Wheat is an Endocrine Disruptor, Elevates Prolactin in Celiac Disease


By Sayer Ji

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

A provocative new study published in the journal Hormone Research in Paediatrics confirms for the first time in a human trial that one of the adverse effects of wheat consumption includes a disruption of the levels of a hormone produced by the pituitary gland known as prolactin.

That wheat can act like an ‘endocrine disruptor‘ is not well known, but is not surprising considering that there are over 200 health conditions that have already been linked to the adverse effects of wheat to human physiology, as documented in the peer-reviewed published literature itself.[i]

In the new study titled “Prolactin May Be Increased in Newly Diagnosed Celiac Children and Adolescents and Decreases after 6 Months of Gluten-Free Diet“, researchers aimed to assess the prolactin (PRL) levels in newly diagnosed pediatric celiac disease patients, and if found to be elevated beyond normal ranges (a condition known as hyperprolactinemia), to observe what would happen if they were put on a 6-month gluten-free diet (GFD).

The results of the trial, which included 67 patients and 39 healthy controls, were reported as follows:

“Results: PRL was statistically higher in the CD patients (13.5 ± 9.2 ng/ml) than in the controls (8.5 ± 5.0 ng/ml). In the CD group, PRL was inversely correlated with the age at diagnosis (r = -0.326; p = 0.007). In patients with hyperprolactinemia at diagnosis, PRL decreased after 6 months of GFD. Conclusion: This paper confirms that PRL may be increased at diagnosis of CD and shows, for the first time, that it decreases after a short course of GFD. Changes in the levels of inflammatory cytokines in CD may account for changes in PRL levels. Younger patients seem more prone to develop hyperprolactinemia than older ones.”

Prolactin is produced by the anterior pituitary gland. It is most well known for its role in the breast gland by stimulating physiological processes necessary for lactation, and it is involved in sexual gratification after sexual acts by counteracting dopamine, the neurochemical involved in sexual arousal. Elevated prolactin levels may also decrease testosterone in men and estrogen in women.[ii] In reality, prolactin’s role is so vast that its complexity is incalculable, having been found to have approximately 300 separate actions in vertebrates.[iii] Any disruption therefore of its normal function or concentrations would have a wide range of downstream and potentially unpredictable adverse effects.

The researchers focused on elevated prolactin levels as a marker of autoimmune disease. They describe a number of conditions linked to hyperprolactinemia:

“Hyperprolactinemia is described in a lot of autoimmune diseases, both systemic (rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis and Sjögren’s syndrome) [23–25] and organ-specific (Addison’s disease, CD, type 1 diabetes mellitus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, lym- phocytic hypophysitis and multiple sclerosis) [26–31]”

The researchers hypothesized that in newly diagnosed celiac disease (CD) patients, an increase in prolactin may be due to increased production of inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-1 and IL-6, which are typically elevated in CD patients not on a gluten-free diet, and decreased in those who are not eating gluten. They state, “The PRL reduction after 6 months of GFD may be likely due to the reduction of the inflammatory cytokine.”

While this hypothesis may turn out to be accurate, previous animal research indicates that opiate-like components within wheat known as gluten exorphins may also be involved. A 2004 study in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience found an elevation of serum prolactin levels after administration of the alimentary opioid peptide gluten exorphin B4 in male rats.[iv] An earlier 2003 study published in the journal Pharmacological Research found that gluten exorphin B4’s prolactin enhancing properties were mediated through classical opioid receptors,[v] revealing another mechanism beyond provoking inflammation through which wheat may disrupt prolactin levels.

The researchers concluded with the following remarks:

“In conclusion, we show that PRL may be increased in CD children and adolescents at diagnosis. In newly diagnosed CD patients, the mean PRL level is higher (especially in younger patients) than in healthy subjects, but in only 6 months of GFD it is possible to reduce this level. We hypothesize that PRL levels in CD are affected by inflammatory cytokines, whose production is associated with gliadin ingestion and increases when the autoinflammatory mechanisms are active.”

This latest study just adds to the increasing skepticism people have as far as wheat’s role in human health is concerned. No matter what the exact mechanism of action, it is clear that wheat (especially modern, highly hybridized and gluten rich wheat) can no longer be considered the wholesome, glorified health food that it once was for decades, and even centuries – at least not for everyone.

To learn more about the dark side of wheat, read my essay on the topic: The Dark Side of Wheat – New Perspectives On Celiac Disease and Wheat Intolerance


[i] GreenMedInfo.com/WakeUp-World.com, Wheat: 200 Clinically Confirmed Reasons Not To Eat It

[ii] Prolactinoma — Mayo Clinic

[iii] Bole-Feysot C, Goffin V, Edery M, Binart N, Kelly PA (June 1998). “Prolactin (PRL) and its receptor: actions, signal transduction pathways and phenotypes observed in PRL receptor knockout mice”. Endocr. Rev. 19 (3): 225–68. doi:10.1210/er.19.3.225. PMID 9626554.

[iv] G Fanciulli, A Dettori, M P Demontis, V Anania, G Delitala. Serum prolactin levels after administration of the alimentary opioid peptide gluten exorphin B4 in male rats. Nutr Neurosci. 2004 Feb;7(1):53-5. PMID: 15085559

[v] Giuseppe Fanciulli, Alessandra Dettori, Emma Fenude, Maria Piera Demontis, Elisabetta Alberico, Giuseppe Delitala, Vittorio Anania. Intravenous administration of the food-derived opioid peptide gluten exorphin B5 stimulates prolactin secretion in rats. Pharmacol Res. 2003 Jan ;47(1):53-8. PMID: 12526862

Further articles by Sayer Ji:

About the author:

Sayer Ji is an author, researcher, lecturer, an advisory board member of the National Health Federation, and the founder of GreenMedInfo.com, the world an open access, evidence-based resource supporting natural and integrative modalities. His writings have been published and referenced widely in print and online, including Truthout, Mercola.com, The Journal of Gluten Sensitivity, New York Times and The Well Being Journal.

In 1995 Sayer received a BA degree in Philosophy from Rutgers University, where he studied under the American philosopher Dr. Bruce W. Wilshire, with a focus on the philosophy of science. In 1996, following residency at the Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, he embarked on a 5 year journey of service as a counsellor-teacher and wilderness therapy specialist for various organizations that serve underprivileged and/or adjudicated populations. Since 2003, Sayer has served as a patient advocate and an educator and consultant for the natural health and wellness field.

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  • Marlene

    Sayer Ji, I have two questions:
    When wheat has been a staple throughout the world for centuries, why did it not have the many harmful affects on our health then, that it has today, while only a hundred years ago, refrigeration was not even available to 3/4’s of the planet? Wheat was pure wheat then, yes granted, attacked by insects too, but the roller mills ground it and mom bought the ground flour and baked beautiful, wholesome bread from it — sometimes in an outside oven built from the soil clay — The bread was filling and nutritious and few if any, ever sickened from it.
    2) Yet today, wheat is not the same anymore, so not the same bread either, with so much junk added to it! Today, when you home bake, the bread is nothing but air contained in a crust, which you can crumple into a ball in your hand! Still when I grew up in ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties, nobody even knew what Celiac Disease was or gluten intolerance! Why???
    I maintain that biotech (GMO’s) have taken over and changed our wheat and maize and soy and this restructure gave birth to the diseases we battle with now and then we have the arrogance to give God’s natural staples a bad name. Furthermore, our bee colonies are dying globally and are probably poisoned by these man made, bio-engineered crops these essential little critters desperately pollinate and try to derive honey from!
    Our once beautiful world is virtually contaminated beyond repair, yet why do we not take what was earth friendly and environment friendly from methods used long ago which included use of organic soil fertilization, of harvesting, of packaging? Let us not blame wheat for poisoning us now, when the blame lies with the scientists we allow to destroy and murder our planet.

  • Fascinating – thank you for sharing.

    I am getting a bit fed up of people ‘slagging off’ the ‘wheat-free’ and ‘gluten-intollerant’ movement to be honest; so I really appreciate the science and sharing here.

    Personally, wheat and gluten has a serious impact on my health (in a negative way), yet without these things my health thrives. I also observe a radical change in the health of other sensitive people too (when they omit it from their diets).

    Thank you.

  • Nicole

    6 months gluten free lowers the number but is there any research stating how long it takes for the prolactin values to return to normal levels?