicodin or Oxycontin but without the pain-relieving effects. NO WONDER wheat is such dangerously addicting stuff!

In another study, they found that gluten can modify your brain’s neurotransmitter release without even crossing the blood-brain barrier (3). That is scary to consider if you ask me.

In the March 2011 issue of Details magazine entitled “Are Carbs More Addictive Than Cocaine”, Paul John Scott said, “fast-burning carbohydrates—just like cocaine—give you a rush. As with blow, this rush can lead to cravings in your brain and intrusive thoughts when you go too long without a fix. But unlike cocaine, this stuff does more than rewire your neurological system. It will short-circuit your body. Your metabolism normally stockpiles energy so you can use it as fuel later. A diet flush with carbohydrates will reprogram your metabolism, locking your food away as unburnable fat. When you get hungry again you won’t crave anything but more of the same food that started you down the path to dependency. Think of this stuff as more than a drug—it’s like a metabolic parasite, taking over your body and feeding itself” (4).

In addition, dairy also has morphine-like effects. Mark Sisson from Mark’s Daily Apple says, "Wheat’s not the only food whose proteins are degraded into opioid peptides: Casein, a dairy protein, can also be cleaved to form exorphins." So, gluten AND dairy both contain morphine-like qualities...are you getting the picture yet? (5)

I think I made my point...dairy and carbs (especially grains like wheat) have addictive qualities thanks to the opioid-like effect that they induce on us….But if you can avoid it for the first three days it gets easier and once you experience the energy, clarity, and focus while being without it you won’t go back. So, don’t let a small craving ruin your life. Be disciplined for a few days and then you won’t even really crave it anymore. After 30 days you can start to reintroduce things one at a time to see if you can even tolerate it (refer back to my most recent article entitled, "Shed Body Fat Without Trying With Paleo", to learn how to eat Paleo and figure out what foods you should and should never eat. If you can tolerate foods like bread and cheese, then great, continue eating it. But if not then stay away for good (or until you heal your gut) so you can feel your best. 

In conclusion, now it makes perfect sense why certain foods are hard to stop eating, like gluten-containing grains (such as wheat) and dairy. These studies have been around for many years yet the processed foods out there only seem to get more and more addicting. So, if you wish to have some control of your life and health then avoid these foods by going Paleo and just watch how much less distracted and dependent you will be on foods like bread and cheese. In the comments below, let me know what foods you find hardest to come off of!



  1. Zioudrou, C, et al. “Opioid Peptides Derived from Food Proteins. The Exorphins.” Journal of Biological Chemistry, 10 Apr. 1979. 

  2. Fanciulli G, Dettori A, Tomasi PA, et al. Prolactin and growth hormone response to intracerebroventricular administration of the food opioid peptide gluten exorphin B5 in rats. Life Sci. 2002;71(20):2383-2390. DOI:10.1016/s0024-3205(02)02036-2

  3. Fanciulli G; Dettori A; Demontis MP; Tomasi PA; Anania V; Delitala G; “Gluten Exorphin B5 Stimulates Prolactin Secretion through Opioid Receptors Located Outside the Blood-Brain Barrier.” Life Sciences, U.S. National Library of Medicine. 

  4. Scott, Paul John. Detail Magazine, Mar. 2011. 

  5. Sisson, Mark. “Is Wheat Addictive?” Mark's Daily Apple, 16 Sept. 2016.