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Gluten Withdrawal Symptoms + How Long Do They Last?

Gluten is defined as a protein composite (gliadin and glutenin) found in grains such as: barley, rye, and most commonly, wheat. The word gluten is derived from the Latin word “gluten” which roughly translates to “glue.” Gluten is what gives grain-based products a chewy texture and allows these products to maintain a specific shape. In addition to being used in foods, gluten is also an additive in many cosmetic and dermatology products.

In the past, gluten was never considered a staple part of the human diet. Only in recent generations with the rise of high-carbohydrate diets has gluten consumption become problematic. The increased consumption of gluten has lead people to develop adverse reactions such as: celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder), gluten-sensitivity, “leaky gut,” and other wheat allergies. Many would also argue that since humans didn’t evolve to eat gluten, its consumption may elicit detrimental effects on both bodily functions and cognitive performance.

Due to rampant health concerns regarding gluten consumption, as well as an increase in science-based evidence suggesting that gluten may be problematic, some people have attempted to kick gluten from their diet. Although many people are successful in eradicating gluten from their diets, others end up experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms that makes it tough to stay gluten-free.  One reason may be due to the fact that when digesting gluten, it breaks down into “exorphins” which bind to opioid receptors in your brain.

The exorphins are basically particles of protein that are derived from an exogenous source (e.g. food, drugs, etc.) and mimic the effects of endorphins.  Each time you eat gluten, you’re getting A5, B4, B5, and C exorphins that may make you feel calmer or feel slight degrees of pleasure.  While gluten-based opioid stimulation may not be as significant as heroin, it can make the withdrawal process more difficult than expected.

Factors that influence gluten withdrawal

There are several factors that are important to consider when eliminating gluten from the diet. Thing such as: amount consumed each day, time span over which you’ve consumed gluten, your individual physiology, as well as the rate at which you discontinued – can all influence the severity and length of withdrawal symptoms.

1. Daily Consumption Amount

Generally the more products you consume with gluten on a daily basis, the harder it will likely be to discontinue. More gluten means greater stimulation of the opioid receptors in your brain, leading to a potentially significant physiological backlash when you discontinue. If you’ve been pounding wheat-based products for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner – you probably have a high gluten intake.

Those with a high-gluten intake baseline are likely going to develop more severe symptoms when they discontinue. If you’re someone that doesn’t consume large quantities of gluten on a daily basis, you may not notice nearly as intense of a withdrawal. The lower the amount of gluten you’re currently consuming, the easier it will likely be to quit.

2. Cold Turkey vs. Tapering

How quickly did you discontinue gluten from your diet? Did you find everything with gluten in your kitchen and toss it in the garbage? Or did you make a conscientious effort to slowly reduce the amount of gluten in your diet in a tapering method. There is debate as to whether tapering off of gluten products (e.g. gradually titrating consumption amount) is a superior method of withdrawal to giving it up “cold turkey.”

Many people find that when they quit cold turkey from a previously high gluten intake, that they cannot handle the withdrawal symptoms. Part of this may be due to certain gluten-induced endorphin deficiencies. Those that “taper” down their gluten consumption before finally quitting generally find that withdrawal symptoms are less severe because they’ve given their physiology some extra time to transition and adapt to reduced consumption.

3. Time Span

How long have you been consuming gluten, and at what frequency? If you’ve eaten lots of wheat products on a daily basis for your entire life, it’s going to be more difficult to discontinue than someone who only began eating a lot of wheat in recent years. Most of the United States population has been eating products with gluten for their entire lives.

If you happened to be gluten-free for awhile, sporadically broke the period by eating some gluten, and are withdrawing again, it probably won’t be quite as bad. Even if you can’t think of any wheat-products that you’ve consumed, take a careful look at the ingredients on the foods that you eat. Unless you’ve made a conscious effort to stay gluten-free or carbohydrate free, it’s likely that you consume gluten on a daily basis.

4. Individual Factors

It is important to consider individual factors when discontinuing gluten consumption. Things like an individual’s: physiology, genetics, dietary intake (other foods), and general lifestyle may influence the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms. Everyone wants a definitive answer regarding the length of gluten withdrawal and unfortunately one cannot be given due to significant individual variation.

You need to withdraw for yourself to know how long gluten withdrawal takes. For one person it may last a week or two, while for another it may last over a month before symptoms fully subside. Avoid comparing your situation to that of others when withdrawing from any substance because there are significant individual influential factors.

Gluten Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities

Some people experience very subtle or no withdrawal symptoms when stopping gluten, but others experience moderately debilitating symptoms that can last weeks before improving. Below is a list of possible symptoms that you may experience when discontinuing gluten. Keep in mind that the severity and duration of symptoms will be largely individualized.

  • Anger: If you turn into a raging maniac when discontinuing gluten, you are not alone. Many people have reported anger outbursts and feeling especially irritable when they cannot have their gluten. It could be related to the lack of opioid stimulation (which can calm us down) from gluten.
  • Anxiety: Some people end up feeling increasingly anxious when they withdraw from gluten. This anxiety may be due to a number of biochemical changes that occur in the physiology as a result of gluten discontinuation. The body is expecting to receive the energy and opioid effects from gluten products, but it doesn’t and you feel nervous instead of calm.
  • Bloating: This is characterized by swelling or increase in the diameter of your abdominal area. It may be a highly uncomfortable experience during gluten withdrawal, but should eventually subside. To offset bloating, make sure you are eating healthy foods that contain fiber (e.g. broccoli, berries, etc.).
  • Brain fog: During the initial stages of withdrawal, you may feel as if your concentration is at an all-time low. While eventually your mental clarity and focus will likely return and be sharper than they were with gluten in your diet, the fogginess can sometimes be difficult to deal with. Do not be surprised if your ability to think clearly is hampered in early stages of withdrawal.
  • Constipation: Some people become constipated when they stop eating gluten. This may be due to their new dietary choices as well as lack of fiber in the diet. It could also be a result of transitory physiological adjustments taking place in the body. Realize that this will be temporary assuming you are eating a healthy gluten-free diet.
  • Cravings: One of the most prominent symptoms that you’ll experience when withdrawing from gluten is that of cravings. These cravings are generally severe in the early stages, and tend to lessen the longer you’ve been gluten-free. Like going through any drug withdrawal, cravings tend to be the worst in the first few weeks or months of withdrawal, but will eventually subside completely. Keep in mind that if you aren’t eating sufficient alternative gluten-free foods, cravings may intensify as a result of hunger or lack of nourishment.
  • Depression: Certain individuals become depressed when they stop eating products with gluten. This may be a result of their dependence on the mood boosting effects of the gluten exorphins. The depression may persist for awhile, but mood will eventually stabilize and/or become boosted over the long-term as a result of going gluten-free.
  • Diarrhea: Some people notice that they cannot hold down food as well when they quit gluten. They experience diarrhea in the early stages of discontinuation, but eventually digestion stabilizes. This is a less common reaction than constipation, but still one that certain people report.
  • Dizziness: You may feel slightly dizzy when you discontinue from gluten. This may be due to the neurological mechanisms by which gluten affected your brain. Generally the dizziness won’t be too severe, but it may be uncomfortable. Keep in mind that it’s temporary and shouldn’t be long-lasting.
  • Fatigue: Another very common symptom to experience is that of severe fatigue during the early stages of gluten discontinuation. This fatigue may be debilitating for some people to the point that they just want to sleep all day. As long as you’re eating other high quality foods, your body will eventually adapt to gluten-free foods for its source of “fuel” and fatigue will subside. In fact, many people who’ve been gluten-free for an extended period report having more energy than when they ate gluten.
  • Flu-like symptoms: Those that react severely during gluten withdrawal may develop symptoms similar to having influenza. They may experience dizziness, a headache, joint pains, nausea, and in some cases vomiting. (Obviously make sure you aren’t actually sick with a virus or the flu). If these symptoms emerged when you quit gluten, it could be a direct result.
  • Headaches: Many people have reported headaches during the first couple weeks of going gluten-free. These headaches are more likely to occur in the earliest days of withdrawal, but should ease up the longer you’ve been functioning without gluten.
  • Hot flashes: Elimination of gluten from the diet may result in experiencing hot flashes (or cold flashes) throughout the day. This is due to the fact that the physiology comes to expect gluten in the diet, and when it doesn’t get it, your body reacts by changing its temperature.
  • Irritability: If you find yourself becoming irritable when you stop eating gluten, it’s probably because your brain is no longer getting the same stimulation. Gluten affects the brain in many ways including by stimulating exorphins, which make us calm. By eliminating gluten, you no longer feel the minor opioid effects, making you feel more irritable than usual.
  • Joint pain: Many people also report feeling intensified joint pain and body aches when they discontinue gluten. These aches and pains can be problematic in early stages, but should actually improve as you alter your diet to include healthy gluten-free foods. Pain tolerance may be slightly decreased during early stages of withdrawal due to slight opioid alterations.
  • Lightheadedness: If you feel lightheaded, you are not alone. Some people experience dizziness accompanied by lightheadedness during the first few days they go without gluten. Within a week or two this symptom should improve significantly.
  • Mood swings: If you find yourself flipping out or becoming noticeably “moody” – it may be a result of changes occurring as a result of going gluten-free. You no longer are getting the same exorphin stimulation as a result of gluten in your diet, leading you to feel more moody than usual. The good news is that moods tend to not only stabilize, but improve the longer you’ve been without gluten.
  • Nausea: Some people note feeling nauseous when they give up gluten. The nausea may lead to vomiting or lack of appetite. Most people that experience nausea find that it’s relatively mild and eventually subsides within a couple weeks.
  • Stomach aches: Your body may be expecting to receive gluten, and when it doesn’t, all sorts of symptoms arise including stomach aches. These are likely due to changes in your body’s digestive process. As long as you’re getting sufficient fiber and eating other healthy foods, stomach aches shouldn’t be overwhelming.
  • Vomiting: In some cases, people actually get stick when they go without gluten. This reaction is generally experienced by those who ate high quantities of gluten-based foods and quit cold turkey. If you’re to the point that you’re vomiting, you may want to consider tapering off at a more gradual rate.
  • Weight changes: You may find that gluten withdrawal leads to fluctuations in your weight. Obviously whether you end up losing weight or gaining weight may depend on the foods that you replace gluten-based foods with. A majority of people though end up losing weight after they’ve discontinued gluten.

How long does Gluten withdrawal last?

Everyone wants a specific answer regarding how long gluten withdrawal will last. The problem is that no specific answer can be given due to significant individual variation in: gluten consumption, physiology, lifestyles, and duration over which gluten was consumed. It also may make a difference as to whether you decided to “taper” your gluten or quit “cold turkey.”

Some people may not notice any major symptoms at all when stopping gluten. Most people feel noticeably better after 2 to 4 weeks of complete gluten discontinuation. Others may experience protracted cravings and withdrawals that persist for several months. It is very difficult for some people to give up diets with high gluten for numerous reasons such as: foods with gluten can be addicting, they can lead to temporary pleasure or mood boosts (via exorphins), and they can alter the way we metabolize food.

When going through gluten withdrawal, realize that your body needs to recalibrate its metabolism, gut biome, and other physiological functions. Therefore it may take awhile before all withdrawal symptoms to clear up and noticeably improve. Understand that many of these symptoms are a direct cause of eliminating the gluten-derived opioids (exorphins) from daily consumption.

You may want to consider various dietary supplements including: sea salt, magnesium, and probiotics to help mitigate the effects of gluten withdrawal. Also remember to stay sufficiently hydrated, but don’t over-hydrate (as this can lead to problems). If you’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms when cutting gluten from your diet, feel free to share in the comments section below. Discuss the severity of your symptoms, what you experienced, and how long they lasted before noticing improvement.

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{ 184 comments… add one }
  • laney February 16, 2018, 5:59 pm

    Doing this for Lent, onto Day 3 w/o Gluten and I have a raging headache. Can never seem to get enough sleep, and cannot focus AT ALL in school, hopefully my grades don’t go down! I feel hungry all the time, but also nauseous here and here so I’m not eating, causing my hunger. I really hope this passes by soon! Lent will be a long month and a half.

  • Karen January 22, 2018, 5:22 pm

    I went cold turkey 2 days ago due to thyroid gland inflammation and fluctuations in my thyroid function. I know it’s the right move but this morning I threw up, I have a headache, and I feel really tired and lethargic. I’m sure it’ll pass but in the mean time – 😑

  • Jenny January 16, 2018, 5:03 pm

    I am on day 4 of wheat withdrawal. Woke this morning with an awful headache, severe joint pain, upset stomach and extremely fatigued. I am not a large person but have had huge gut issues. I have lost 7 pounds and 6.5” off my stomach! That’s crazy!

    I have gone wheat free before with the same symptoms. I should have learned my lesson. After constant stomach problems, fluid in my ears and chronic sinus infections I had to make a huge change. Looking forward to coming out the other side which usually takes about 3 weeks for me.

  • nancy moelk January 9, 2018, 6:28 pm

    I seem to have several weeks of extreme thirst and back pain with it when I go off of gluten. Eventually it goes away. At first I thought I had a UTI but figured it was something to do with not eating gluten since my urine was free of bacteria. Anyone else have this issue?

  • Kennife January 8, 2018, 4:30 pm

    I started a gluten, dairy and egg free diet 6 days ago. The first few days I had awful headaches and now a have flu like symptoms with diarrhea every time I eat anything. I’m so glad I found this article and read all of your comments. It’s good to know I’m not alone and that things will get better!! Thanks!!

  • Madison January 4, 2018, 1:46 pm

    I’m 20 years old and have suffered from dizziness and migraines the past several years with no real diagnosis. After every test you could imagine possible I finally decided to cut out gluten to see if it helps. The first 4 days I felt amazing and super motivated. On day 5 it all when downhill… It’s been a month and it seems like everyday gets worse.

    The brain fog I have is scary, I barley know where I am half of the time. I’m so tired and haven’t left my house much in the past month. I have daily headaches/migraines, and am super sick to my stomach, and my whole body aches. I lost almost 10 pounds in the first two weeks. (I weigh 120 now and am 5’5 so that seems like a lot of weight to lose in that amount of time..)

    I don’t know how much longer I can feel like this. I’m starting to think something else is wrong with me?!

  • Jacquelyn Davis December 29, 2017, 3:56 pm

    Thank you for writing this post! I’m sorry for everyone who is suffering… it’s horribke. But reading all of these responses had given me hope that I’m not losing my mind.

    I went completely grain-free (avoiding trace amounts in all things… even down to my chapstick!). I was diagnosed with Colitis and made the decision at that time. I’ve also begun a higher fat way of eating at the same time, eliminated dairy (except real butter), and eliminated sugar.

    It’s been going on 6 weeks… and this dizziness is driving me bat-poop crazy! I had a major head injury (with blood clot) years ago, so was concerned about the dizziness; made two ER visits and was sent home with diagnosis of ishaemic migraine. When it first started it would feel like I was going to black out; now it’s mostly just dizziness off and on (3 weeks straight, 16 days straight, 8 days straight at this time). It will stop for a few days and then start back in.

    The nauseousness is horrible. I’ll feel so nauseous while eating, or immediately after eating on occasions. This is an on again off again issue as well.

    The “normal” menopausal hot flashes have stopped… but these weird “odd” hot/cold flashes are ridiculous! I very seldom get hot anymore, but I start freezing to death all the time. It’s the first time in years I can turn on my heated mattress at night, and wear long sleeved shirts, hoodies, and coats.

    I still feel drained mentally and emotionally. And the migraines I suffered with for over forty years have changed into these nagging sharp pains in my head. I’ve also been experiencing mild to moderate panic attacks due to all of these crazy symptoms.

    I get pains in my chest, feelings of detachment from myself, depression, anxiety, feelings of just wanting to give up (give up what I have no idea… I can’t go back to eating grains!).

    This is like a nightmare. I just want to feel good again, have energy again… and overcome this mess.

    I’m 54 years old… and I’m finally in the best healthiest shape of my life; but this grain-free venture has me almost down and out.

    I was a heavy grain eater all of my life… but I never thought the detox symptoms would continue this long. After reading these responses it gives me hope that I’m OK, just going through detox still.

  • Rahma April 14, 2017, 5:21 am

    Today is my 10th day gluten free. I feel better but the mood swings are on and off. The inflammation on the legs going down slowly and my brain is clearer. Magnesium and kefir for prebiotic and some comedy might help. I hope this long road will lead us to wellness.

  • Kyle April 14, 2017, 1:30 am

    I have been gluten free for almost 3 weeks now. I quit cold turkey. I downloaded a gluten free app scanner because without it I would eat food that I had no clue contained gluten. It sucks. It really does. No more beer that enjoyed for years. No more pizza, no more of my fav snacks. It’s definitely a lifestyle change. It all makes sense now though. About 5 years ago I gained 50 lbs out of nowhere.

    In less then a year I went from 180 lbs to 230 lbs. I thought I was just getting older and my metabolism suddenly stopped! I was wrong, very wrong. Suddenly I was sick for days after a night of partying. I was the only one out of my friends who would experience 2-3 hangovers. I had no clue what was wrong. I tried diets, exercise etc etc. Nothing worked. It wasn’t until recently that I could no longer stand it.

    I started experiencing severe anxiety, brain fog, panic attacks, short of breath, horrible stomach aches, tired, dizzy, you name it! I finally went and saw my doctor hoping he would tell me what was wrong! Blood test came back normal, EKG normal, urine test normal. Good news, right?! I guess. Then I mentioned all the symptoms I was experiencing and he told NO MORE GLUTEN. Try the gluten free diet for the next 3 months.

    Avoid anything and everything with gluten. So here I am, week 3, no gluten and haven’t really felt any change in my health. My doctor prescribed some stomach medicine which has helped a little but I still feel like complete crap everyday. It’s exhausting! I was someone who ate gluten and lots of it my entire life. I have done my research and realize that I have been sick for many years and didn’t even know it.

    I’m hoping to start feeling better within the next few weeks or so. It gets discouraging at times reading comments that they saw a noticeable difference in there health after only a few days! Maybe I am being impatient seeing as it’s only been 3 weeks. Hoping to get back to my old self sooner rather then later. Anyone else gluten free and it took a long time to feel better?

  • Lou Ann Frala March 12, 2017, 10:42 pm

    I’ve been gluten-free for about a week and half now. Finally looked up withdrawal to see whether what I’ve been experiencing fit the bill or whether it was just more menopausal shenanigans. Bingo. I had two days where I felt as well as I’ve felt in months, maybe even years, but it was short-lived.

    Yesterday and today I’m dealing again with the fatigue, irritability, anxiety, bloating and headache. But, I think in the long run, it’ll be the best thing I can do for myself. What’s the new phrase, co-opted for this use? “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

  • Carolyn March 11, 2017, 3:21 pm

    I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease over ten years ago. I woke up one morning and was so sick and tired of being in pain that I wasn’t sure I could eat another bite of food. That being said, I really didn’t want to die so I asked myself what have I not tried?

    The answer was giving up gluten. Within 24 hours I felt better. Yes, I had some side effects: bloating, constipation, some body aches, but nothing compared to years of pain I had been experiencing! Unfortunately the diet for Crohn’s is not a diet that works for a gluten intolerance.

    I am into this one month, it is the best I have felt in years. I am 70 years old, if you have any kind of intolerance to gluten I suggest you hang in there. The ravages of time takes its toll!

  • Leanne January 27, 2017, 11:02 pm

    I started going gluten free about 10 days ago. It is something I have been considering for a while due to my autoimmune disease. I am also cutting out eggs. I have already been dairy free for over 18 months. I have found that I am a little constipated and also have light-headed feeling (but this is a regular thing for me so not sure if it is withdrawal or not).

    The biggest symptom for me is the mood swings, I have been horrible! Snapping at my husband even in the middle of the night! I am also just finding it hard to adjust to not eating cereal or bread, but getting there.

    I already have quite a few other food sensitivities too, so it makes eating more and more challenging, but I keep telling myself it is good for my health. I am hoping the foggy head goes way soon and I start to see an improvement in my health! Thanks everybody for sharing on here, as I had no idea there was withdrawal from gluten and I know I can do this now.

  • Claire December 19, 2016, 10:53 am

    I decided to go gluten free 2 weeks ago after a long spell of alternating between constipation and diarrhea and terrible bloating, gas, pain in my lower and middle back, pain in my rib cage and gynae issues. I now have headaches, joint pain – knees and hips in particular, some gas and bloating but not as significant as before cutting out gluten but most worryingly my neck and chest glands have all started to swell, are itchy and burning.

    My left arm bad shoulder ache constantly and I have pain in my left breast and my back at my lower left rib cage. My anxiety is through the roof and I’m driving my husband to distraction worrying about all these symptoms. My mum has just been diagnosed coeliac but as my blood tests were negative my doctor has refused to do any further tests blaming my symptoms on IBS.

    I’m not sure what to do next I feel like a hypochondriac just mentioning the symptoms to the GP.

  • Jasmine Bray December 15, 2016, 4:47 am

    For the past two years, I have had issues with my health… first, it started off with my stomach bloating after I had milk or ice cream. Once I cut back on my milk, another thing would happen, if I ate spaghetti with my coffee my stomach would bloat and I would spend 1 hour with stomach cramps and hurling over the toilet. :( I switched over to Almond Milk which helped for a while.

    Then last year, I began to bloat again and had anxiety issues. I kept looking into the many options of what else could be making me sick… it was this Fall I researched Gluten along with it’s side effects. I fit all of them. I am on day #3 and it has been tough with all the holiday parties going on but I found out that candy bars and candy~canes are excellent substitutes!

    Physically, I can proudly say… I have never felt better since cutting gluten from diet! :) Merry Christmas to everyone! 🎄

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