Gluten could be affecting your mood

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

A study has shown that gluten is capable of causing depression in some people without coeliac disease and without a wheat allergy. Some patients with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity experience digestive symptoms when they eat gluten. For other people, their mood is adversely affected.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition that can cause severe destruction to the small intestine, with potentially devastating consequences. Coeliac disease is becoming increasingly prevalent, and better diagnosed; therefore a lot more people are following a gluten free diet.

Many of the people who follow a gluten free diet don’t have coeliac disease though. They just feel better when they don’t eat gluten.

Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is a controversial term, as some researchers believe it doesn’t exist. Recently though, it has been identified that some people truly feel unwell when they eat gluten, and it’s not caused by wheat allergy or FODMAP sensitivity.

In May 2014, a study was published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics titled “Gluten May Cause Depression in Subjects with Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity”. The study was led by Dr. Simone Peters. 22 people participated in the study and the researchers observed a marked rise in depression in the individuals consuming gluten.

This is significant. Depression is an extremely common condition that greatly reduces quality of life, productivity and life potential. Depression can also raise the risk of other health problems because depressed people often don’t take good care of themselves. They are more likely to eat poorly, drink too much and smoke cigarettes. Not everyone responds well to prescription antidepressants, and they can have very unpleasant side effects, leading a lot of people to discontinue their use.

The researchers came up with several hypotheses as to why gluten promotes depression in some people:

  • Eating gluten can reduce the amount of serotonin in the brain. This has been shown to occur in animal studies. Lower levels of serotonin are correlated with lower mood.
  • The breakdown components of gluten can act as “exorphins” in the brain. Similar to endorphins (produced inside the body). Exorphins can temporarily raise mood and then later promote feelings of depression.
  • Gluten may modify the composition of bacteria that lives in the gastrointestinal tract in a way that promotes dysbiosis. That is, it can skew the balance between good and bad gut bugs. Certainly a great deal of research has already shown there is a strong relationship between the intestinal microbiome and mental health. For some people, removing gluten from the diet alters the microbiome in a way that promotes better mood and emotional health.

It is also important to remember that if a person reacts negatively to gluten, it is increasing the level of inflammation in their body. Elevated inflammation is strongly correlated with low mood, anxiety and brain fog.

If you wish to exclude gluten from your diet, we recommend you base your diet on inherently gluten free foods, such as unprocessed, natural foods including vegetables, fruit, poultry, eggs, seafood, meat, nuts, legumes and gluten free grains such as rice. The majority of gluten free packaged foods are high in sugar, industrial seed oil and artificial additives, which can negate the benefits of a gluten free diet and promote weight gain. It is not difficult to achieve a healthy, balanced gluten free diet if you include a variety of natural foods each day.

Selenium has a natural anti-inflammatory effect. It is found in some foods such as Brazil nuts, seafood and red meat, or can be taken as a supplement.

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