Thursday, July 3, 2014

Psychiatric Disorder Symptoms Linked to Gluten Intolerance: Epilepsy, Anxiety, Depression, Schizophrenia

Gluten May be Linked to Epilepsy, Anxiety, Depression & Schizophrenia - Photo by Sander van der Wel
Celiac disease is known by many as the "Great Mimic" because symptoms associated with the condition vary so wildly. Gluten now ranks as one of the top ten causes of disability in the world. Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue, is known to affect approximately 1% of the population. The number rises to approximately 6% when considering people who are sensitive to gluten without the obvious intestinal damage associated with celiac disease but who test positive for antibodies to gliadin. These statistics do not include those who are allergic to gluten who test positive with IgE mediated responses.

A myriad of symptoms can result as some people ingest the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley or grains and other products that are cross-contaminated with any of these proteins. Currently, completely avoiding gluten is the only treatment for celiac disease. Research indicates that gluten may affect the central nervous systems of some people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Several studies on psychiatric disorders and how a gluten-free diet affects symptoms have revealed some promising results for those who suffer from these disorders. It is interesting to note that a link between celiac disease and psychiatric complications has been observed for more than 40 years, yet many people who suffer from these conditions for years are never tested for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Studies are referenced at the bottom of this article for those who wish to learn more about this topic. Collaborate with one's healthcare provider before changing one's diet.

Gluten Sensitivity and Epilepsy or Seizure Disorders

Several studies have shown that a gluten-free diet may decrease the incidence of seizures in certain populations. Some of those studied who had seizures, celiac disease, and cortical calcifications experienced a significant improvement of symptoms after adopting a gluten-free diet. One case study followed a person with intractable epilepsy who experienced complete resolution of symptoms after adopting a gluten-free diet. Those with temporal lobe epilepsy and hippocampal sclerosis in one study were more likely to have celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Gluten Sensitivity and Anxiety

According to studies, people who have anxiety disorders, including social phobia and panic attacks, are more likely to have a sensitivity to gluten. After being on a gluten-free diet for one year, those with a gluten sensitivity reported a significant reduction in anxiety. Some people find that anxiety related to one's health is replaced with anxiety related to social interactions, particularly those that involve food. Adopting a completely gluten-free diet can be quite difficult in social situations in which food choices almost invariably contain gluten.

Gluten Sensitivity and Depression

Several mood and depressive disorders were studied, including major depression, dysthymic disorder (less severe, chronic type of depression), and adjustment disorders. Older people with a gluten sensitivity were more than twice as likely to have depression than those who did not have a gluten sensitivity. Those who have type 1 diabetes in addition to celiac disease may be more likely to suffer from clinical depression. Many described improvement in depressive symptoms after adopting a gluten-free diet.

Gluten Sensitivity and Schizophrenia

Studies indicate that children with schizophrenia who ate a milk- and gluten-free diet experienced a faster decrease in symptoms and about 1/3 experienced a return of symptoms if gluten were added back to the diet. Some adults in several studies experienced significant improvement in schizophrenia symptoms, some to the point of being able to discontinue medications after six months on a gluten-free diet. Some of those who were studied experienced return of schizophrenia symptoms after a challenge of a normal diet after being on a gluten-free diet.

Challenges of Researching the Topic

Research regarding gluten sensitivity is currently evolving as more specific tests are being developed to help identify those who are negative for celiac disease yet have a sensitivity to gluten; much of the research may not identify groups who are gluten sensitive without having celiac disease, which can complicate analysis of study data. To further complicate matters, a completely gluten-free diet is often hard to achieve as some restaurants may advertise foods as gluten-free that may have cross-contamination. Some countries, including the United States, may not have clear definitions and product label requirements regarding gluten, resulting in tedious research as many consumers have to contact manufacturers and inquire about gluten content on specific products. Even tiny amounts of gluten may lead to symptoms in those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

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  • Abstract, Resistant Myoclonic Epilepsy Associated with Asymptomatic Gluten Sensitivity: A Case Report, Epilepsia, October 2005.
  • Garud, S. et. al. Interaction between psychiatric and autoimmune disorders in coeliac disease patients in the Northeastern United States, Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, April 2009.
  • Jackson, Jessica R. et. al. Neurologic and Psychiatric Manifestations of Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity, Psychiatric Quarterly, March 1, 2012.
  • Pillay, Srini, Gluten-free Diets and Anxiety, Psychology Today, June 3, 2011.

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