Tag Archives: celiac disease and depression


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.


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.


Why I Love Being Gluten Free

As a Celiac, going gluten free was nothing less than a rebirth for me.  I did not realize the toll that Celiac Disease had taken on my body and mind until after my diagnosis and treatment with the gluten free diet began. For the first time in my life since childhood I began to feel “normal” and like I was lifted out of a fog. The overall improvement in my life has been incredible. In addition to a total resolution of my chronic GI distress and arthritis, I experienced several other unexpected benefits of being off of gluten.

One of the first things that occurred after removing gluten from my diet was that I had a rapid increase in my energy level.  Although I ran track in high school, and continued to run while in college for fitness, I had struggled to run more than 2 miles at a time in the years leading up to diagnosis.  Like most aspects of my life, I chalked my exercise intolerance up to stress. Looking back, my real problem had been untreated Celiac Disease. Within 8 weeks of being on the gluten free diet I was able to run a 10K and within 16 weeks I completed my first half marathon.

The second thing that was noticeable within weeks of starting my gluten free journey was a marked improvement in the integrity of my hair, skin, and nails.  All of the “gross” stuff that I had experienced for ages, like adult acne, dandruff, breaking nails, alopecia (hair loss), and easy bruising, disappeared.  My hair grew back in and I actually had to get it cut regularly. I started to have to trim my fingernails on a weekly basis again (prior to going gluten free I cut them maybe once a month).  As I write and reflect on this now, I realize how malnourished by body actually was.

My depression has dissipated and I feel a joy about life that I did not feel when I sick with diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and joint pains on a regular basis. There have been several studies showing that there is a higher incidence of depression in patients with Celiac Disease, and I believe them. In my case I think that the improvement in my mood is multifactorial. Once I removed gluten I began to physically feel better and eat in a more nutritious manner, which led me to get be able to run and exercise, which in turn led to a decrease in my stress level and an improvement in my overall well-being.  Although there have been stressful experiences in my life the last few years (deaths, a miscarriage, familial stress, a multiple sclerosis scare, etc.) I have not had my depression recur like it used to prior to my diagnosis.

Miscellaneous other things which improved or disappeared when I removed gluten include the following (some seem utterly bizarre and I still cannot figure out if or why they are connected with gluten and Celiac Disease):

  • gray hairs on my head
  • ringing in my ears
  • TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pain and clicking
  • difficulty seeing at night
  • mouth sores and ulcers
  • hay fever and seasonal allergy symptoms
  • bad menstrual cramps
  • sensitivity to sounds and loud noises
  • styes
  • having to pee all of the time (although my husband may debate this one!)
  • low white blood cell count

I hope that with increased awareness and diagnosis of Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity that others will begin to experience the fabulous gluten free life. I can attest that it is much better than the alternative!