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Home You Want To Know Is Gluten Your Mood by Jill Carnahan, MD

Is Gluten Your Mood by Jill Carnahan, MD

There may be a link between the gluten in your diet and the following symptoms if you have a genetic predisposition to gluten-intolerance or celiac disease: 

  • “brain fog” 
  • Anxiety
  • depression 
  • dementia 
  • autism 
  • and even schizophrenia! 

Many people have reported “brain fog” and anxiety as symptomatic of ingesting gluten and did you know that depression is a classic symptom of celiac disease? The Mayo Clinic reports that individuals with celiac disease are at increased risk for dementia and there is ongoing research into the link between diet and autism and schizophrenia. Clearly, this is more than mere hearsay. 

Depression is definitely present in a higher percentage of individuals with celiac disease than in the normal population, as evidenced by Italian research studies dating from 2003 and beyond. All of this information may cause you to ask which came first? Are people depressed as a result of their diagnosis, or is the disease itself the cause of the depression?

Eating Gluten May Cause Depression: The Research Perspective 

Eating gluten if you have celiac disease (whether you have been formally diagnosed or not) seems to have an impact not only on physical, as well as mental, health. There may be two reasons for this: 


Eating Gluten May Cause Depression

1 – Malabsorption 

Individuals with celiac disease who consume gluten (i.e., prior to diagnosis when they do not know they must live gluten-free OR in those who “cheat” on their gluten-free diet OR when gluten is accidentally ingested) fail to absorb tryptophan, which leads to a decrease in the production of serotonin (the ‘feel-good’ brain chemical). This increases the risk of having a mood disorder. Eating gluten when you have celiac disease also means you may be deficient in other vitamins and nutrients, again, due to malabsorption. Untreated, celiac disease can even lead to malnutrition due to deficiencies in compounds like vitamin B6, vitamin C, folic acid, and zinc, all of which are required in the production of serotonin from tryptophan.

2 – Cytokines 

Cytokines are a type of signaling molecule of the immune system and are implicated as a contributing factor for mood disorders such as depression (from Biopsychiatry, 2003).

Remember, celiac disease is an autoimmune disease; a condition that compromises the immune system, which would, in turn, lead to the release of chemicals (like cytokines) in the body as the body’s way of attempting to fight the disease. 

Maes and Smith (Perspectives in Depression, 1999) proposed that excessive cytokine secretion due to chronic immune system activation is a fundamental pathology underlying depressive symptoms. 

Cytokines as such cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, but growing evidence suggests that specific cytokines may signal the brain to produce neurochemical, neuroendocrine, neuroimmune, and behavioral changes (Kronfol and Remick, American Journal of Psychiatry, 2000). Cytokine activation is also known to enhance the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis hyperactivity, another body system that is associated with major depression. (Maes and Smith Psychoneuroendocrinology, 1995). 

Thus, any of the above mechanisms could be operative in untreated celiac disease, and could in turn cause disturbances in brain serotonin function, predisposing the patient to mood and behavioral disorders. (Psychosomatics, 2002). 


Being Diagnosed with Celiac Disease May Cause Depression: The Personal Perspective

Being Diagnosed with Celiac Disease May Cause Depression: The Personal Perspective 

Of course, in addition to the biochemical underpinnings of an autoimmune disease, there is also a personal aspect. Having a lifelong condition that requires a major lifestyle change is highly likely to trigger depression – whether the condition is celiac disease or another disorder. This happens in some individuals because of the feelings of restriction, sadness over missing favorite foods, and due to the social aspect of feeling left out or unable to be a part of the individual’s “typical” social functions.

What is the Solution? 

The easy answer is, of course, to avoid gluten, though as we all know, this isn’t always so easy. Of course, for those diagnosed with celiac disease, it is a 100% must! 

Once you’ve eliminated gluten from your diet, then your nutrition should improve. Eating a healthy diet consisting of real food – not junk food that happens to be gluten-free – will help. 

Here are some naturally gluten-free foods that contain essential nutrients that you should incorporate into your daily meals: 

  • Meat, fish, beans, and lentils for tryptophan 
  • Avocados, bananas, raisins, currants and sultanas, sunflower seeds and soya for vitamin B6 
  • A wide range of fruit and vegetables for vitamin C 
  • Leafy green vegetables, avocados, oranges, almonds, and walnuts for folic acid 
  • Zinc can be found in peanuts, cheese, figs, nuts and seeds, and small amounts in green and yellow fruit and vegetables 
  • Eat something from each group above and you ought to be producing some serotonin, and feeling a lot better. Plus, of course, removing gluten from your diet will also remove the immune reaction if you have celiac disease, which again, will have you feeling better soon, with a much-improved mood! 

Dr. Jill Carnahan



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