Kurt Cobain, the late singer/guitarist from Nirvana, had a lot of problems. Both mental and physical. He self medicated with heroin, leading to serious addiction. On an archive BBC interview earlier this year he described the dramatic relief he got from his gut pain by using heroin. He freely admitted that he had multiple other problems leading to his addiction, but the relief from abdominal pain was a significant factor. No one believed him, this was just another junkie excuse. After all, none of the doctors he had consulted for years had an explanation or any therapy for the pain so it was all in his head, wasn't it...
I mention this because I read another account of a person with abdominal pain, this time there was a diagnosis, the label being IBS. This condition varies from modestly inconvenient through to unspeakably painful, with pulsing waves of cramping visceral pain going on for hours. This guy was posting on a discussion board specialising in poppy tea. Poppy tea is a morphine like opioid mixture reported to be more addictive than heroin as judged by withdrawl severity. It is 100% absolutely illegal just about everywhere in the world and DO NOT USE THIS. I only mention it because this poor guy posted to report the dramatic relief he had obtained from his severe IBS by drinking a cup of this poppy tea. The poppy tea board is a very easy going and very supportive place on the net for opioid addicts to hang out, but they all jumped on this guy like a ton of bricks. No one would remotely accept the reality of the relief he had obtained and the universal condemnation was centered around his using IBS as an excuse to consume the opioid tea, rather than coming clean and admitting he was a straightforward addict. I was shocked at the severity of the responses. Kurt Cobain must have gone through the same thing.
Why on earth am I posting all of this?
Well, my disillusionment with the bulk of the medical profession and my journey in to nutrition began with a close friend who was suffering from severe gut problems without a specific label. Over a year or so the problem had been getting progressively worse. On medical advice she had been increasing her fibre intake. Food consisted of whole meal pasta, brown rice, lentils, chickpeas, whole meal bread and vegetables. Some meat and as little fat as possible completed it. During the final consult her doctor suggested increasing the fibre still further, without explaining quite how this might be achieved. My friend mentioned that she had found, quite by accident, that codeine produced dramatic symptomatic relief. After the doctor had been scraped off of the ceiling there followed a lecture on the constipating effects of codeine and the advice to use ibuprofen to control the pain. This was to a patient in whom a duodenal ulcer was high on the list of possibilities. Please don't do this at home either. Even if your doctor tells you to.
At this point I started reading the medical litterature for myself and we had my friend off of omeprazole and pain free within a month. She never went back to the medic, who is probably still recommending fibre and ibuprofen to her IBS patients and steadfastly refusing to think about why they don't get better.
What really struck me with all three stories was the absolute disbelief in all quarters that opioids could produce symptomatic relief in severe IBS. The impression is that people with severe gut problems are considered to use their "functional" problem as an excuse for recreational opioid abuse. Where is the "That's interesting" reaction from doctors? Nowhere.
The cure, by the way, is the elimination of almost all fibre, absolutely all grains and a marked reduction of carbohydrate consumption. She initially ate 20g/d of carbohydrate but currently anything under 70g/d seems fine for maintenance. Some people have to go a little further and eliminate starches and unfermented dairy too, but that wasn't needed in my friend's case. Grain ingestion, especially wheat, causes an immediate flare. No wonder the high fibre diet was a disaster.
So what is the link between IBS, opioids and especially grains?
Our bodies manufacture many short polypeptides for use as neurotransmitters. One specific group of them are the endorphins. These are naturally produced to control many biological processes. Gut motility and the limitation of both physical and emotional pain are two major functions under endorphin control. Morphine-like drugs, including its diacetylated derivative heroin, drop on to endorphin receptors and produce constipation and happiness. Withdrawl does the opposite. Badly.
Endorphins are produced by ourselves. Exorphins are similar peptides produced from our diet. Partially digested gluten from wheat is a major source. Eating a high gluten diet produces lots of exorphins. Constipation, often after an initial spasm reaction, is the result, just as it is from heroin. And pain too, because although exorphins do reach the brain, they never get there in the quantity needed to produce pain relief or happiness. In fact depression is common in IBS patients, but then chronic severe pain coupled with totally wrong advice tends to lead to depression!
When an IBS patient eventually has a bowel movement there is an immediate removal of the exorphins in contact with the gut wall. Acute opioid withdrawl produces diarrhoea. Remember the opening scenes of Trainspotting, with the methadone suppository and the worst public lavatory in Scotland?
So IBS is a functional problem of constipation with gut spasm alternating with diarrhoea. Eating grains is the commonest trigger. Wholegrains are the worst! Try telling that to your doctor.
BTW there are also exorphins in casein, haemoglobin and spinach but these do not seem to be as indestructible as the gluten derived peptides, although casmorphins do come a close second for many people.
Grains and heroin have a lot in common. Avoid both!