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Do Hidden Opiates In Our Food Explain Food Addictions?

Do Hidden Opiates In Our Food Explain Food Addictions

Food addictions are not strictly "psychological" problems, but have a hard-wired, organic component.  Many of the most commonly consumed foods in Western culture actually contain narcotic properties associated with the presence of psychoactive chemicals that bind to opioid receptors in the nervous system.  These peptides are so powerful that researchers block their action with drugs such as naltrexone which is used to treat addiction among heroin abusers, and naloxone which is used to prevent death from heroin overdose.

These "food opiates" are heavily concentrated in wheat and dairy products, especially cow’s milk. Wheat contains the following opioid peptides, known as gluten exorphins, alongside which are listed their amino acid structure:

  • Gluten exorphin A5: H-Gly-Tyr-Tyr-Pro-Thr-OH
  • Gluten exorphin B4: H-Tyr-Gly-Gly-Trp-OH
  • Gluten exorphin B5: H-Tyr-Gly-Gly-Trp-Leu-OH
  • Gluten exorphin C: H-Tyr-Pro-Ile-Ser-Leu-OH
  • Gliadorphin: Tyr-Pro-Gln-Pro-Gln-Pro-Phe

Cow's milk, depending on the milk variety (A1 or A2), contain a variety of combinations of the following casomorphin peptides:

  • β-casomorphin 1-3: H-Tyr-Pro-Phe-OH
  • Bovine β-casomorphin 1-4: H-Tyr-Pro-Phe-Pro-OH
  • Bovine β-casomorphin 1-4, amide: H-Tyr-Pro-Phe-Pro-NH2
  • Bovine β-casomorphin 5: H-Tyr-Pro-Phe-Pro-Gly-OH
  • Bovine β-casomorphin 7: H-Tyr-Pro-Phe-Pro-Gly-Pro-Ile-OH
  • Bovine β-casomorphin 8: H-Tyr-Pro-Phe-Pro-Gly-Pro-Ile-Pro-OH

It can be argued that many of the most popular foods consumed in Western culture are done so not primarily for their nutritive value but rather for their addictive properties. Some of these foods we become truly infatuated with and are identified as "comfort foods," that are "to die for," or that we "love."

Food opiates are widely distributed throughout our diet, and are found in many unsuspecting places.  Fructose, which is fast becoming the primary source of calories in the American diet, while not itself an opioid peptide, is known to increase brain levels of endogenous morphine following ingestion,[1][2]and may produce metabolic products in the brain very similar to those produced by morphine.[3]  In fact, it has been identified to stimulate a "hedonic pathway" in the brain, not unlike alcohol, which incidentally is metabolized along the same liver pathways.[4] Fructose, in isolated or concentrated form, is highly toxic and have been linked to over 70 health conditions.

Some other common food opiates include

  • Spinach: popular leafy green contains two opioid peptides named rubiscolins-5 and -6.[5][6]
  • Coffee: the oil known as cafestrol which is found in both decaffeinated and caffeinated coffee contains potent morphine-like activity.[7] Many of coffee’s effects therefore may be mediated via opiate receptors, as well as the effects of caffeine. [8]
  • Rice protein: rice albumin may have opioid properties, depending on how thoroughly it is digested; incomplete digestion may increase the likelihood of there being a pharmacologically active effect.
  • Meat and Fish Protein: when complex animal proteins are enzymatically degraded some exhibit opiate-like properties. Some of these "biogenic peptides" as they are known have been investigated for their potential role in the treatment and prevention of hypertension.[9]
  • Chocolate: One of the well-known mechanisms behind cocoa’s cardioprotective activity is the ability of epicatechin to act via opioid receptors, specifically through the δ-opioid receptor, to produce cardiac protection from injury associated with low oxygen.[10]  Animal feeding studies also show that the opiate-blocking drug naloxone reduces chocolate cravings, suggesting that some of chocolate’s desirable qualities may be related to their opiate activity in the nervous system.[11]
  • Sugar: As mentioned above fructose has opiate-like properties, but so does sucrose (table sugar) and glucose. Since starch as found in "complex carbohydrates" is hidden sugar and often technically higher on the glycemic index than actual sugar (e.g. puffed rice makes the blood sweeter than white sugar), even grains may elicit addictive behaviors through the modulation of opioid pathways in the brain.

Coffee Chocolate Addictions

While many of our most commonly consumed foods and beverages contain food opiates, our original infatuation with opiate peptides actually begins at birth, as is nature’s inherently intelligent design. Being born into the world an extremely underdeveloped mammal (i.e. compared to horses we take years longer to gain independence),* the biological imperative is for there to be a strong bond between mother and offspring consummated in the act of breastfeeding.

Breast milk, therefore, contains actual morphine. This is to ensure that a very close bond forms and that the offspring will seek out and obtain nourishment by garnishing physical dependency.

The fact that our first food -- breast milk -- contains opiates and that the biosynthetic pathway for morphine exist in tissues such as the liver, blood and brain, indicate that our species was destined to be drawn to substances that either mimic the action of opiates, or modulate their secretion and/or activity within our bodies.[12]

Ultimately, many food opiates are consumed in order to self-medicate. Coffee, for instance, has profound psychoactive properties that cannot be reduced to its caffeine content alone. The opiate-like property of coffee explains why it may relax and/or reduce stress in certain people, raising the threshold of anxiety or aggression in a way quite opposite to what would be expected from the effects of caffeine alone.

This effect may be maintained as long as coffee is administered continuously, like any other pharmacologically drug. However, if suddenly withdrawn, some experience symptoms identical to those associated with withdrawal from opiate drugs.

In addition, many food opiates, such as are found in wheat and cow’s milk products, entice us to consume foods that are intrinsically unhealthy. Wheat, for instance, has been linked to over 160 health conditions, and cow’s milk is known to be a risk factor for type 1 diabetes. But both are consumed globally in the billions of pounds and lauded as "health foods" by the unsuspecting masses unaware of the addictive hold they may have on them. The Dark Side of Wheat and cow's milk is rarely acknowledged, though the role of food opiates may shed some much needed light on the topic.

The point is that food is not just a "fuel" for the body, as classically defined through nutritional reductionism. It has profound genoregulatory and neuroendocrine modulating properties. One of the best ways to ascertain whether food opiates are affecting your health is to embark on an elimination diet. Sometimes following a gluten or cow's milk free diet, the physiological shackles are thrown off, and it is possible to experience renewed health and vitality.

Many seemingly unrelated health conditions may improve and/or go into remission. When the food is reintroduced months later, it is far easier to feel its true effects on the body -- adverse effects that were always there, but due to their chronic consumption were considered normal.

*an interesting fact of evolutionary biology is that our head size has grown so large in proportion to our hip size that we must be born with a relatively underdeveloped body in order to make it through the birth canal.  This ensures that a great proportion of our development must occur outside of the womb, making our dependence on milk much more intense.

For the same reason that human breast milk contains morphine, the casomorphins in cow's milk are intended to sedate/placate/anesthetize calves born into the wild. Is it any surprise that humans (whose poignantly aware brains contain as many neurons as stars in our galaxy!) are the only mammals who never stop weaning themselves from this narcotic elixir? Perhaps we dope and dumb ourselves down with these opiate peptides in order not to go insane from the poignant awareness that such a huge brain generates.

[1] Antagonism of the morphine-induced locomotor activation of mice by fructose: comparison with other opiates and sugars, and sugar effects on brain morphine. Life Sci. 1991 ;49(10):727-34.  

[2] Opioid receptor antagonism in the nucleus accumbens fails to block the expression of sugar-conditioned flavor preferences in rats. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2010 Mar ;95(1):56-62. Epub 2009 Dec 13. PMID: 20006967

[3] Antagonism of antinociception in mice by glucose and fructose: comparison of subcutaneous and intrathecal morphine. Eur J Pharmacol. 1988 Feb 9 ;146(2-3):337-40. PMID: 3371404

[4] Fructose: metabolic, hedonic, and societal parallels with ethanol. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Sep ;110(9):1307-21. PMID: 20800122

[5] Delta opioid peptides derived from plant proteins. Curr Pharm Des. 2003;9(16):1325-30. PMID: 12769740

[6] Rubiscolin, a delta selective opioid peptide derived from plant Rubisco. FEBS Lett. 2001 Dec 7;509(2):213-7. PMID: 11741591

[7] The coffee specific diterpene cafestol induces peripheral antinociception mediated by endogenous opioid peptides. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2012 Feb 14. Epub 2012 Feb 14. PMID: 22332877

[8] Coffee contains potent opiate receptor binding activity. Nature. 1983 Jan 20;301(5897):246-8. PMID: 6296693

[9] Biogenic peptides and their potential use. Curr Pharm Des. 2003 ;9(16):1345-55. PMID: 12769742

[10] Dark chocolate receptors: epicatechin-induced cardiac protection is dependent on delta-opioid receptor stimulation. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2010 Nov ;299(5):H1604-9. Epub 2010 Sep 10. PMID: 20833967

[11] Naltrexone and amperozide modify chocolate and saccharin drinking in high alcohol-preferring P rats. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1998 Jun ;60(2):407-13. PMID: 9632223

[12] Morphine: new aspects in the study of an ancient compound. Life Sci. 1994;55(13):969-79. PMID: 8084213


Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.

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Please back up your statements

I have looked all over the web for information on breast milk naturally containing opiates. Only you have made that claim.

It is claims like this that make many people turn a deaf ear to everything that you say.

Plenty of supporting research available


There is plenty of published research on the topic:
Take a look at this one in particular:
Morphine: new aspects in the study of an ancient compound.
Benyhe S.
Life Sci. 1994;55(13):969-79.
Institute of Biochemistry, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Szeged.
Morphine is the most widely used compound among narcotic analgesics and remains the gold standard when the effects of other analgetic drugs are compared. Apart from its presence in the poppy plant Papaver somniferum, morphine has been shown to be present in milk, cerebrospinal fluid and also in nervous tissue extracts. Recent evidence suggests that biosynthetic pathways for morphine exist in animal and even human tissues such as liver, blood and brain. The most characteristic effect of morphine is the modulation of pain perception resulting in an increase in the threshold of noxious stimuli. Antinociception induced by morphine is mediated via opioid receptors and therefore can be inhibited by opioid antagonists, e.g., naloxone. Nevertheless, consideration of morphine as endogenous ligand for opioid receptors seems to be speculative. Recently, the primary receptor for morphine-type drugs called the mu-opioid receptor has been cloned from rat brain. There is accumulating evidence that morphine actions are, at least partly, due to one of its major metabolite morphine-6-glucuronide in man. It is concluded that further investigations are necessary to elucidate the mechanisms, whereby multiple actions of morphine are expressed in the nervous system.

Toxicity of many foods

Quite frightening to read all this! I know quite a great amount of detail about these foods, but the general public seems unaware. Is there any way that more people can be informed?

Food as opiates

I will speak only from my personal experience. I was raised on white bread, homemade pies, cakes and cookies every day along with fried meat and vegetables soaked in hamhocks. I have battled obesity all my life and am fortunate I'm naturally athletic, although due to extra weight I have had serious joint problems-- 2 hips replaced in my 40's. It wasn't until I moved to a farm in Wisconsin with an abundance of what most call "weeds" like stinging nettle, burdock, wild parsnip, morels and many edible mushrooms and wild berries that I experienced the amazing clear headedness and natural energy I didn't really understand before. Excessive work drives me to old comfort foods. Rest, meditation, walking, writing fiction and non- fiction and swimming reduces those desires and I'm satisfied with mostly wild foods. I found a pure whey powder from local goats and cows that seems to supply sufficient protein That's my experience. I'm hoping I can eventually cut back on work and even retire so my last 15-25 years of life are more balanced.

Mammals can continue to drink milk as adults

I've seen the trainers of tigers and lions keep feeding them milk as a reward lifelong. It originally seemed sensible as keeping them somewhat in sub adult mode--accepting the trainers as surrogate mothers whose status was above that of the cats. The method used for the reward also defused what could be an aggressive posture by the cats and was used frequently in movies--having the cats rear up and drink from a bottle held overhead. The normal nursing position of young cats and dogs/wolves as well, when they are old enough is for the mother to stand and have the cubs sit/stand to nurse. This helps keep the rearing up/leaping posture that might be used for a chase/attack scene in a movie kept in a more playful context. 

BUT! if the reward is something that gives an opiate reward as well as taste/smell/nutrition, this might work more through its neuro-chemical reward and a conditioned response of expectation to the opiate mimic than the behavioral retained sub adult pattern. 

I don't know if the milk was treated with lactase first or since the cats had been kept on this lifelong if they simply never lost the ability to digest the milk. Dogs do well on fermented milk products such as kefir but generally even raw A2 milk will not digest well, odorus loose stool.

Wheat as an insulin culprit

Not sure what to believe anymore. We are told as women we should eat nothing white. Wheat is the way to go for us. So once again how do we protect our health and who to believe?

Stimulating & thought-provoking

I'm happy to have read this perspective on food opiates, with or without grammar slips, it is full of insight. The only perspective I'd add is that milk and wheat  are completely different foods nowadays, both genetics & processing methods. The opiates surely existed back then but likely not paired with as noxious a food. (I'm referring to what cows were fed + bred & that milk was consumed raw & fermented. Also, wheat was completely different to the level of the DNA + eaten soaked/fermented, which is the only sane way to do it.)

i like the concept that we're dumbing down our brains as a protective mechanism- nowadays people are less and less able to deal with emotion (we're not taught how + we're so overworked and malnourished). From now on, when I observe outbursts like the one from the grammar nazi above, I'll picture the person wearing a milk mustache (and sometimes that person is me!))

Grammar Nazi ??

Was a post removed? I didn't see any "outburst" from anyone. 

Someone pointed out that the drug name was typed incorrectly. Is this the Nazi outburst to which you refer, or did I miss something?


It seem this may be presented backwards, somethings reversed. I would suggest that the opiates mimic the naturally occurring substances in our food which when ingested in a healthy manor in a balanced diet poses no threats to health. That opiats being the known evil here are ridding on the body's natural attraction to foods that nature intended to be good for you. This article is trying to asociate  natural atraction to some foods with an benign substance that is no good for you in any way. Guilt by association does not work for me. It may go further to help the nature of addiction to opiats than explain food addictions.

"Natural" attraction to Cinnabuns explained??? :-)

It MAY be that is the case but most people are not attracted to "natural" foods in the same way they crave & over-indulge [O.D.] on fake foods. Food chemists fine-tune processed foods to ring the brain's bell every time!

On natural attraction

Before my knee surgery, I wasn't very big on certain greens.  I ate them when I ate at friends houses but never went out of my way to buy them.

After the knee surgery, when I got off the drugs and could eat again, I was attracted to greens like a magnet -  especially kale. I ate lots and lots of raw kale after my surgery and have since learned that it has incredible healing properties. I continue to enjoy it.

We can train ourselves to be attracted to foods that our bodies need but it takes time, patience and diligence.



the drug is Naltrexone

Thank you!

While naloxone is used to prevent heroin overdose, naltrexone is used for heroin abuse. Thanks for helping us to address that discrepancy.

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