Celiac Disease, Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance and Depression

Recently I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Alessio Fasano, Director for the Center for Celiac Research (University of Maryland), give a speech at the monthly North Texas Gluten Intolerance Group meeting. It was the third time I had the pleasure of listening to him speak- he is not only informative and passionate, but his delivery about the scientific aspects of celiac disease is funny and engaging. My only gripe is that he mentioned five times (I started counting after the second time) that a gluten-free lifestyle is difficult. Yes, the gluten-free lifestyle is difficult, but so is maintaining any healthy diet outside the home- even one based on whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, lean protein and omega-3 fats. After his speech, even I felt depressed.

I know The Center for Celiac Research is trying to develop a “cure” for Celiac Disease and I think that would be wonderful for times when a person wants to or has to eat gluten, but gluten intolerance manifests in other ways. Autoimmune disorders occur ten times more commonly in CD than in the general population. People with celiac disease also have higher rates of depression and anxiety. How would a person know that even if they could take a pill that allows them to digest gluten without suffering small intestinal damage, there would be no other health consequences to eating gluten? What about people with non-celiac gluten intolerance? They do not suffer intestinal damage but experience many other symptoms including chronic depression, fatigue, body aches, IBS, migraines and the more common gastrointestinal disorders of bloating, weight gain or loss, constipation, and diarrhea.

It is a well documented fact that food sensitivities can cause mood problems. Research in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology has shown that patients with gluten intolerance have a high prevalence of not only anxiety and depression but social phobia. We all know when we feel bad, it is depressing. But isolation plays a big part due to the social phobia induced-risks of school, work, eating out and travel. Yes, the gluten-free lifestyle is difficult but it has never been easier and the awareness and availability of gluten-free foods is one of the fastest growing areas in supermarkets and restaurants. We should be celebrating how far the gluten-free lifestyle has come, not reminding people of the difficulties and diminished quality of life because you can’t eat a fast food pizza. Any chronic disease can bring about depression, but gluten intolerance has a cure.

Just last week I traveled thru two different airports and gluten-free options were available in both- fresh fruit and salads at delis; nuts, seeds and dried fruit bars at the news stand; smoothies, frozen yogurt, soups, baked potatoes, and bun-less burgers. A gluten-free lifestyle is a mind set. It does take a little more effort but, the reward (good health) far outweighs the perceived difficulty (which for me is time). The demand for gluten-free food will grow and the lifestyle will become easier and easier as more and more people become diagnosed with celiac disease (1% of the population) and non-celiac gluten intolerance (estimated at more than 10% of the population). But, the most amazing thing is that once you stop eating gluten, and get thru the first two weeks, the cravings for bagels and pizza are replaced with renewed energy and spirit because you feel good.- just the opposite of depression.

for more information: http://www.foodphilosopher.com

Gluten-Free Good Health Cookbook



  1. December 15, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Great article Doc! I am glad to see others shedding light on the non-celiac gluten sensitivity symptoms.
    In my humble opinion, the cure for celiac disease is a gluten free diet. Why eat what the body tells you not to?

    All the best,
    Dr. Osborne

    • December 15, 2010 at 6:53 pm

      Maybe because the medical and pharmaceutical industry cannot make any money off of it. I’m amazed the drugs people are prescribed without ever one discussion about diet and food sensitivities.

  2. February 21, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    Oh, you all are a breath of fresh air. My main symptoms have always been depression, brain fog, etc. and it was difficult for me to figure out that it was gluten…because no one wants to say the obvious: NUTRITION!!!

    First, yes, God forbid we do the easy thing and just eat correctly.

    Second, gluten free is the opposite of difficult considering the alternative — eating it and barely feeling like living.

    Besides, gluten free products have gotten amazing in the last couple of years.

    • February 22, 2011 at 8:08 am

      You are so right. Eating gluten-free has never been easier or better tasting but make sure your gf foods are mostly whole foods for best health. Thanks, Claudia

  3. October 4, 2014 at 9:04 am

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