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Can gluten cause anxiety?

answered 02:18 PM EST, Tue March 12, 2013
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anonymous anonymous
I have GAD. I went on a gluten free diet 2 weeks ago because I have had some nagging gastrointestinal problems and my doctor recommended trying to avoid wheat for a couple of weeks to see if they would disappear. My stomach problems are not resolved so my doctor says it’s probably not a gluten intolerance. But the weird thing is after a few days of no gluten at all I noticed that my anxiety was down a notch and while it’s not gone completely it is still noticeably better after 3 weeks of eating wheat free than it was. So if I do not have celiac is there any explanation for how cutting out gluten helped my anxiety get better? I am, obviously, continuing to with the dietary changes but I would like to understand what is going on. Maybe further dietary changes could further improve my situation?

Cynthia Klatte Says...

Cynthia Klatte C. Klatte
LCSW, ACSW

Dear anonymous,

You pose a very interesting question. More and more people are finding out that they have a gluten sensitivity, which is not as severe as celiac disease, but definitely affects their health. There is research to support that those who are gluten sensitive and those with celiac disease have a higher rate of anxiety. But what we don't know is why. One hypothesis speculated has been that gluten-related intestinal damage might lead to nutritional deficiencies that cause anxiety.

You can get tested to verify if you have a sensitivity to gluten. Or, if you feel better off of gluten, you can decide to eliminate it from your diet simply because you feel better. In terms of other dietary considerations that might help, I will defer to your doctor in relation to your gastrointestinal issues. In terms of anxiety, researchers and providers recommend avoiding anything stimulating, such as caffeine, nicotine, and herbal stimulants (such as those in energy drinks). These will exacerbate your anxiety. But do not go cold turkey if you are going to give up caffeine! Caffeine dependence should not be taken lightly. Cut down slowly over time. Otherwise, you can suffer from significant headaches.

It has also been recommended to avoid high sugar intake and avoid preservatives, such as eating highly processed foods. Research has also suggested that Omega-3 fatty acids can help keep our cortisol, our internal stress hormone, in check. There are lots of resources available about the connection between food and mood both in print and online. Good luck!

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