The relationship between celiac disease and mental health doesn’t just involve the stress of a gluten-free lifestyle. Mental health struggles present as symptoms of both celiac disease and of gluten intolerance. As a result, if you’re struggling with mental health issues, it can be a sign of celiac or gluten sensitivity.
Additionally, if you’re struggling with mental health issues, please get help. You shouldn’t have to battle these problems alone.
In this post on celiac disease and mental health, I am going to explore the many ways that celiac disease and mental health are connected.
Celiac disease causes mental health issues. Some examples of mental health issues caused by celiac include:
All of these symptoms are evidence that doctors need to widen their criteria for celiac disease testing. Celiac doesn’t just present as a stomachache.
That said, if these symptoms are caused by celiac, they’ll resolve as you heal with celiac; only flaring with gluten exposure. If they don’t however, it’s a sign that something else is causing the symptom.
Now, let’s dive into the common mental health conditions associated with celiac.
Unexplained behavioral problems in children is a mental health symptom of celiac. For example, in a 2019 study conducted on 3,715 children, they found that kids with celiac had unexplained behavior problems before diagnosis. Problems like anxiety and oppositional defiance.
Essentially, celiac symptoms in children don’t always show up as an upset stomach. This is because as seen above, signs of celiac show up in children as anxiety and stubbornness too.
ADHD is another celiac mental symptom. Do you have celiac and struggle with focusing? I know I have trouble focusing as a result of getting glutened.
Well, studies show that there is a connection between ADHD and celiac. For example a relationship was found between the two in a preliminary study on ADHD and celiac disease.
In this study, they assessed ADHD symptoms in celiac disease patients before and after going gluten-free. As a result of going gluten-free, the patient’s ADHD symptoms improved.
Another connection between celiac disease and mental health lies in mood disorders. Take for example this study conducted in Sweden, where they found a connection between depression and celiac. Other mood related symptoms include irritability, mood swings, and more.
Basically, changes in mood are common in people with celiac. Despite this, they can’t explain the relationship.
Studies suggest it’s related to the reduction of quality of life. In other words, it’s related to lower perceived well-being. I say that definitely plays a role.
Social phobia is another mental symptom of celiac. It’s where socializing brings anxiety. This means that talking with others, attending parties, being in crowds all cause worry.
In a study done on 40 people with celiac, researchers found a higher rate of social phobia. Meaning, worrying about socializing with others is a documented symptom of celiac. However, the reasoning behind this is not understood
Eating disorders are another mental health symptom of celiac. They’re marked by constant thoughts and behaviors around food, exercise, and body size.
There are a lot of risk factors for eating disorders. Many of which are intensified by celiac disease management. Risk factors like broken trust between food and body cues. Additionally, feeling stressed around food can increase eating disorder risk. Lastly, having to follow an extremely restrictive celiac diet play a role too.
And this isn’t anecdotal, it’s proven by research. For example, a large study in Sweden found that women with celiac had a 46% higher rate of anorexia. And that doesn’t include risk for any of the other known eating disorders.
Bottom line, celiacs are at high risk for eating disorders. If you’re consumed by thoughts around food, exercise or your body, get help.
Another celiac mental symptom includes Anxiety. Anxiety is common in celiac disease. This is because of increased anxiety experienced around food and neuro-cognitive changes triggered by gluten.
In fact, in a study conducted on celiac disease patients experiencing depression and anxiety, researchers found that anxiety was improved after following a gluten-free diet for one year. As a result, if your anxiety is related to celiac, you should see improvement after going gluten-free.
For me for instance, my anxiety definitely worsens with gluten exposure. Anecdotally, I see the connection.
Last on the list of celiac mental symptoms is celiac brain fog. Anecdotally, I am often faced with serious brain fog when exposed to gluten. However, it’s not just me. In fact, new research is in overwhelming support that this is real. Not like I need a scientist to tell me what I experience is fact or not.
For instance, a survey from Beyond Celiac found that 89% of celiac participants reported having brain fog. In this study, participants described brain fog as having trouble concentrating, confusion, forgetfulness, detachment, and grogginess.
Sounds very familiar to me… what about you?
Ultimately, mental health symptoms of celiac disease are not fully understood. Additionally, research in this area is relatively new. However, current research proves a connection between mental health and celiac disease. Due to this proven connection, we need to dig deeper into the lesser known signs of celiac. Luckily, as of July 27th 2021, funding for researchers to investigate neuropathology and psychological impairment of celiac has been granted! Stay tuned for updates in the upcoming years.
Finally, the research shows the need for doctors to notice their bias in screening for celiac. Not all celiacs present with typical gut symptoms.