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.
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