ID-100270090

Celiac Disease and Depression

I have had depression on my mind as I approach the anniversary of my father’s death by suicide. Like my father, I have suffered from depression in the past and the severe postpartum depressive episode that I experienced after I gave birth to my oldest daughter was one of the scariest experiences of my life.

I intended to write a post about the link between celiac disease and depression shortly after I started this blog in 2012, but I never got around to it. I was, unfortunately, not able to find all of the research articles that I had pulled at the time in anticipation of writing about the topic, so tonight I re-reviewed the literature.

In 2007, Dr. Ludvigsson and his celiac research team from Sweden published data showing that celiac patients have an 80% increased risk of depression compared to controls. A few years later researchers from Penn State University (Smyth, et al, 2011) found that 37% of female celiac patients report depression.  Even more recently a group from the Netherlands published a study in 2013 in which 39% of subjects with celiac disease reported having a history of depressive symptoms. Interestingly enough, for the vast majority of these patients in the Netherlands, the first depressive episodes occurred prior to diagnosis with celiac disease and starting on the gluten-free diet.

There was also an interesting case report from Poland, published in late 2014, in which a middle aged woman with severe, treatment-resistant depression and anxiety had a marked improvement in psychiatric symptoms after being diagnosed with celiac disease and starting on the gluten-free diet.

Some of the hypotheses for the association between depression and celiac disease include the following:

  • nutritional deficiencies, such as Vitamin B6, B12, and/or folic acid deficiency
  • altered brain metabolism and/or alterations in neurotransmitter levels, such as tryptophan
  • psychosocial consequences of being gluten-free, i.e. opting out of social situations due to worries about eating, social isolation and loneliness, and fear of cross-contamination
  • coexisting autoimmune disorders that are known to be linked with depression, such as hypothyroidism

I did write a bit about the psychosocial consequences of celiac disease back in 2013 (see link).

I came across many helpful links on celiac disease and depression online, including an article called “Depression and Celiac Disease” on the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness’ website (www.celiaccentral.org), as well as a recently updated article by Nancy Lapid on the site www.celiacdisease.about.com.

In upcoming months I hope to write about research showing associations between gluten-related disorders and other neuropsychiatric conditions, including anxiety, ADHD, and schizophrenia.

As always, thank you for reading, commenting, asking questions, sharing your experiences, etc.

References:

1. Ludvigsson, JF, Reutfors, J, Osby, U, Ekbom, A, and Montgomery, SM. Coeliac disease and risk of mood disorders—a general population-based cohort study.J Affect Disord. 2007 Apr; 99: 117–126

2. van Hees NJ, Van der Does W, Giltay EJ. Coeliac disease, diet adherence and depressive symptoms.J Psychosom Res. 2013 Feb; 74(2):155-60.

3. Małgorzata Urban-Kowalczyk, Janusz Œmigielski, and Agnieszka Gmitrowicz. Neuropsychiatric symptoms and celiac disease. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2014; 10: 1961–1964.

16 thoughts on “Celiac Disease and Depression

  1. Julie

    Regarding neuropsychiatric conditions, I lost a brother to substance abuse and I developed anxiety when driving on expressways. I think these attacks are getting better as my gut heals. It has been a slow process for me, but I was diagnosed late in life, age 61. From what I’ve read, for us seniors, it does take longer to heal. But, since going gluten-free two years ago, my anemia has gone away, my osteopenia has slowed in one area and improved in another. My check-up this month showed that my cholesterol reading had improved so much that we cut the dosage in half. I’d always had low HDL, under 40, and normal LDL. This past blood test had my HDL up to 57, higher than my LDL. So, my body IS healing. I’m hoping that the panic attacks, or anxiety, when driving will go away too. My hypothyroid disease was diagnosed as Hashimoto’s. I think that is harder to deal with than celiac. Or, harder to get it normalized. I appreciate your posts. Thank you for sharing. I am very sorry about the tragic death of your father.

    1. Jess Post author

      Hi Julie,
      Thank you so much. It is great to hear that all of your symptoms have been improving, including anxiety. It has been so eye-opening to learn about how celiac disease can have effects on so many systems of our bodies. When I was diagnosed 5 years ago I was totally unaware of there being any link between celiac disease and neuro-psychiatric problems.
      I wish you the best as you continue on your journey to healing.
      Jess,

  2. Erica

    One of my top five symptoms….and, for me, one of the first to go away; thanks for being so open, Jess. I don’t think a lot of people know about the link.

    1. Jess Post author

      Hi Erica,
      Thank you. I do not talk about my father’s death very often because it seems like it always makes people uncomfortable, but at the same time it has had a huge impact on my life.
      I do bring up my experience with PPD quite often as I am constantly on the lookout for symptoms of PPD in my patients’ mothers.
      I hope you are doing well.
      Jess

  3. Amy

    Anxiety and depression are my first and most noticeable symptoms when ingesting gluten. I know that I would have ended up suicidal if I wouldn’t have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. On gluten free diet I have no psychological symptoms at all.
    I strongly feel that these symptoms in my case are worse than any physical symptoms that may arise with this disease.
    Thank you for sharing this article and so sorry to hear about your dad. Take care!

    1. Jess Post author

      Hi Amy,
      Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I hope that others who have similar experiences will be able to read through the comments and see that they are not alone.
      I have experienced pretty scary neurologic symptoms as a result of this disease, so it only makes sense that others may experience psychiatric symptoms.
      Jess

  4. Melissa Miller

    After a bout of bronchitis in 2007, I developed debilitating anxiety and panic attacks which led to thoughts of suicide. I had to drop out of college and moved back in with my parents. I began seeing a counselor who suggested being tested for food allergies even though I had no gastrointestinal symptoms. That led to 5 months of test after test until my cousin was diagnosed with Celiac and I asked to be tested for it. It’s amazing how my anxiety disappeared after my gut healed!

    1. Jess Post author

      Hi Melissa,
      Thank you for sharing your personal story with having anxiety as a result of celiac disease. I did have anxiety back when I was in college–whether or not it was related to celiac disease I will never know.
      How fortunate that your cousin’s diagnosis led to you being tested and diagnosed. I am also pretty amazed that your counselor suspected a food intolerance as a cause of your symptoms.
      Take care.
      Jess

  5. beth

    This is a potent post for me. I was diagnosed Coeliac almost a year ago – the two times I have been glutened since them, depression and general crazy emotional irritability and impatience made up about 60% of my symptoms – the others being unquenchable thirst, dry lizard skin and coldsores around my mouth :(

    The psychological symptoms of gluten for coeliacs, when I went looking for them online, seem so sparse in comparison to all the talk about gut pain etc (which I don’t have). I am at home with my two children who are seven and four (one definite and one probable Coeliac) and if I am glutened again, I will have to get my family to look after them for some of the time, because I became a disaster :(

    Since the last time (beginnig of November) I still can’t tolerate coffee or grains such as quinoa – as they triggered my symptoms. I was told by a gastroenterologist that it probably takes three months or so until the gut can recover. I miss my brown rice!

    Thanks for raising this.

    1. Jess Post author

      You are welcome Beth. I have also experience neurologic and psychiatric symptoms following accidental gluten exposure and it really stinks (I also had no idea to anticipate that this could happen as a result of celiac disease when I was diagnosed).
      I hope you are able to eat your brown rice again soon too. I have never been able to tolerate quinoa, so you are lucky that you are able to.
      I wish you the best.
      Jess

    2. JULIE

      Beth,
      I did not have “typical” celiac symptoms either. My only symptom was anemia. Regarding your comment about the gut healing in “three months or so,” I think that is all relative. From what I read, it may take longer, the older you are. I was 62 when I was diagnosed and in one month my anemia was completly gone and then within six months my bone density had not gotten worse in one area and had actually improved in another area. Two years later, my cholesterol has suddenly improved and we have reduced my medication. Both of these improvements are most likely related to my gut healing. I hope you heal soon and can try some brown rice again!

  6. Katrina

    I just discovered your site and love it! I was recently diagnosed with gluten sensitivity and possibly celiac. I also suffered from bouts of depression, which disappeared when I stopped eating gluten. It only took me 44 years to figure it out! :) Anxiety, depression, and other neuropsychiatric conditions run in my family on both sides. Thank you for sharing your story. I look forward to learning more from you. Best!

    1. Jess Post author

      Hi Katrina,
      You’re welcome. I am glad that you found me and I look forward to writing more on similar topics in the upcoming months. My biggest struggle the last few weeks has been trying to find time to devote to this page.
      Jess

  7. Olivia

    Thank you for writing this post and sharing your experiences. I’m so sorry for the loss of your father.

    I was actually just looking at your website today because I had a disconcerting doctor’s appointment and wanted to come be in a place where science and unexplained symptoms can coexist. :)

    In short, though I’ve been gluten free for ages, I’m not doing well. Today my doctor, who really is kind in general, essentially fobbed me off on a psychiatrist. Here’s the thing, though, I know that part of my suffering is psychological, and I believe that it is a big symptom for me both on and off gluten. I’m coming to accept that I need to deal better with that, but I find it enormously difficult to accept psychological help and still convince doctors that it isn’t “in my head.” I didn’t succeed with that today, and I feel a little dispirited, but at the same time I am glad I’ll be getting better care for the emotional and psychological piece.

    1. Jess Post author

      Hi Olivia,
      I hope that you start to feel better soon .
      I really don’t think that many doctors actually know about the link between celiac disease and neurologic and psychiatric symptoms. As I mentioned to Beth in a comment above, I had no idea that celiac could have these effects until 2 years after my diagnosis. There is so much about celiac that is still really mysterious to the bulk of practitioners. Sharing our stories and experiences with each other helps. I appreciate every one of you who take the time to not only read but comment on my page. Thank you!
      Sincerely,
      Jess

  8. Dee

    I just wanted to mention that Sometime I feel over-whelmed and depressed. I found out that mine is connected to thyroid issues. I made a long term mistake in medication. I took one with Soy. I went in circles feeling overwhelmed before the thyroid trouble was discovered. If you feel blue, you may want to do a full thyroid panel. My first 2 of those didn’t turn it up, but when I made the diet mistake and then got tested; We found it.

Comments are closed.