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Going Gluten-FreeJuly 21, 2010

Do You Fret?

A new German study confirms what celiac experts already know: There’s a link between anxiety and celiac disease.  Like many symptoms of this vastly under-diagnosed (and often mis-diagnosed) condition, the psychological fallout has yet to be widely known and understood by the psychiatric community.

As a psychotherapist, I worked with a number of university coeds who entered therapy because of general anxiety, a heightened sense of unremitting apprehension. These young women were living on low-fat, vegetarian diets composed primarily of salad, dairy, soy--and lots of wheat. What to do? If the usual cognitive-behavior intervention and relaxation techniques don’t help calm the anxiety, a therapist will suggest medication. That’s okay--but what about suggesting a screening for celiac disease?

I talked with Stefano Guandalini, MD, about this. (Click here to read this interview.) He’s medical director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center and one of the world’s leading experts on celiac disease. He said: “Awareness is lacking … in regard to [the link between celiac disease and] psychiatric disturbances. Hallucinations, depression, anxiety, suicide ideation—they’re all associated with celiac disease. It’s well documented in medical literature.”

Would Dr. Guandalini recommend that anyone with psychiatric symptoms that persist regardless of treatment be screened for celiac disease? His answer: “Yes.” And: “Fortunately, these symptoms, including depression, anxiety and hallucinations, promptly regress on a gluten-free diet.”

When it comes to raising celiac awareness, we’ve got our work cut out for us. Has anxiety been part of your journey with celiac disease? Spread the word.

Comments (6)

Hello Jenna, I was encouraged by your post, because I've suffered from depression/anxiety disorder from mild to severe, since I had cancer at 21. At first, medication and cognitive therapies worked great, but the last three years I got much worse after a prolonged period of stress. Now NONE of the previous techniques will work. I recently went gluten-free, as a last resort, after hearing how common it is. I've been at it 5 weeks and don't feel any better yet, and was starting to get a little discouraged (even though I know it can take quite some time to even start to feel better), but when I read your post about it taking 6 months to even start to feel better, I don't feel so hopeless now. I'm in this for the long-haul, and I'll stick it out as long as it takes. Would be interested to hear anyone elses psychological symptoms and how they responded to this diet. As a side note I don't have any (or rarely) gastrointestinal symptoms, although I did when I was younger (severe gas and bloating often). Anyway, thanks everyone!

Posted by: Jman99 | August 27, 2010 3:18 PM    Report this comment

I have been dealing with what I think is mild depression; not enough to medicate but a sort of downer kind of feeling from time to time. I t never occurred to me that it might be connected with celiac; my granddaughter also has similar symptoms plus a lot of anxiety all of her life. I have tried to get her parents to consider food allergies as the underlying problem because I know when I have inadvertently eaten something I'm allergic to it can affect my mood. (Not for the better!) Any ideas on how to approach people effectively about testing for celiac and allergies?

Posted by: Ann W | July 30, 2010 6:51 PM    Report this comment

I have been dealing with what I think is mild depression; not enough to medicate but a sort of downer kind of feeling from time to time. I t never occurred to me that it might be connected with celiac; my granddaughter also has similar symptoms plus a lot of anxiety all of her life. I have tried to get her parents to consider food allergies as the underlying problem because I know when I have inadvertently eaten something I'm allergic to it can affect my mood. (Not for the better!) Any ideas on how to approach people effectively about testing for celiac and allergies?

Posted by: Ann W | July 30, 2010 6:51 PM    Report this comment

It has only been a year and a half that I have been gluten free but I have suffered from treatment-resistant major depression and anxiety my whole life. I am 33. It took about six months for me to feel the effects of the diet and when I did it was like all of a sudden I was so happy and all the things my numerous therapists had been telling me to do over the years, I could suddenly do! I could control my thinking, I could stop myself from spiraling into anxiety attacks. For the first time in my life I was honestly HAPPY! It was so new and wonderful. But it only lasted about two months. I assumed it had to be the diet that lifted my depression but I don't know why I started to feel down again. I don't feel as down as I have in the past but having that little taste of happiness makes me want it back again so badly. I have also been told I am allergic to tree nuts and peanuts although I have never had any kind of physical reaction I can tell. They said I had a corn allergy nut not large enough to stop eating it. My skin test showed an allergy to soy but the blood work showed nothing. However, within 5 minutes of myfirst glass of choc. soy milk I got violently ill so have avoided any soy that is concentrated to that extreme. Sharon, I am curious about the adrenal functions which you wrote about and am going to look into that. I don't have thyroid symptoms but did have thyroiditis years ago and my sister did have thyroid cancer for about 6 years. I see my GI on Thursday. I just want to feel as good as I did when the diet first kicked in. It was so amazing. I felt normal for the first time in my life - I want that back. Any suggestions are more than appreciated...

Posted by: Jenna C | July 22, 2010 6:56 PM    Report this comment

I suffered from mild (and sometimes not so mild) depression and anxiety for over 10 years before going gluten-free. I never made the connection before, but since eliminating gluten about 4 years ago depression hasn't really been a problem. Other things changed about the same time - I started eating vegetarian, and menopause was just winding down. So I never made the gluten connection. But I'm glad to hear that possibility. One more reason not to cheat!

Posted by: Donna T | July 22, 2010 5:00 PM    Report this comment

Chronic stress results in increased adrenal cortisol production, which may cause thyroid disorders, along with many symptoms, including food allergies. I am working with an endocrinologist to restore my adrenals and hormone balance, and one of the major steps to get there is to cut out all gluten. Previous to seeing the endocrinologist, I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies and avoided the offending foods, but never connected it to adrenal function. I am now learning tons of new information on the condition, a valuable amount of which came from reading Datis Kharrazian's "Why do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?" The human body is not just a digestive system, a brain, a liver, etc., the entire human being is a complex, interrelated system, with all parts affecting and being affected by the others. Increased cortisol production caused by digestive disorders may very well cause "psychiatric disturbances".

Posted by: Sharon E | July 22, 2010 2:36 PM    Report this comment

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