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Sue's Blog

Tuesday, 08/12/14 - Could gluten be making you depressed?

Today I’d like to address the subject of depression, mainly because of my own personal experience for years and because it affects millions of people including teens.

Note: About 11 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18 according to the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Girls are more likely than boys to experience depression. The risk for depression increases as a child gets older. According to the World Health Organization, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability among Americans age 15 to 44.

Personally I suffered with debilitating depression for years, sometimes severe, as well as manic bi-polar like symptoms, anxiety and panic attacks.   It wasn’t until later after discovering the sensitivity to gluten and wheat that I began to search out more Functional Medicine doctor’s opinions and realized that Celiac and even non-Celiac gluten sensitivity can cause depression and in some cases severe depression with anxiety and panic attacks. 

After I changed my diet to eliminate gluten/wheat the depression was resolved and consequently I was able to wean off anti-depressants which I was on for over three years.   You may have seen my before photo on the front page of the website.  That was how I looked back then when I was at my lowest point in 2008.

So sure of course everyone gets the bummers now and then, that’s pretty normal or they have some sort of life changing event that causes them to feel bad for a while, like the loss of a loved one or a beloved pet. 

Chemical depression however is completely different.  It’s like living with a black cloud over your head and absolutely nothing makes it go away. It’s hard to describe and when it would come on I wouldn’t want to be around anyone.  I would start crying for no reason at all other than the fact I felt horrible and nothing seemed to help, not a hug, not a smile, nothing… it was like impending doom.

I was also ashamed and didn’t want anyone to see me this way because I wasn’t really myself so I’d hibernate in my room sometimes for a week and the only ones who saw me were my family and they had to deal with my downers.  It was very difficult to take care of the family during those times.  I lost days and days out of my life that could have been happily spent with them!   Fortunately for me they stood by my side for years and fortunatly for them I'm still here with them in much better health now both mentally and physically. I'm myself real self again!  

Let’s put it this way, it can be the absolute most beautiful day outside, perfect weather, and it doesn’t matter if you have the best news in the world or the worse news, you still feel the same – BAD!   

There’s such a stigma attached to depression too so there are probably many more people who suffer from it then most people realize.  In the worse case one day we just hear they committed suicide and we are shocked to find out that person had severe depression?  They were so successful, had it all, great life, family, so talented, so funny, made many people laugh, lively, giving and always seemed to be active and in a good mood.   And then a beautiful light we enjoyed goes out so suddenly.

People do not realize or understand how bad this mental health issue can be until they have experienced it themselves.  They just think, “why can’t you just pick yourself up and go, get into some self-development, do more exercise, go on a hike or a nice trip to the beach, eat some ice cream, just snap out of it!”  Well, the brain doesn’t work that way. This type of depression is a chemical disorder of the brain and there’s a reason for it.  There’s also physical pain that goes along with depression, like headaches, migraines and body aches.    

The FM doctor who finally after twelve years discovered why I was so sick literally saved my life when she did blood testing and revealed that I was highly sensitive to gluten/wheat and recommended I eliminate them from my diet!   Unfortunately I was stubborn, in denial, and addicted to wheat so it took me almost two years to finally comply with this diet change.  When I hit rock bottom in 2008 (see the photo of me on the front page) and she told me I was going to die if I didn’t stop eating gluten/wheat, that was when the light switch went off!  I decided it was time to submit and live my life in happiness and health!  My family needed me!  

I thank God for leading me to Dr. Nichole Hewitt in 2005, and for the strength He gave me to do this because it wasn't easy.  But it sure has been worth it!  Now I'm passionately committed to helping others as much as I possibly can.

Recently when listening to some of these Functional Med doctors speak during the Gluten Summit with Dr. Tom O’Bryan I heard Dr. David Perlmutter (Board Certified neurologist) speak and picked up a copy of his book ‘Grain Brain’.  There’s a section in there concerning depression and it’s quite interesting.  I’m determined to pass this information on to help others who may be suffering from this horrible downward spiral of what you believe is no return.   For some people it becomes too late and there is no return and it’s so sad when we hear of their passing. 

Here’s an excerpt from ‘Grain Brain’ –

"Today, depression is found in as many as 52 percent of gluten-sensitive individuals.  Adolescents with gluten sensitivity also face high rates of depression; those with celiac disease are particularly vulnerable, with a 31 percent risk of depression (only 7 percent of healthy adolescents face this risk).

*C. Briani, et al., “Neurological Complications of Celiac Disease and Autoimmune Mechanisms:  A Prospective Study,” Journal of Neuroimmunology 195, nos. 1-2 (March 2008): 171-75

*Greenblatt, “Is Gluten Making You Depressed?” (see chap. 6, n. 8)

A logical question: How does depression relate to a damaged intestine?  Once the lining of the gut is injured by Celiac disease, it is ineffective at absorbing essential nutrients, many of which keep the brain healthy, such as zinc, tryptophan and the B vitamins.  What’s more, these nutrients are necessary ingredients in the production of neurological chemicals such as serotonin. Also, the vast majority of feel-good hormones and chemicals are produced around your intestines by what scientist now call your ‘second brain.”  The nerve cells in your gut are not only regulating muscles, immune cells, and hormones, but also manufacturing an estimated 80 to 90 percent of your body’s serotonin.  In fact, your intestinal brain makes more serotonin than the brain that rests in your skull.

Some of the more critical nutritional deficiencies that have been linked to depression include vitamin D and zinc.  You already know the importance of vitamin D in a multitude of physiological processes, inducing mood regulation.  Zinc similarly is a jack-of-all-trades in the body’s mechanics.  In addition to aiding the immune system and keeping memory sharp, zinc is required in the production and use of those mood-friendly neurotransmitters.  This helps explain why supplemental zinc has been shown to enhance the effects of antidepressants in people with major depression.  (Case in point: A 2009 study found people who hadn’t been helped by antidepressants in the past finally reported improvement once they started to supplement with zinc.)

Dr. James M. Greenblatt, whom I mentioned earlier, has written extensively on this topic and, like me, sees a lot of patients whose antidepressants have failed them. Once these patients avoid foods containing gluten, their psychological symptoms resolve.  In another article for Psychology today, Greenbelt writes:  “Undiagnosed celiac disease can exacerbate symptoms of depression or may even be the underlying cause.  Patients with depression should be tested for nutritional deficiencies.  Who knows, celiac disease may be the correct diagnosis and not depression.”  Many physicians ignore nutritional deficiencies and don’t think about testing for gluten sensitivity because they are so used to (and comfortable with) writing prescriptions for medication."

Of course everyone can do their own research and come to their own conclusions but the research is out there.  I highly recommend reading Dr. P's book and if you or you know anyone suffering from this type of depression please pass this information on to them in time. 

It’s not just about giving a hug or saying I love you or even just praying.  That doesn’t do a whole lot of much good when someone is in a dark deep pit of despair.  You’ve got to DO SOMETHING!   Get them to the right type of Functional Medicine health care professional who understands Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity and how it can cause depression and get them there now before realizing it’s too late!


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