Is Gluten Causing Depression?

Anthia Koullouros

Naturopath and Holistic Health Expert

Some of us can feel sad or low from time to time. Life can be tough but eventually we can shake it off. And some of us can feel this way for long periods of time (weeks, months or even years) without any apparent reason. Depression is more than just a low mood – it’s a serious illness that has an impact on both physical and mental health.

In last week’s post, I reviewed how gluten affects everyone’s brain. In a nutshell, gluten causes inflammation of the brain which essentially shuts down blood flow to the prefrontal cortex—the part of our brain that allows us to focus, manage emotional states, plan and organise and exercise our short term memory.

Could the same process be causing depression?

Quinoa Porridge

George Slavich, a clinical psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles, has spent years studying depression, and has come to the conclusion that it has as much to do with the body as the mind. “It does involve psychology, but it also involves equal parts of biology and physical health.”

Several lines of evidence suggest that an inflammatory process is involved in the pathogenesis of patients suffering from depression. Signs of an inflammatory process, in particular increased pro-inflammatory cytokines and increased levels of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), have repeatedly been described in major depression.

Lead researcher, Professor Peter Gibson of Monash University and Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital is looking at whether there is a link between gluten and depression. He did a small pilot study, which challenged people for three days with gluten or with placebo. What he found was that they did actually get increased depression.

Peter goes on to say that they don’t what the mechanism is. “There are theories but the theories really don’t have what you might call “legs” at the moment because they don’t have any data to support them or deny them”.

Some research shows that depression may also result from a parasitic, bacterial, or viral infection in the gut. Did you know that 90% of serotonin is produced the gut? There are three types of cell we know of that produce serotonin: immune cells, nerve cells or neurons, and enterochromaffin (EC) cells. Healthy gut microbes appear to influence serotonin production by EC cells but when there is an overgrowth of bad bugs or an infection this can reduce the number of good bugs as well as cause leakiness of the gut and inflammation. And as mentioned in last week’s blog, microbial imbalance and leaky gut leads to inflammation of the brain.

Apart from gluten and infections, a high consumption of pro inflammatory trans fat vegetable oils and margarines and obesity also contribute to inflammation of the brain. Body fat, particularly around the belly, stores large quantities of cytokines.

It does seem clear, that mood disorders, and cognitive dysfunction and depression related to gluten sensitivity have been considerably under-diagnosed.

If you suffer from these, try and eliminate gluten-containing foods for a while, and see how you feel. Choose instead, gluten free ancient pseudocereals such as quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth in their whole state. Prepare them as you would brown rice by soaking overnight in water with some natural salt and a squeeze of lemon juice or a dash of apple cider vinegar, rinse the next day and cook in fresh water. Best avoid processed gluten free ready to eat foods such as crackers, biscuits and cereals as they are usually high in sugars, starches and additives. If you are very gluten sensitive, eliminating grains entirely may make you feel even better as cross contamination of gluten free grains such as rice and corn and pseudocereals with gluten containing grains may occur. Also avoid gluten in cosmetics, personal care and hair products.

This may be your answer for happiness.


References – Is Gluten Causing Depression?:


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