Celiac Disease And Depression


Is there a link between celiac disease or gluten intolerance and depression? Almost certainly, but what is the link? In some cases a period of depression may be what triggers your celiac genes to turn on but how about if the celiac comes first? Could depression be a symptom of celiac disease?

There have been various studies done which suggest a strong link between celiac disease and depression, and not only because celiacs may become depressed as a result of having a condition which doesn’t allow then to eat as freely as they used to.

Celiac disease is most often associated with nasty gastrointestinal issues. I speak to many people who assume that because they aren’t bloated and don’t have diarrhea that they can’t possibly have celiac disease. This is not true! Celiac disease can manifest itself in so many different ways, some of them silent, and some of them psychological, like depression. There are many articles out there on this subject but recently I came across an extremely interesting one in Psychology Today. It talks about the link between depression and celiac disease, often caused by the malabsorption as a result of intestinal damage.

The intestinal damage  that occurs in undiagnosed celiac disease, especially when misdiagnosed for a long period of time, can prevent the absorption of essential nutrients that keep the brain healthy. These nutrients, particularly zinc, are important for the production of essential chemicals in the brain such as serotonin, a deficiency of which we often hear about being linked to mood and depression.

I’ve often thought that my celiac disease was triggered after a period of depression and anxiety. It was during this period in my life when I started developing more of the obvious celiac symptoms which in turn led to my diagnosis. But perhaps I have it all wrong; perhaps I have it the wrong way round. What if I was depressed because my body wasn’t absorbing the nutrients I needed? What if my depression wasn’t the trigger at all but rather a symptom?

Perhaps like many other symptoms, depression is another one where doctors should consider looking at celiac disease as a possible trigger. Celiac disease does not only result in symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and fatigue, it can cause depression and anxiety too and these can often be much worse than the gastrointestinal stuff!

If you have suffered from depression, do you think it triggered your celiac disease or was a symptom of it? How has being on a gluten free diet helped with your depression?

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  • This is a fascinating topic and I’d like to know more about it. My experience has been that a diagnosis of coeliac disease and adopting a gluten free diet has done nothing to alleviate the symptoms of depression. In fact, being banned from eating most forms of food in the western world doesn’t exactly give cause for optimism. I do wonder how deep the link goes.

  • I often get depressed and anxious after I’ve been glutened but I’m never really sure whether it is caused by the gluten or just that its an emotional reaction to feeling sick and worried about the long-term implications of another exposure to gluten. If I didn’t have any other visible symptoms of the glutening (i.e. no digestive problems), would I still be depressed and anxious?

  • Hi Laura,

    You are completely right on! Depression is one of the many common symptoms of celiac disease. While having bloating and other GI issues are more obvious, that does not lesson the importance depresion can have on a celiac sufferer. I have an article about symptoms which you can read here if you are interested: http://myglutenfreequest.com/celiac-disease-symptoms-diagnosis/
    I have found that living a gluten-free diet alone also does not solve this issue completely. The majority of celiac disease patients to not recover from a gluten-free diet alone!
    Wonderful article and very informative. I will be following your blog!


  • When I first tried a gluten free diet, I did notice a big change in my mood (and I noticed the down change when I fell off the wagon a few months later). I think the biggest difference was that I only restricted my carb intake to gluten free carbs- if I felt hungry otherwise, I would snack on fruit or veggies. I ate a *lot* of fruit and veggies because I felt hungry all the time in the first two weeks, but the feeling ebbed after that. I was also sleeping better after that first two weeks, which plays a huge role in depression.

  • I was very tired all the time pre-diagnosis (was 33 years old before it was found) so I think the depression was the natural upshot of lost sleep from the pain and malnutrition. I was so weak my legs would sometimes giveway while walking and was plannning on downgrading my career. Once I went gluten free things picked up, and now 18 months later I have so much energy I run 25km a week which makes me feel great. I am doing so much better at everything including work and personal relationships. Also good to know it is not all in my head. So not hard to feel good!

  • maggie

    Jun 6th, 2013

    i really feel sick and depress after the gluten free diet it did not work for me i am eating one piece of bread daily and i feel better

  • Hi, I have been GF since Oct 2011 and I suffer with bouts of depression now. Thinking back though I maybe have suffered pre-diagnosis as well but it seems mode severe now. I imagine the feeling to be like a ladies monthly feeling (hold the abuse!) when you know you feel cranky and irritable but can’t seem to snap out of it. I deffo feel that it’s a chemical thing. I discussed this my doctor when I went back feeling tired all the time and he said it was because of the depression. To me it seems like all the symptoms are linked together and maybe because of a deficiency in my diet but finding the culprit is difficult. Interesting article and good to know I’m not going mad.

  • Interesting. I had a bad case of post partum depression after my 4th baby was born. I was also severely anaemic. I was diagnosed with coeliacs about 3 years later my main symptom being anaemia.