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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Higher Depression Risk in Women with Celiac Disease

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 01/09/2012 - Women with celiac disease face a higher risk for depression than the general population, even once they have adopted a gluten-free diet, according to U.S. researchers.

    Photo: CC-Edmund GermanA team of researchers recently used a Web-mediated survey to assess a range of physical, behavioral and emotional experiences in 177 U.S. adult women, who reported a physician-provided diagnosis of celiac disease.

    The team was led by Josh Smyth, professor of biobehavioral health and medicine at Pennsylvania State University, and included members from  Syracuse University and Drexel University.

    The survey gathered information about how closely people follow a gluten-free diet and assessed various symptoms of celiac disease from physical symptoms to the respondents' experience and management of stressful situations, along with charting symptoms of clinical depression and frequency of thoughts and behaviors associated with eating and body image.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, many women with celiac disease suffer from disordered eating, given that the management of celiac disease requires careful attention to diet and food, Smyth said.

    "What we don't know is what leads to what and under what circumstances," Smyth said. "It's likely that the disease, stress, weight, shape and eating issues, and depression are interconnected."

    The findings are forthcoming in the journal of Chronic Illness.

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    Geez, 177 women with celiac answered a survey online, now that means that we all are probably mentally ill and have an eating disorder. I'll just bet there is a drug that will fix us right up, and then we will be just peachy-keen again. I can imagine the drug companies are jumping for joy, at the prospect of a whole new market for their pills. There needs to be a questionnaire given to men, too. Don't want to leave any potential customers out. It is hard enough for people with celiac or food allergies to be taken seriously by people who don't have them. This rinky-dink research will make it harder for women with Celiac to deal with people who will now believe that we are mentally off the beam, and have an eating disorder. Thanks for nothing. A survey with so few people can not accurately reflect the rest of us who have Celiac. This kind of thing causes more harm to those of us who live with a disease that can only be controlled by avoiding foods that contain gluten. That is NOT an eating disorder. It is a medical treatment. I have Celiac, I eat good food that is free of all gluten, and I am not depressed about it.

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    @ Donnie - well said! I concur! Frankly, I feel incredibly lucky to have been dealt a disease that just requires that I eat unprocessed foods for the rest of my life. Doing so, however, does not make me a "disordered eater".

     

    I would really caution the celiac community to monitor its language or, as other advocacy communities have done (animal welfare, for example), develop new terms without old associations. Restrictive diets do not a depressed individual, anorexic, bulimic, or disordered eater make! As my physician told me early in my diagnosis as a celiac, soy and casein intolerant: "we do not live in a third world country. you're going to be fine - there are plenty of choices, all more healthful than the average American eater consumes."

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    Actually, I agree with Donnie. I have noticed that since I have been on my gluten-free diet, I no longer have regular bouts of depression. I have been gluten-free for nearly 2 years.

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    What an offensive bit of "research." "Unsurprisingly" women with celiac have disordered eating? What's their definition of "disordered eating"? Because we avoid gluten? What garbage. What is depressing is when nonsense like this is taken up by the press. We struggle so much to educate people and be taken seriously. Now, not only will people think we are food faddists, but we'll also be portrayed as depressives with an eating disorder. And, of course, it's always women with the problem.

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    Studies that involve answering a web survey?

    First off there aren't enough women in the study.

    Sounds like they knew what findings they wanted, and "rather unsurprisingly" got those results.

     

    Personally I do become very sad occasionally when I can't eat treats my family is eating, or when there is a special thing at work where there is nothing I can eat. I get all "Tonya Harding." But I was a crybaby before this all hit me!

     

    Let's have some real studies, looking at the whole person, man and woman.

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    Any information related to celiac disease is useful information in my opinion. I have been a diagnosed celiac for 9 months and can attest to the fact that it CAN be depressing at times. The life style change, the on and off pain/nausea, and the dietary restrictions do affect me. I was warned by a dear friend (who is also a celiac) that the first 2 years are exhausting. After that, according to her, your lifestyle will be easier to cope with. Some weeks I feel completely empowered and emboldened. Some weeks I feel exhausted which can lead to feeling of depression and anxiety. I was informed that people with celiac disease often have depression and anxiety and had assumed that when I went gluten-free that I would be free of said feelings. I was wrong. But coping with the disease and constantly learning more about it makes me feel informed and happier.

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    Yes, Dr Theron Randolph's Alternative Approach to Allergies, arguably the best medical book ever written, integrates chronic illness into a sine wave, 'the Manic-Depressive' cycle, powered by addiction with its accompanying remission of symptoms when gluten is eaten once a week or more, and symptoms when the effects of gluten wear off. The depression is a -3 symptom on the scale, as painful syndromes like headache and arthritis are -2, and localized allergies like hay fever and asthma are -1. So, folks avoiding gluten and in recovery might deal with the effects of depression as part of it, and disordered eating might exacerbate it. As Hippocrates said, some people become I'll when their diet is changed'

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    I just wanted to add that I thought that this was an interesting article. I recently was thinking about what it means to go gluten free because its beyond just changing what you eat however, that's how it is treated. There is a physical and psychological aspect to it that gets over looked and ignored to some degree. When I went gluten free I was very upset about the foods I was going to have to give up not only because they were "good" but the emotions associated with them. I think a lot of people(men and women) unconsciously have an emotional relationship with food that isn't really brought to light until you have to drastically change what you eat.

     

    I know that it might sound crazy but everyone has at least one food that is either tied to a childhood memory, or a holiday tradition. Often times we use food to comfort us so it would make sense that people who go gluten free do experience some sort of emotional stress or depression at some point. I don't think this is a far fetched study or unreasonable. I find it rather interesting.

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    I think this article is fair comment. What can happen is that some of us on gluten-free diets can still find themselves lacking in vitamins and minerals resulting in low mood, etc. I myself am taking iron and folic acid supplements in spite of a healthy diet.

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    I am a 46 year old woman who struggled with bulimia in my 20's and have suffered with anxiety and depression for 25 years. Some comments here sound a little negative towards mental heath problems like these if associated with someone with celiac disease. It is attitudes like this that have caused the medical community to take so long to diagnose some people with celiac disease. I suffered with migraine headaches for the last ten years, then diagnosed with chronic pain for 6 years after losing my job and being put on morphine. Finally, just over a year ago, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. So granted, I agree the study may have not been very well executed but at least somewhere in the medical community they are finally paying attention and more research is being done. A lot of my issues have been improved greatly since following the gluten-free diet.

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    I have major depression. I am not sure if it is from having celiac disease but I am on the highest dosage of antidepressants I can be on and have been on a gluten-free diet since March, but still have major depression.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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