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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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    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.

    You know, it could be that you're REALLY sensitive to gluten and you're consuming "gluten-free" grain products which is a misleading term for grain products because a food made from oats, for instance, and labeled “gluten-free†must contain less than 20 ppm gluten.

    Maybe you could try cutting grains out all together?

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    Thank you for posting this article. I am fairly new to all of this. I have had seasonal allergies all my life. This past fall I attempted to go vegetarian and had increased my wheat consumption with it. I Within two weeks of no meat I was having severe stomach issues. Nothing was ever found.. Sonograms and doctors visits. I just happened to cut out all pasta, bread and sweets and within a few weeks my stomach was better.

     

    More important to note before the stomach issues happened...I had started having dizziness and anxiety. Never have I had this

    Problem. My doctor did not link this to my stomach. Not only dis my stomach heal but my mood began improving within a few months of just about no gluten. One of my doctors told me to start eating normally. I went for it.... Within 5 days of cereal and 4-5 servings of bread I had the side discomfort and my brain fog had come back. I did have the blood panel done.. And was tested for vitamin deficiencies as I am also positive for Vitamin d deficiency. I don't care so much about the blood panel at this point. I want to know about deficiency. I went back gluten free 2 days ago an am not going back.

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    Thank you for posting this article. I am fairly new to all of this. I have had seasonal allergies all my life. This past fall I attempted to go vegetarian and had increased my wheat consumption with it. I Within two weeks of no meat I was having severe stomach issues. Nothing was ever found.. Sonograms and doctors visits. I just happened to cut out all pasta, bread and sweets and within a few weeks my stomach was better.

     

    More important to note before the stomach issues happened...I had started having dizziness and anxiety. Never have I had this

    Problem. My doctor did not link this to my stomach. Not only dis my stomach heal but my mood began improving within a few months of just about no gluten. One of my doctors told me to start eating normally. I went for it.... Within 5 days of cereal and 4-5 servings of bread I had the side discomfort and my brain fog had come back. I did have the blood panel done.. And was tested for vitamin deficiencies as I am also positive for Vitamin d deficiency. I don't care so much about the blood panel at this point. I want to know about deficiency. I went back gluten free 2 days ago an am not going back.

    I took a month Jan 1 to 31 to go gluten free. No sugar,no grains except rice no juice, no coffee, no tea, no bread. Only chicken and turkey. I hated the diet I needed bread. I needed pasta. I was so glad at the end of the month to return to my real world of Pasta bread and anything but foul.

    I found within a few days a new freedom. My brain fog lifted.I was able to do what I wanted to do without that little voice in my head that said NO!

    Still with all of that I started good news I returned to my pasta and my bread and within a short time I was lost in a world of second guessing every thing I did.

    Could it be true ? Could I have such a reaction ? I sleep at the top of waking, can't sleep , I am nervous irritable, can't make a decision without second guessing it.

    So now I will give up the Pasta and the bread and the snacks. I hate gluten free anything! the gluten bread is horrible, the pasta is no better than the bread.

    I need to mention here that I have never had a weight problem, and never have I eaten anything I didn't like.

    Still I will do it. I can't live with such depression and anxiety. Also I have always had digestion problems, always.

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    Hi I just want to you to know that I'm suffering from anxiety and depression from my teenage years and now I'm fed-up with this. My mother and sisters have the same problem . Some times I feel my life has no worth, feel so low and little tasks seem so big. I'm desperately wanted to know what are the reasons behind this anxiety. I want to be free from this. After reading this article should I immediately go for the gluten-free diet? I'm not a celiac patient but am gluten intolerant, but I would love to go for this diet if it prevents me from this anxiety permanently. Please help me and my family.

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    Thank you for the article. It was a video that you posted, that changed our lives, and saved my son's life. He became severely depressed, and what an up hill battle it was , as all the doctors, psychiatrist, counselors, would not believe, that gluten was the issue. They would share, give him comfort food, yet that food was the culprit. After seeing your video, that yes, gluten can trigger depression, we went gluten free 100 percent, the behaviors stopped. We met with a functional doctor and he is helping with overgrowth of yeast, as well. The doctor we see, actually told, us, I didn't believe you, as we went back each month, and he could see the change. We are still healing the gut, and any exposure to gluten, brings it all back. Keep posting, and including research, as I can then bring it to my doctor to share. Thank you, for the articles and video. It was validating, and helped me be an advocate for my teen. Thank you

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    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.

    Steven, thank you for your comment. I have a 10 year old son who was diagnosed with celiac at age 5. His diet is perfect and within the past year he has shown serious signs of depression. I have been so concerned because many people say that eating gluten-free will cure depression. I have wondered why it is not working for my boy. Thank you for your comment. I am taking him to see a psychologist this week and am praying that he can help my son.

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    Steven, thank you for your comment. I have a 10 year old son who was diagnosed with celiac at age 5. His diet is perfect and within the past year he has shown serious signs of depression. I have been so concerned because many people say that eating gluten-free will cure depression. I have wondered why it is not working for my boy. Thank you for your comment. I am taking him to see a psychologist this week and am praying that he can help my son.

    Depression can have a number of causes besides gluten, and seeking medical help is a good idea in your case. Also consider other food intolerance issues like dairy, corn, soy, etc., and make sure that his diet is 100% gluten free.

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    I found the scientific information in this article quite helpful, am I'm thrilled to hear that a gluten free diet has helped people with depression. However, the "one size fits all" perspective bothers me. Depression is a complex condition and no one solution works everyone.

     

    Antidepressants, especially SSRIs, are not nearly as dangerous as this article makes out, though all medications present risks and patients should discuss these with their primary care doctors.

     

    People who have had bad experienced tend to talk about it more than people who have had good experiences, like me. I can honestly say Prozac saved my life and my sanity. For those who haven't experienced full relief from therapy or dietary changes, I'd recommend it.

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    I know too well how gluten effects the body and mind. After years of doctors' BS, I tested positive for gluten sensitivity and went on a gluten free diet, which helped a little. One day my wife said did you know (beer) has wheat, rye, barley all gluten. After a week or so of no beer, I noticed I was feeling better, my wife said I looked better and its been getting better everyday. PS mercury fillings are big reason for a lot of illness, I had mine replaced and what a difference.

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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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