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Addiction Issues, Celiac Disease and Gluten EP034

Few things are as painful as losing a loved one to an overdose. Addiction is such a powerful demon, and most of us have friends or family who are facing it right now. It is easy to feel helpless, believing that there is little you can do to ease their pain. But what if a diet change could resolve the physical and psychological pain at the root of the dependency? You might be surprised to learn that gluten binds with the opioid receptors in the brain, functioning as a ‘gateway drug’ to other addictions.

Today the Gluten Free RN shares her experiences with addiction and overdose during her 17-year career in the ER, explaining how she made the connection between undiagnosed celiac disease and addiction issues. She discusses the US opioid epidemic and how a mass screening for celiac disease could prevent such widespread substance abuse. Listen as she describes the morphine-like effects of gluten on your brain, the role of the microbiome in dictating cravings, and why gluten may be at the root of the pain that leads patients to self-medicate with dangerous recreational drugs.

The sad truth is that 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Because undiagnosed celiac disease goes hand in hand with addiction, is it past time to get our loved ones tested. Suggest it today — it could save a life.

What’s Discussed:

The recent flood of headlines regarding the US opioid epidemic

How exorphins affect the brain

  • Endorphins release chemical to make person feel good (i.e.: runner’s high)
  • Ingest exorphins, make feel differently (e.g.: good, tired, sedate)
  • Includes food, alcohol, pharmaceuticals and recreation medications (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines)

How Narcan reverses a heroin overdose

  • Binds with opioid receptors

The potential connection between gluten and opioid addiction

  • Gluten binds with same receptors in brain
  • Addiction to gluten, dairy may be precursor to other addictions
  • Many self-medicate with ‘comfort food’ containing wheat and dairy (i.e.: pizza, mac and cheese)

The morphine-like effects of gluten and dairy on your brain

  • Very similar to narcotics
  • Elimination diet causes uncomfortable detox process
  • Can take a few days, several weeks
  • May experience fatigue, depression, abdominal pain, headaches
  • Feel better once body clear of damaging proteins

The substances patients abuse to treat pain

  • Prescription drugs
  • Over-the-counter drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes
  • Recreational drugs (e.g.: methamphetamine, marijuana)

The symptoms of pain patients may experience due to gluten

  • Autoimmune issues
  • Intractable headaches
  • Psychological, emotional anguish

The data around opioid overdose in the US

  • 91 Americans die every day
  • 32,000 people die annually
  • Numbers likely much higher

How gluten sensitivity may lead to pain med addiction

  • Opioid receptors may be damaged, destroyed by gluten
  • Patient cannot absorb pain meds due to villous atrophy
  • Need stronger meds, higher dose

Common prescription meds for pain

  • Vicodin
  • Percocet
  • Morphine
  • Dilaudid

Why patients turn to heroin for pain relief

  • Less expensive to acquire
  • Easily accessible

How food can act as a ‘gateway drug’ to other addictions

  • Celiac disease causes nutrient deficiencies
  • Magnesium
  • Folic acid
  • B vitamins
  • D3
  • Addictions to alcohol, cigarettes, shopping, etc. seek to fill void
  • Eliminate gluten and heal intestines, addictions resolve

Why Nadine advocates a mass screening for celiac disease

  • HLA-DQ2, HLA-DQ8 gene carriers more susceptible to addiction issues
  • Identification can prevent opioid addiction

How ER departments treat alcoholics

  • Banana bag (liter of saline + multivitamin, thiamin, folic acid and magnesium sulfate)
  • Addresses nutrient deficiencies
  • Prevent the shakes, help patient detox gradually
  • Celiac disease may be underlying issue

The power of the microbiome

  • Tiny bacteria live in intestine
  • Dictate what we eat, drink through cravings
  • Communicate with brain (e.g.: yeast signals need for sugar)

The mental health issues caused by untreated celiac disease that may lead patients to self-medicate

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder


“Here’s How a Key Part of the Opioid Legislation is Not Working” in the Boston Globe

“Gluten Sensitivity May Be a Misnomer for Distinct Illnesses to Various Wheat Proteins” in Scientific American

“John F. Kennedy’s Pain Story: From Autoimmune Disease to Centralized Pain” in Practical Pain Management

“Malabsorption of Opioid Medications” in Practical Pain Management

“The Opioid Effects of Gluten Exorphins: Asymptomatic Celiac Disease” in the Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition

Connect with Nadine: 



Contact via Email

‘Your Skin on Gluten’ on YouTube

Books by Nadine:

Dough Nation: A Nurse’s Memoir of Celiac Disease from Missed Diagnosis to Food and Health Activism