Gluten and depression: Is there a link?
People who don’t eat gluten are a lot like people who do CrossFit. They talk about it incessantly.
I am both gluten-free and a CrossFitter. I don’t talk about either unless asked or I am around others who are gluten-free or do CrossFit. Or both. It’s gotten to the point where we have be become so annoying that we have become the butt of a really funny jokes:
- Ten percent of the population is gluten-free and the other 90 percent are sick of hearing about it.
- Do you know the correct term for gluten-free brownies? Compost.
- I hope your birthday is filled with lots of gluten-free treats that aren’t disgusting, just like everything else that is gluten-free.
Gluten-free is considered the Nehru jacket of nutrition trends: Hip for about 20 minutes, then profoundly ridiculous. Which is why I rarely talk about either.
When depression has pinned you to the mat and you cannot get up, you will risk being the butt of a joke to feel better. Short of getting drunk or stoned, I would stick Tootsie Rolls up my nose if I thought it would help my depression. It’s that simple.
The link between endorphins, hormones released in the brain during exercise, is well established. CrossFit, about the most extreme exercise program that is legal, releases lots of hormones in my brain. Although I’m often collapsed on the floor in a pool of sweat, breathing like a fish out of water, I love it.
Plus, there is the added benefit of being able to jump rope twice as fast as I could when I was 10-years-old.
What’s gluten got to do with it? Eliminating gluten from your diet is a component of CrossFit’s diet, called the Paleo diet. No gluten, wheat, dairy, alcohol or sugar. (I’m good on all of that except the sugar.)
I went gluten-free long before I started doing CrossFit. In fact, I cut gluten out of the diet after my last major depression, about 8 years ago. I had read some articles suggesting that gluten was not good for alcoholics – another one of my mental illnesses – and that there could be a link between gluten and depression.
I also have stomach issues, regardless of whether I eat gluten. I felt better after cutting gluten from my diet. I had less sluggishness in my joints and it was easier to control my weight. I still had some stomach issues, which came and went.
While there has been lots of research on the mental health of people with celiac disease, whose bodies cannot tolerate gluten, little research has been done on the pychological impact of a gluten-free diet on people who do not have celiac disease.
Which is why I was delighted to see a recent study that reported a link between gluten consumption and feelings of depression under short, experimental conditions. This was a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study over three days that involved 22 participants who had been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrom but did not have celiac disease.
The findings: “Short-term exposure to gluten specifically induced current feelings of depression with no effect on other indices or on emotional disposition. Gluten-specific induction of gastrointestinal symptoms was not identified. Such findings might explain why patients with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity feel better on a gluten-free diet despite the continuation of gastrointestinal symptoms.”
In other words, gluten made some people – who do not have celiac disease – feel more depressed. A gluten-free diet did not necessarily help their stomach issues, but emotionally, they “felt better.”
I believe there is a link between our mental health and the food we eat. Some foods, such as chocolate, have already received a lot of attention. Our prescription bottles tell us about foods – such as grapefruit – we should not consume while taking certain medications. But more research needs to be done on other foods – and combinations of food.
The implications are profound. Food plays a huge role in our physical health. What if it played an equally important role in our mental health?
Would you – could you – stop eating those bagels?
Stapleton, C. (2014). Gluten and depression: Is there a link?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 30, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/depression/2014/04/gluten-and-depression-is-there-a-link/