Going Gluten-FreeFebruary 15, 2012

Are You Anxious?

Did you know that gluten can prompt anxiety in certain people? The psychological implications of ingesting gluten in those with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are not well known by the general public. Yet celiac experts report a connection between eating gluten and experiencing mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, mood disorders, cognitive problems and even autistic behaviors. In extreme cases, some patients have even experienced hallucinations triggered by gluten consumption.

Why bring this up now? The tragic news about Whitney Houston leads me to talk about this topic once again. The cause of her untimely death is still unclear, but early indicators—at this point still speculative—suggest that her history of addiction, specifically to prescription drugs and alcohol, may have played a role. The family of drugs I’m hearing on news reports is the benzodiazepines or "benzos," often prescribed as a “quick fix” for anxiety. 

I am not suggesting that Whitney Houston was gluten sensitive or a celiac. I am suggesting that people with anxiety (including those with panic attacks) should try other treatments before swallowing benzos, a group of medications that cause troubling side effects, including dangerous dependency. Safe and effective frontline treatment for anxiety includes cognitive behavior therapy, relaxation and breathing techniques, meditation, exercise—and, yes, nutritional counseling and dietary intervention.

When I worked as a psychotherapist, I routinely recommended that patients suffering from unremitting anxiety and/or depression, particularly those who also reported a history of digestive problems or anemia, be tested for celiac disease. Getting correctly diagnosed and starting the gluten-free diet was a huge step toward their emotional recovery.

Do you have anxiety or other emotional issues? Have your symptoms eased up since you’ve been on the gluten-free diet? Please share your story with us.

Note: Medical experts strongly advise that people be screened for celiac disease before embarking on the gluten-free diet.

Comments (16)

Could this run in a family?

Posted by: Unknown | July 23, 2013 1:39 AM    Report this comment

I'm sorry. I wanted to make a correction to the original post I made. I meant to write that I was informed having a blood test was NOT an accurate way to test for lead levels, so it likely was the same with testing for mercury levels.

Posted by: BeccaLynn | February 29, 2012 1:30 PM    Report this comment

I wanted to respond to the question the lady had about her daughter possibly being allergic to dairy, even though the allergist said she wasn't. I too have had difficutly with my son's physical and emotional symptoms. Approximately 3 or more years ago, I myself began seeing a holistic doctor who uses nutrition response testing. This is where he tests your muscles to see where the problem lies in your body. I have been very pleased and many other people who had given up on their doctors, or who had their doctors give up on them, have seen him and had wonderful results. I also began taking my son to see him. He discovered that my son and I both have allergies to wheat and dairy. I've known for a long time that I didn't do well with dairy, but my son had actually been to an allergist when he was very young to be tested for allergies. Dairy was not one that showed up. Wheat didn't either. So, I'm sure it's possible for the tests to give a false negative. In reading your story about your daughter's continued health and emotional issues, I wanted to let you know a couple things that I've learned about possible contributors. One is sugar, including high carb foods. He also said that it can contribute feelings of depression. Although sometimes my mood would rise after eating something sweet, I would notice a roller coaster effect with my emotions, so I cut most of my sugar consumption out as well. The nutritionist said that sugar actually supresses the immune system and even feeds cancer cells. He gave me an example by placing a few granules of organic, or raw maybe, sugar on my son's hand. He then proceeded to test my son's muscle, which automatically went week. When he removed the sugar, my son's muscle which was being tested became strong again. My son even was very surprised since he could feel his muscle weaken and then strengthen. It is especially difficult with a young child, but it makes it much easier when healthier alternatives that they can have are readily available. We use NuNaturals Nustevia. We, even my husband, really like it. We use the powder form sometimes, and sometimes the alcohol free liquid version. You kind of have to adjust how must to use since it's not sugar. There are quite a lot of low-carb, gluten and dairy-free treats that you can make using alternative sweeteners like stevia. It's even been necessary for me to cut out juices. I don't even use things like agave nectar and I use honey only sparingly to sweeten with. It's been a huge adjustment, but there are many ailments my son used to have that are no longer such an issue. Another thing I've learned is that heavy metal toxicity can cause a lot of these ailments, such as headaches. A young child's mother wrote a testimonial about how the nutritionist I see had helped her daughter, who I believe was 5, get rid of constant headaches. The nutritionist found mercury in the girl's system. After detoxing from it, the mother reported that her daughter told her one day, "no more headaches." I don't know if blood testing is an accurate way to measure mercury, but I know he informed me it was an accurate way to check for lead poisoning, so I imagaine it might me the same for mercury levels. The vaccines that our children get, including vaccines many adults get like the "flu vaccine" contain mercury. So, it's possible to have high levels without realizing it. I hope this helps. I understand the pain of watching your child suffer and feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next.

Posted by: BeccaLynn | February 29, 2012 1:17 PM    Report this comment

Thank you so much C E L for sharing your very moving story. Im so happy you are feeling well now. It's maddening to seek a doctors help and them brush it off to a psych/mental health issue. Ive been running into that for a long time now and it's so frustrating. I'll not give up. Ive used the help of counselors primarily for my daughter to deal with the constant stomach pain ( and allergies to so many foods her friends eat) , but it's not "my cure" for her pains.... It is sometimes like finding a needle in a haystack....

Posted by: Unknown | February 25, 2012 4:30 PM    Report this comment

I was diagnosed as gluten intolerant the year I turned 50. I suffered with symptoms since the age of 2, just after "table food" was introduced to my diet. First was bronchitis 2-4 times a year then chronic stomach pain, grade school through highschool(It probably didn't help that I grew up in the wheat fields of Kansas). I was always being told to be quite, calm down, relax(There was no ADHD back then, you were just annoying). In my 20's I began to have a skin rash that itched, burned & peeled on my hands & feet. The abdominal pain became so severe, I was treated like a "psych case" for my constant complaining. I was given many antidepressants & antianxiety meds. Finally I underwent an exploratory laparotomy, twice, with a complimentary hysterectomy the second time(at only 28). I was told "this should cure your abdominal pain". Of course it didn't. I'd already been through the money makers for the Doc's: colonoscopy, barium swallows, barium enemas, 2 surgeries and of course it was so aggravating, depressing & I felt, futile. I thought I would just die & no one would ever figure out what was "wrong with me". The symptoms continued. In my 40's the symptoms became worse and in addition, my joints began swelling and aching. In 1998 my colon just shut down and I spent four nights in the hospital with no bowel sounds. I couldn't eat for so long, my hair was falling out. I then had an EGD (esophago-gastro-duodenoscopy), but that Dr. didn't do a biopsy to test for celiacs????, and another barium study, CAT scan and IVP(intravenous pylorogram). Finally I saw a holistic Dr. who diagnosed me on the first visit, just by listening to my story. I was so emotional & relieved I just bawled like a baby. After only 4 days off gluten I could tell a difference. To this day there are Dr's who don't believe I am gluten intolerant, but that is OK because I will never eat gluten on purpose again & hope I won't be making their house payments for them any more. I am a nurse and I work in an endoscopy clinic with gastrointerologists. I see people every day with my symptoms. I could lose my job if I relate my story in order to help them help themselves. A few years ago a GI doc wanted to do ANOTHER EGD to get a "medical diagnosis". I declined saying, "avoiding gluten is my cure weather I have a medical diagnosis or not, why would I put myself through that again"? He sent me a letter saying he would no longer see me! Little did he know...he was already fired! The moral of the story is...don't give up! You can feel good again. Follow your instincts and find a Dr. who is REALLY interested in curing you, not just treating the symptoms!

Posted by: C E L | February 25, 2012 3:13 PM    Report this comment

My daughter was diagnosed with CD after a general failure to thrive and continuous stomach aches.... Now 5 years later I am battling another round of continuous stomach aches and headaches. ( Despite her GF diet) My pediatrician and peds GI say its anxiety disorder. I have brought her to see an allergist who has uncovered some new allergies, including shell fish, peanut, tree nut and soy..... Dairy was tested for and was negative. For those of you that gave up the dairy.... was it tested for and did you have a positive allergic blood test? Did any of you give it up ( Without a pos. blood test.) just to see if your sypmtoms subsided? This article was an interesting one for me, ( I wish there was more to it tho!) alternatively is it possible to have the anxiety even after the diagnosis of CD and then being on a GF diet?? At least thats what my doctors are telling me.... Im not so convinced its anxiety. I have started mental health counseling for her in hopes that it will help allieviate her constant stomach aches and headaches... At this point Im wondering if I should remove yet more foods to see if symptoms clear up? How long for all of you did your symptoms subside after you gave up the diary? Future good health to you all.

Posted by: Unknown | February 23, 2012 7:47 PM    Report this comment

When my son was 5 years old, he was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disfunction. UCSF gave the diagnosis then told me it was just how my son was wired and there was nothing to be done but a few therapies. They sent me away and suggested I join a support group. My son was not coping with school or in any social or chaotic environment, battled diarrea, was very skinny and had no muscle tone. His amazing pediatrician has an autistic son and, based on his experience, tested my son for gluten intolerance, which is different than celiac. Anyway, his results showed not only gluten intolerance, but dairy as well, a huge overgrowth of yeast and heavy metal toxicity. This story has a very happy ending. After treating the yeast and removing the gluten and dairy, my son made a dramatic turnaround. It took several years because he missed out on some critical development when he was younger because he was in a gluten/dairy/yeast mental haze. Now I'm so proud to say he's a freshman in college, very independent, happy, and successful. He never had to take a single drug.

Posted by: Lisa F | February 20, 2012 12:23 PM    Report this comment

This summer our seven year old daughter was evaluated for possible Asberger's or mild Autism. During an extensive evaluation, she was actually diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder and Sensory-Integration Disorder. At the same appointment, the doctors raised concerns regarding her lack of growth. They ordered blood tests, which were positive for Celiac Disease. This was followed by a biopsy which showed that she had severe Celiac Disease. We've now been fully gluten free for a full three months, and we can already see a dramatic improvement in her behavior, concentration, and ability to communicate with others. She now makes eye-contact with people and holds "normal" conversations. She spends much less time in her dream world, and has shown remarkable academic growth. I would like to see more research done regarding the connection between Celiac Disease, behavior, and cognition/mental health. I can attest to the obvious correlation between this disease and mental health issues, but would like some reliable research done to show that these conditions are definitely connected.

Posted by: mountainmom | February 19, 2012 10:17 PM    Report this comment

First and foremost, thank you for the enlightening article on anxiety in corelation with celiac disease. I was diagnosed almost two years ago by an endoscopy. The results indicated that I do, indeed, have celiac disease; however, the blood tests that were done following tested negative. I had heard that the blood tests could show up as false negatives--which they did. I have been 'trying' to go completely gluten-free which has been rather difficult since my husband and I eat out a lot and it is almost impossible to be sure of what you are ingesting until after you have eaten. I realize, now, that it is an all-or-nothing choice; and, there is no middle of the road for celiac disease. I have suffered from anxiety for years which explains a lot now that I realize I suffer from celiac disease. Also, I have been experiencing visual disturbances for well over six months and have an appointment with an opthalmalogist--this article has set me straight on a lot of issues. I need to take this very serious! There is no half-way mark. It has, and will be, an all-out cleansing of gluten from my diet! Thank you Alicia Woodward for presenting the truth.

Posted by: JeannieK | February 19, 2012 6:45 PM    Report this comment

I refused the prescription drugs offered by my doctor for my anxiety issues. Because of my grandson's food allergies, all the research we'd done, and the Living Without articles on emotional/nerve involvement, I decided to go off wheat/gluten 16 months ago. Two months later I gave up dairy. I am depression and anxiety free, unless I have cross-contamination issues. In addition, my muscles no longer bother me, my skin is not as tender, my hearing not so sensitive, etc, etc. If I had known 30 years ago! I now encourage anyone I encounter with ongoing health issues to at least consider and research possible gluten and/or dairy issues. The food may not be the cause but it certainly can aggravate.

Posted by: leann g | February 16, 2012 7:14 PM    Report this comment

Great Topic! I was thrilled to read that I was not alone but saddened that so many suffer from food related anxiety. before being diagnosed with gluten and dairy intoleterane I suddenly began having insomnia, panic attacks and vertigo. I simply could not imagine how or why my life had come to this. I had come through so many challenging things in my life to suddenly be derailed by this and have no reason for the onset was emotionally devastating. it was a naturopath that suggested I remove the gluten and dairy and amazingly within weeks my symptoms started to fade away, along with ibs , migraines, photosenitivity . For the first time in awhile things made sense. Eating a gluten dairy free life is not without it's frustrations, eating out, family gatherings etc. but I could never turn the clock back. After sitting in a psychiatrist office chair being offered benzodiazepines, sleeping medicine antidepressants I can say there are many more advantages to living without then living a life filled with pain and fear. I wish you all the healthiest gut and mental wellness

Posted by: Unknown | February 16, 2012 6:11 PM    Report this comment

My 9 year old daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease nearly two years ago. She did not have "classic" symptoms. She suffered with migraine headaches, anxiety,and had an inability to focus in school. The migraines were so bad she was having visual disturbances and lost her peripheral vision. She was anxious with school, her teacher, had seperation issues, etc. Regarding her migraines, she underwent CT/MRI scans and thorough visual eye exams...all coming back normal. She underwent physical therapy thinking the migraines were due to tight neck muscles. Finally, after nothing was having an effect, we were prepared to go down the mental health road - assuming the migraines and anxiety had to do with stress, depression, etc. Until her doctor noted the constant complaint of a "pain in her stomach" as well (first presumed to be due to anxiety and stress with the migraines) and ordered blood work for anything that caused "abdominal pain" The celiac panel was one of those tests. Her panel came back positive and she underwent a small bowel biopsy that sealed the deal. She was confirmed to have celiac disease. At her year mark of being gluten free, a huge noticable difference was noticed! She no longer had migraines and didn't complain of vague headaches and stomach pains. Her anxiety has significantly decreased and is now focusing and thriving in school! So, yes, don't underestimate the way celiac disease can manifest itself!

Posted by: susan c | February 16, 2012 5:19 PM    Report this comment

Being on the GF/CF diet is life changing for myself - my two daughters are also on it. I would think if I was a child now I would have been diagnosed as either high functioning Autistic or Aspergers. If you had met me pre "diet" you would know why - now I just have social "quirks" but it is harder to see. My anxiety is barable now, I can answer the phone most days, I sleep better, have less headaches. My stomach does not hurt daily - I will NEVER eat gluten again - my oldest who is diagnosed Autistic- I hope will never eat Gluten or Casein in her life, and my youngest has major gut issues that are helped profondly on this diet. Life changing. On so many levels. We eat well to, so many people say "oh poor you, your poor kids" but we eat well, whole grains, lots of fruits and veggies, we can eat out, we live a good food life ;)

Posted by: Tracy T | February 16, 2012 12:59 PM    Report this comment

I was off work 3 years with depression, anxiety, migraines and IBS. I was being treated by antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Each drug I tried made it worse and I could not take them. I also don't believe that prescription drugs are the answer so I never gave them more than a few days. I was trying natural methods. I was NEVER a person who had anxiety issues. Some sadness but who doesn't?

My Psychiatrist finally was ready to give up when he did some research and found in one of his large medical books that celiac disease can cause these issues. I'd had bowel and stomach issues my entire life and food reactions as a child. I went on the glutenfreeda diet and was back to work in 6 months! In 3 months I was recovered enough to start a new job search and do interviews. My anxiety had gotten so great I had to shop late at night when I would not see many people. I could not leave my house. I am a person who ran my own business in the past and got a college degree with 3 kids at home. I had a high profile IT job.

I want to share my story because I hope others might have the miraculous recovery I did. The blood tests for celiac came back negative but since removing gluten had such great results it didn't matter.

I hope this may help someone else who feels anxious or depressed to get the natural help they need and to live life fully as I now can. Blessings to you all!

Posted by: Verena | February 16, 2012 12:36 PM    Report this comment

Very interesting and thanks for writing about this. My daughter was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder 3 years after being diagnosed with Celiac disease. However, she suffered from anxiety and rare panic attacks years before being diagnosed with Celiac disease. We've suspected a link and are grateful to see this being written about as it took two years to diagnose her anxiety disorder. In addition to using the techniques above we have incorporated GABA amino acid into her daily supplement regime and this has helped her tremendously.

I hope this finds others as it took us a long time to get to the root of her problem.

Many thanks. Lee, Ontario, Canada

Posted by: Loverton | February 16, 2012 10:50 AM    Report this comment

My husband and I have just started a Gluten free diet also dairy free. We have only been on it for two weeks now. I have lost 3 pounds and my husband lost 4 pounds. Although the goal is for us to loose weight, we wanted to feel better.Two days a week we see a wellness doctor and keep track of how we are doing. He suggested not only to keep up with what we are doing but also suggested we look into a non-Nightshade diet. So we have also started that 2 weeks into the other. I know it will take time as we have been eating whea,t eating and drinking dairy and eating Nightshade vegetables all our life. We thought that was the healthy think to do. I can honestly say we both sleep better. It's too early to tell about less arthritis pain or that fogginess one gets. I can say for myself, I have not had a Migraine for 2 weeks. I did have a headache (really bad) due to eating my favorite food, green Peppers and hot sauce (nightshade). Also a couple of sinus headaches, but no Migraines and no medication for them. Yea! My husband and I agreed to do this for 4 weeks and see if there is a difference. I want to extend this into summer to get the full benefit. Wish us luck!

Posted by: Northwestlife | February 16, 2012 10:35 AM    Report this comment

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