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  • Dr. Vikki Petersen D.C, C.C.N

    Gluten Sensitivity and Depression

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    This article originally appeared in the Spring 2009 edition of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.

    Celiac.com 03/02/2009 - Patients with depression are told they have a chemical imbalance.  If someone else in their family is also depressed, the “gene card” is played.  “Your depression is genetic”, they are told.

    I have been in practice for over 20 years and I find the above data to be false.  Consistently we find patients who are suffering from depression and anxiety to be gluten sensitive. How could a food cause depression?  Let’s take a look.

    After the digestive tract, the most commonly affected system to be affected by gluten is the nervous system. It is thought that depression can be caused by gluten in one of two ways.  

    The first area addresses the inflammatory changes gluten can cause. A gluten sensitive individual’s immune system responds to the protein gliadin.  Unfortunately, that protein is similar in structure to other proteins present in the body, including those of the brain and nerve cells. A cross reactivity can occur whereby the immune system “confuses” proteins in the body for the protein gliadin.  This is called cellular mimicry and the result is the body attacking it’s own tissues with inflammation resulting. When inflammation happens in the brain and nervous system, a variety of symptoms can occur, including depression. Research shows us that patients with symptoms involving the nervous system suffer from digestive problems only 13% of the time.  This is significant because mainstream medicine equates gluten sensitivity almost exclusively with digestive complaints.

    In a study examining blood flow to the brain, 15 patients with untreated celiac disease were compared to 15 patients treated with a gluten-free diet for a year.  The findings were amazing. In the untreated group, 73% had abnormalities in brain circulation by testing while only 7% in the treated group showed any abnormalities. The patients with the brain circulation problems were frequently suffering from anxiety and depression as well.

    In addition to circulation problems, other research looks at the association between gluten sensitivity and its interference with protein absorption.  Specifically the amino acid tryptophan can be deficient. Tryptophan is a protein in the brain responsible for a feeling of well-being and relaxation. A deficiency can be correlated to feelings of depression and anxiety.

    Our society is too willing to accept a “chemical imbalance” as an explanation for their symptoms and instead of getting to the root cause of the condition, simply swallow a pill – a pill that in the case of anti-depressants has very dangerous and sometimes lethal side effects.

    The frequency with which we are able to successfully taper patients off their anti-depressants is considered “unbelievable” to many mainstream doctors, yet we do it regularly.  How is that possible?  We actually diagnose the root cause of the depression.  Frequently the culprit is gluten, and in such cases a gluten-free diet is the main path to recovery.


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    Guest Dr Vikki Petersen

    Posted

    I have suffered tremendously for two years now with severe anxiety and depression. I lost everything i.e house, career, credit rating and my mind. Just got diagnosed GS last week and was so relieved by articles like this one! I know going gluten free is tough, but I am willing to do anything to improve my mental/emotional health.

    I'm so glad that you got diagnosed Jim. Hang in there. Going gluten-free is totally worth it.

    Let me know how you're doing and if you need anything.

    Best,

    Dr Vikki Petersen

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    Guest Dr Vikki Petersen

    Posted

    I read about the link about gluten and depression. I ate a gluten-free diet and within two days my depression was gone. I had no physical symptoms of a gluten sensitivity. A food allergy test did not show up gluten as a problem and I am not celiac. I am so relieved!

    That's great Monica. It is truly miraculous sometimes the speed with which the inflammation of the nervous system will abate when gluten is removed.

     

    I just wish more people knew of the association.

     

    Best,

    Dr Vikki Petersen

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    Guest M. Boogaart, ND, FNP-BC

    Posted

    As a Family Nurse Practitioner for 13 years with quite a bit of psychiatric experience, I agree that depression may in some cases be related to celiac disease. But it is important to remember that there are usually a significant combination of causes that lead to mood disorders, such a nutritional deficiencies, as well as life events and stressors, and genetics. Not all depressed/anxious patients have celiac disease as you suggest in you article. I would not be too quick to write off the role of genetic pre-disposition as a contributing factor to mood disorders- you also suggest this is "false data". Where is the data?

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    Guest Steven Sommerfeld D.D.S.

    Posted

    I agree with the last comment, my son is 12 and diagnosed with celiac disease 4 1/2 years ago. He also suffers from depression and anxiety. Some of the symptoms of depression did seem to change for the positive when switching to gluten free, but the diet was not the only answer. He takes medication now, which has made a world of difference, so the effectiveness and need of these medications cannot be discounted, if anything, we feel like we waited to long before starting him on it (the meds). So I feel it is reasonable to incorporate medication as well as a gluten free diet to minimize the effects of celiac disease and associated depression. He also works with a psychotherapist who gives him methods of dealing with the depression and anxiety.

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    I was recently diagnosed with gluten/sprue allergy.I knew there had to be a reason for years of anxiety and depression and so many other problems.I cant wait to start this journey of gluten free to feel better. Thank You!

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    I have had digestive problems since birth and was diagnosed with depression at age 14. I began taking anti-depressants while in college around age 20 and am now 29. After years of declining health, I went through blood and stool testing and which identified my genetic predisposition to celiac/gluten sensitivity and other food intolerance's (I carry DQ8 and DQ6 genes). Four months ago I began a gluten-free, casein free, soy free, egg free, and nightshade free diet and in that time my quality of life has improved dramatically. In fact, at my last doctor's appointment I was able to cut my depression medications in half and I may be able to get off of them completely in the next year. While I can't guarantee I'll be able to quit the medications, I've definitely seen an improvement beyond what medication alone could achieve and that is a godsend!

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    My 22 year old son was diagnosed last year with celiac disease but we never knew that his anxiety, depression, ADHD, mood swings and anger were all intertwined with gluten intolerance. After a year being gluten-free you would never know he was the same person - amazing. Thank you for such an educational article.

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    To answer Laura's request to be able to read the study I quoted in the above article, here it is:

    G. Addolorado, 'Regional Cerebral Hypoperfusion in Patients with Celiac Disease,' The American Journal Of Medicine 116 (2004):312-7.

    The data truly is amazing. Enjoy!

     

    To your good health,

    Dr Vikki Petersen

    Dr. Petersen...I do not have celiac disease, but I have a gluten intolerance and I don't know why this link isn't spoken about. Sugar also factors in and taking Seroquel you crave the gluten. It is a horrible circle. I live with an 85 year old mother that eats gluten and has depression. I am finding it impossible to stay off wheat while it is in the house. It is like alcohol. I have found an anti-imflamation supplement that is gastly in taste. I have had great success in the past and then horrible failure and I don't know how people stay on the wagon.

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    As a Family Nurse Practitioner for 13 years with quite a bit of psychiatric experience, I agree that depression may in some cases be related to celiac disease. But it is important to remember that there are usually a significant combination of causes that lead to mood disorders, such a nutritional deficiencies, as well as life events and stressors, and genetics. Not all depressed/anxious patients have celiac disease as you suggest in you article. I would not be too quick to write off the role of genetic pre-disposition as a contributing factor to mood disorders- you also suggest this is "false data". Where is the data?

    I certainly agree with M. Boogaart causes of mood disorders can include nutritional deficiencies and genetics. I would also like to point out that gluten sensitivities (especially celiac) are genetic (the 'gene card' could still be genes - but for gluten sensitivities) and can cause nutritional deficiencies (antibodies killing off the villi in the small intestine, which are what absorbs nutrients). As for life events and stressors, they can be a factor of the mood, but they don't contribute to mood disorders, even if they manifest them.

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    I was off of gluten for about 3 months and didn't realize how my depression had just gone away. Because I started the testing process with my doctor, I started eating gluten again and Oh dear... did it all come back with a vengeance. I find myself going to sleep crying, waking up crying, overreacting about everything, beating myself up over being such a mess to the point I start it all over again. I am having my endoscopy in just less than a month and I'm counting the days. I feel desperate to give up the gluten, yet want the tests to be accurate. It seems so crazy that my GI doc said he couldn't help with the depression, only the digestive issues. So many specialists just don't understand, but I know this is true... and so does my family! May God truly bless them for being so patient with me!

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    This is very intersting. I have been off gluten and dairy for about 3 months now but don't feel any better, and maybe feel worse. I am wondering how long it would be before one would know if this kind of diet is helpful for mental health disorders.

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    I was off of gluten for about 3 months and didn't realize how my depression had just gone away. Because I started the testing process with my doctor, I started eating gluten again and Oh dear... did it all come back with a vengeance. I find myself going to sleep crying, waking up crying, overreacting about everything, beating myself up over being such a mess to the point I start it all over again. I am having my endoscopy in just less than a month and I'm counting the days. I feel desperate to give up the gluten, yet want the tests to be accurate. It seems so crazy that my GI doc said he couldn't help with the depression, only the digestive issues. So many specialists just don't understand, but I know this is true... and so does my family! May God truly bless them for being so patient with me!

    curtisbedowin , I wouldn't wait for a medical test, accurate or not it might not be useful. Just go gluten free right away & see how your life changes.

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  • About Me

    Dr. Vikki Petersen, a Chiropractor and Certified Clinical Nutritionist is co-founder and co-director, of the renowned HealthNow Medical Center in Sunnyvale, California. Acclaimed author of a new book, "The Gluten Effect" - celebrated by leading experts as an epic leap forward in gluten sensitivity diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Vikki is acknowledged as a pioneer in advances to identify and treat gluten sensitivity. The HealthNOW Medical Center uses a multi-disciplined approach to addressing complex health problems. It combines the best of internal medicine, clinical nutrition, chiropractic and physical therapy to identify the root cause of a patient's health condition and provide patient-specific wellness solutions. Her Web site is:
    www.healthnowmedical.com

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