When gluten wreaks havoc on your immune system, it may also wreak havoc on your psychological and emotional state. How exactly might gluten cause such a response in people intolerant to it?
Just the stress of learning you have gluten intolerance and must subscribe to a strict gluten-free diet can feel overwhelming. Gluten is pervasive in the western diet and you must completely eliminate it from your diet to recover your health (there is no acceptable thing as “almost” gluten-free).
In addition, people who are newly diagnosed with some form of gluten sensitivity often have endured unexplained pain and suffering for some time before being properly diagnosed.
Thus just adapting to a gluten-free lifestyle can be associated with a degree of chronic stress. This stress triggers elevated stress hormones like cortisol along with suppressed neurotransmitters that provide positive feelings like serotonin and dopamine.
Several nutrient deficiencies may cause symptoms similar to depression symptoms. When gluten damages the villi along the lining of your small intestine, you are less able to absorb nutrients from the food you eat. In particular folic acid, tryptophan, iron and magnesium deficiencies are all common in people with untreated celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Deficiencies in each of these nutrients can lead to symptoms resembling depression, so imagine if you were deficient in all of them, which is quite possible if you discover you are intolerant to gluten and you have not been on a gluten-free diet.
In many cases, these deficiencies don’t directly cause depression. Instead they cause other conditions with similar effects on your mood and energy as depression. For example, an iron deficiency can lead to anemia, and anemia may manifest as fatigue, anxiety and irritability.
It might help you to understand that when you are intolerant to gluten, certain antibodies attack the lining of your small intestine causing a reaction somewhat like a sunburn. Over time, the walls of your intestine become damaged and inflamed.
Several studies suggest that an imbalance of cytokines, inflammatory proteins related to your body’s immune response, may cause several changes related to depression symptoms. Some of these changes are direct behavioral changes and others are related to abnormal thyroid hormone fluctuations.
Additionally, gluten antibodies may cause inflammation throughout your body, not just in your intestines. Inflammation may impact your nervous system directly, potentially triggering anxiety or a depressive state.
You can see there are many ways gluten intolerance may trigger feelings similar to depressed feelings. However, I prefer we focus on the positive consequences of discovering our gluten sensitivity and implementing a healthy gluten-free diet.
If you have celiac disease, a wheat allergy or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, your new healthy lifestyle free of gluten will soon bring you more energy and well-being than you’ve experienced in years.