Is Gluten a Childhood Obesity Villain?


As a childhood obesity villain, gluten is one of the “usual suspects” and Childhood Obesity News has looked at the case against it before. takes an especially dim view of gluten:

As many as 75% of overweight and obese people in the U.S. may be addicted … to either carbohydrates or the protein called gluten, which is found in all wheat, rye, barley and oat products.

It’s found in a great many other places too, including some unexpected ones, like vitamin pills. The unavoidability of gluten is a huge problem for people with celiac disease, because they are extremely sensitive to even the tiniest amounts of it, and the consequences of exposure can be very severe. But there is a growing school of thought that gluten is harmful for just about everybody.

The contention here is that a lot of people are having milder reactions to gluten in their systems, and just generally feeling lousy most of the time, without ever being able to pinpoint the cause of their illness. weighs in again:

Eating gluten can cause inflammation in the sensitive mucous membranes of the intestinal lining which can trigger an immune response. Because of this immune reaction, individuals experience wide variations in symptoms such as rashes, fatigue, mental fog, behavioral disorders like hyperactivity in children, gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation or diarrhea, chronic headaches and more.

All that is bad enough, but we haven’t even gotten to the childhood obesity connection yet. Gluten is also believed to be very addictive — as in food addiction, which by now has been well established as a real thing. The writer goes on to say:

Many individuals have increased food cravings as a reaction to consuming gluten, but are unaware of the reason for their desire to eat continuously or even out of control…. Due to the lack of specificity in identifying their disorder, many people continue to eat gluten for decades and struggle constantly with their food cravings.

Next up is Icelandic medical student Kristjan Gunnarsson. In the description of his book, Vicious Eating: The Food Addict’s Guide to Redemption, he writes: “I now haven’t touched sugar or gluten in over 6 months. I’ve lost ALL my excess weight with little effort and feel better than I ever have in my life.”

The Kris Health Blog discusses how wheat glutens form opioid peptides, which in the brain act just like heroin and morphine. Wheat, in fact, forms 4 types of opioid peptides. As it turns out, the blood-brain barrier is not much of a barrier at all, and those molecules can get through. Gunnarsson writes:

I believe that humans are able to become addicted to these substances. The process often starts in childhood, when kids are rewarded with candy when they behave well, contributing to psychological dependency as well. Judging from the above studies and personal experience, I think it is highly likely that junk food causes addiction in the brain of many people, causing them to become unable to change their diet despite wanting to.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Addiction to Carbohydrates and Gluten Often Underlies Excess Weight and Obesity,”
Source: “Junk food causes addiction in the brain,” Kris Health Blog, 03/25/11
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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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