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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gluten Sensitivity Can Affect Mind and Behavior

Reaction to Gluten may Trigger Psychiatric Symptoms

Depressed? Anxious, having trouble concentrating, or with mood control? Before labeling these symptoms as psychiatric, consider testing for sensitivity to gluten.

Gluten intolerance is common, often misdiagnosed. Mood changes, or even psychosis, may be signs of celiac disease (CD) or nonceliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).
Gluten sensitivity is an inability to properly digest glutens, a type of protein found in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. For those sensitive to it, gluten in the diet can trigger an immune response and inflammatory reaction anywhere in the body. Many people with Celiac Disease, the most recognized form of gluten sensitivity, have or develop psychiatric symptoms. .

Gluten Intolerance Can Injure the Brain

In 2004, an Italian study showed changes in brain blood flow in celiac patients. The researchers found areas of the brain with diminished blood flow in 11 of fifteen patients with untreated celiac disease, but not those who were on a gluten free diet (Addolorato).
In other studies, untreated celiac disease is also associated with the development of lesions and scarring in the white matter of the brain.

Gluten Free Diet Helped Patients with Schizophrenia

Studies linking gluten intolerance to symptoms of mental illness go back decades and were often ignored. Without this information, many may have suffered or continue to suffer psychiatric disorders when a change in diet might improve or reverse their symptoms.
In a 1976 study patients with schizophrenia were placed on a diet free of milk and grains. The patients continued their medications and improved while on the diet. When gluten was reintroduced in to their diets, their symptoms got worse and their progress in recovery was lost.
The authors wrote, "The observed effects seemed to be due to a primary schizophrenia-promoting effect of wheat gluten." (Singh, Kay)
More than thirty years later, research continues to demonstrate a connection between gluten sensitivity and schizophrenia. A Danish study in 2004 shows people with celiac disease are three times more likely to develop schizophrenia. A new study in the UK finds that 30% of those diagnosed with schizophrenia are gluten intolerant.

Cause and Effect

Most people diagnosed with celiac disease have a type of gene that predisposes them to gluten sensitivity. But not everyone who develops celiac disease has this genetic trait. Other factors, such as the age when gluten is introduced into the diet, may trigger the immune reaction to gluten.

Psychiatric Symptoms May Develop Before Celiac Disease

People with celiac disease may have neurological or psychiatric symptoms years before the signs of sensitivity to gluten show up in testing. In Psychosomatics, researchers wrote, "Since unrecognized CD may predispose the sufferer to serious mental disorders and behavioral problems, it should be taken into account in differential diagnosis in all age groups" (Pynnönen).
In 2008, a study in Italy examined the connection between psychiatric disorders and celiac disease. The study authors said, "The available data suggest that screening for CD in patients with affective and/or psychiatric symptoms may be useful since these disorders could be the expression of an organic disease rather than primary psychiatric illnesses" (Addolorato).

Trial Diet May be Advised

Tests are often normal when gluten sensitivity is suspected. If tests for gluten sensitivity are negative, physicians may suggest a trial period on a strictly gluten free diet to see if this improves the symptoms.
Dr. Scot Lewey, a Colorado gastroenterologist, is a passionate educator for increased awareness and understanding of gluten intolerance. He is well known on the internet for his blog, The Food Doc, where he posts articles and resources about gluten sensitivity. Dr. Lewey recommends considering the gluten free diet for anyone who has neurological or psychiatric symptoms.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.




Adams, Jefferson; Gluten intolerance tied to schizophrenia; SF Health News Examiner; Apr 30, 2009;www.examiner.com
Addolorato G, et al; Regional Cerebral Hypoperfusion in Patients With Celiac Disease; Am J Med; 2004 Mar 1;116 (5):312-7
Addolorato G, et al; Affective and Psychiatric Disorders in Celiac Disease; Dig. Dis. 2008;26(2): 140-8
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School Of Public Health; 2004, February 20; Celiac Disease Is A Risk Factor For Schizophrenia.
Lewey, Scot MD; Gluten Free Diet Should be Considered for Everyone With Neurological and Psychiatric Symptoms
Pynnönen, PA MD, et al; Untreated Celiac Disease and Development of Mental Disorders in Children and Adolescents; Psychosomatics 43:331-334, Aug 2002
Singh MM, Kay SR; Wheat Gluten as a Pathogenic Factor in Schizophrenia; Science 1976 Jan 30; 191(4225):401-2
Last reviewed: December 14, 2013


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