Gluten Sensitivity as a Cause of Depression
A variety of conditions and diseases are associated with both anxiety and depression. This is one of the main reasons that doctors are asked to rule out physical causes before they settle on a psychiatric diagnosis. In this Sharepost I'm looking at the situation where the immune system attacks a protein called gluten, a condition known as celiac disease.
Many people with anxiety states will recognize the symptoms of tummy troubles like abdominal cramps and diarrhea. These are also two of the symptoms associated with celiac disease, along with pain, gas and constipation. When a person has gluten sensitivity, damage occurs to the small intestine which prevents it absorbing vital nutrients and vitamins. If the brain is starved of nutrients such as zinc, the B vitamins and tryptophan, it is unable to produce chemicals essential for good mental health (e.g. serotonin).
There is a very strong association between celiac disease and depression. In fact adolescents diagnosed with the disease are shown to have a 31 percent higher risk of depression. As previously mentioned, malabsorption of essential chemicals appears to play an important role, but so does inflammation. The protein gliadin is chemically similar to other proteins found in the brain and nerve cells. It is thought that the immune system confuses these proteins leading to an attack on healthy tissues causing inflammation. Inflammation can lead to symptoms of depression.
There is a view that celiac disease is under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed as one of several other gastric diseases. In some cases symptoms are relatively mild and the person may therefore be diagnosed with, for example, irritable bowel syndrome. Patients may then find themselves being treated for depression at the same time as being treated for gastric upsets. If however a diagnosis of celiac disease is reached the fact is there is no cure. Treatment of the disease is through avoidance of foodstuffs that contain gluten such as pasta, bread, cakes and breakfast cereals.
Some estimates suggest that as many as 1 in 100 adults (women more than men) will develop celiac disease. Switching to a gluten-free diet often brings quick relief from physical symptoms. Relief from anxiety and depression may take a little longer.