Monday, May 28, 2012

Foods With Opioid Effects

I've read that certain foods contain either out-and-out opiates, or have molecules that exert opioid effects. I don't know much about this and writing helps me sort things out, so...

An opiate, according to Wikipedia, "describes any of the narcotic opioid alkaloids found as natural products in the opium poppy plant." So, an opiate must be an alkaloid, and must come from the poppy plant. Examples of opiates are morphine and codeine. Heroin is a synthetic opiate made from morphine. Prolonged use of opiates causes physical dependance and addiction. Death can occur from overdose. Abrupt abstinence from opiates causes withdrawal symptoms including agitation, headaches, sweats, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

An opioid, according to Wikipedia, is a "psychoactive chemical that works by binding to opioid receptors, which are found principally in the central and peripheral nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract." So opioids are a larger class of chemicals that include opiates. Our bodies can make their own opioids, e.g. endorphins. Depending upon the particular opioid, prolonged exposure can lead to physical dependance and addiction; death can occur from overdose (e.g. the poppy derivatives); and abrupt abstinence can spur withdrawal symptoms. The effect of the opioid depends upon its chemical structure, the actions its receptors initiate, the exposure level, the genetic makeup of an individual, and an individual's gender, age, and biochemistry. There are clearly a number of variables to assess when determining an opioid's effect.

Opiates and Opioids In Food


Dr. William Davis of the Track Your Plaque site, and author of the recent "Wheat Belly," says that wheat contains an opiate which is responsible for what he describes as wheat addiction. He identifies the protein gliadin as the opiate, and says:
"This opiate, while it binds to the opiate receptors of the brain, doesn’t make us high. It makes us hungry."
- Opiate Of The Masses, April 18, 2012
From the definitions at the beginning of this post, gliadin is not an opiate because it doesn't originate from the poppy plant and it is not technically an alkaloid, although it does contain nitrogen.

However, when the body digests gliadin, it produces a fragment peptide that, although not an opiate, can act like an opioid. It's called gliadorphin or gluteomorphin.

Gluten, another protein in wheat (gluten is composed of gliadin and glutenin), when partially digested produces fragment peptides that can also act as opioids, called gluten exorphins.


There is a protein in cow's milk called casein which, when partially digested, produces a fragment peptide that acts like an opioid, called casomorphin.

There are proteins in whey called α-lactalbumin and β-lactoglobulin, which, when partially digested, produce fragment peptides that act as opioids, called α-lactorphin and β-lactorphin.


There is a protein in blood called hemoglobin which, when partially digested, produces a fragment peptide that acts like an opioid, called hemorphin.

Green Plants

There is a protein in green plants, algae, and some bacteria called RuBisCO. It's an enzyme that assists in taking carbon from the atmosphere and converting it into carbon-containing energy molecules like glucose. RuBisCO, when partially digested, produces fragment peptides that act as opioids, called rubiscolins. The structure of 2 rubiscolins have been identified in spinach, although RuBisCO from which rubiscolins are derived is abundant in nature.

Salt, Sugar, and Fat: The Hyperpalatable Combination

All of the opioid peptides above come from outside the body and are thought to be short-lived. In healthy people they're broken down soon after formation and "have limited physiological activity." Also, peptides are fairly large molecules and don't easily squeeze through a healthy, selectively permeable intestinal wall.

When it comes to food cravings, opioids that come from inside the body may be the real players. Former FDA Commissioner and Harvard trained doctor Dr. David Kessler, in his book, The End of Overeating, says that salt, sugar, and dietary fat trigger opioids in the brain which can contribute to overeating.
"The neurons in the brain that are stimulated by taste and other properties of highly palatable food are part of the opioid circuitry, which is the body's primary pleasure system. The "opioids," also known as endorphins, are chemicals produced in the brain that have rewarding effects similar to drugs such as morphine and heroine. Stimulating the opioid circuitry with food drives us to eat."
In addition to their stimulating effects the opioids produced by eating high-sugar, high-fat foods can relieve pain or stress and calm us down.
In a cyclical process, eating highly palatable food activates the opioid circuits, and activating these circuits increases consumption of highly palatable food."
Here's an interview where he summarizes the ideas in his book:
Dr. David Kessler, Author Of The End of Overeating, On Why We Can't Stop Eating

Two other points from Kessler's book:

1. It is the combination of sugar and fat in food which makes us crave it. Sugar alone and fat alone do not produce the same strong cravings as sugar and fat combined.

2. Variety may be doing us in:
"After eating a certain amount of one food, animals typically become satisfied with its taste and stop eating it - but they'll keep on eating if something else is available."

Josh Wooley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, demonstrated this with chocolate- and banana-flavored food pellets called Supreme Mini-Treats, which consist primarily of sucrose and fat.

He first allowed his test animals to eat as much chocolate as they wanted for an hour. Then he gave them ninety minutes of unrestricted access to both banana and chocolate, and he observed that the animals chose to eat significantly more banana. Apparently their initial exposure to chocolate had reduced but not eliminated further interest in that flavor, but left them enough appetite for the novel taste of banana. the same thing happened in reverse: When exposed first to banana, an animal later ate more chocolate when given the choice of flavors."
What I've learned:
  • Wheat does not contain opiates.
  • Many foods contain chemicals that have the potential to engage our opioid circuitry (wheat, milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, spinach, lettuce, and other greens), but the effect in a healthy person, if any, is probably weak and short-lived.
  • The body's endogenous opioids are pretty powerful.
  • Stimulating the brain's opioid circuitry performs a useful function - it drives us to eat. But stimulating it often, with highly palatable foods, can drive us to overeat.
I did further reading on this last point that was illuminating regarding the macronutrients, e.g. carbohydrates and fats. I'll post later.* This topic - how food affects brain chemistry and vice versa - is vast and humbling.

*Here's the follow-up: Food And The Brain. In a few words, eating a particular food often causes us to crave that food, in a positive feedback loop.
The photo is from Look at that face.


Laurie Endicott Thomas said...

Lots of people have celiac disease or a wheat allergy and would do well to go on a completely gluten-free diet. However, the argument that wheat causes people to become obese is nonsense. Here's a study that showed that eating more bread along with their meals helped some overweight college students lose weight:

Bix said...

We visited that study here:

Amanda C said...

But I found this:
It's good to keep an open mind. I try not to be paranoid but I think the dairy industry has too much influence in this country. I keep finding scientific studies that help me sort out my health issues and they all come from overseas.

Bix said...

"... they all come from overseas."

Isn't that the truth.

Anonymous said...

The reason why the sugar problem and addictive nature of people remain is because of the bad information. I often see article stating to eat sugar in "moderation" or "avoid excess consumption". These are cop outs from the absolute Truth.

SUGAR IS POISON. It's that simple. This includes ALL flour. We were never meant to eat manufactured food. It's unsuitable for consumption because IT IS NOT A FOOD!!

Long ago, flour was not what it is today. Far cruder methods were used, leaving the wheat far more intact. Breads were far less "impressive". Today, wheat and yeast are POISON. Furthermore, genetically modified foods are extremely DANGEROUS. Hybrid foods are not even as nutritious as they should be. For example, a sugary sweet corn variety. Abnormally sweet and bad for us. Heirloom varieties are the only thing left today that grows and that are good for us. Its the same with meat. Unless that animal is graced and grass fed, and then butchered at a local meat packing plant using old techniques, than it is NOT completely nutritious. Our bodies are programmed to recognize food for what it is in nature. Any alteration means the body will have to sort through and reject parts of it. In other words, our bodies do not recognize COOKED FOOD. Even though we must cook some of it. Dead food is the same as malnutrition. And you get that from ALL canned foods. One exception would be foods canned the old way with no additives. But still not as good as live food.

All fruit sugar is good for you. As long as it is the heirloom varieties of course. Anything else is off on the ratio of fiber and sugar content. Thus, we have to cut back and lose out on vitamins. Sugar destroys everything it touches, except for illnesses. Try having oral thrush and then putting a little sugar in your mouth. Watch how fast it grows. FAST!! Sugar grows all forms of illnesses in the body. The reason why we were never meant to consume it!! Juicing an 5 apples to fill a glass is BAD. Eat an apple a day, and that is GOOD. People need to stop viewing food as pleasure. Instead, they should respect their body and give it what it wants. It reminds me of my dad. Feeding sugary treats to his dog just to make the dog happy. A week later, the dog ends up with seizures. This is the behavior of most people about their own body. It's a disgrace. And I am sure GOD looks down heavily upon people in this world today. We need to stop being selfish and start being SELFLESS. Then maybe we will care about what is important.

Bix said...

That was earnest.

~ Mari said...

Thank you for this! I've been trying to figure out why I've been craving raw milk - and google sent me to you. :)

Unknown said...

That was an awesome read! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I get tested and ive NT touched no drugs for over 12 months at least now but I get tested at add action and twice its come up with opiates in my system n I hv no clue how plz can someone help me with some advice on what to do to prove ive nt touched anything as fighting to get my daughter bk and I no ive nt touched anything so plz help me u can also get me on facebook name is kel j Clarkson thankyou

Anonymous said...

very easy, poppy seeds in bagels and bread will provide a positive result, believe me I ve been suspended from work after eating a sandwich containing poppy seeds, made with bread produced by Warburtons. I have never taken any kind of drugs ever in my life so was shocked when this happened. Good luck on getting your girl back.