Celiac Disease and Mental Health

The relationship between celiac disease and mental health might not just involve the stress of a gluten-free lifestyle. Mental health struggles are being found to present as symptoms of celiac disease and of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. If you are struggling with certain mental health issues, it could be a symptom of your celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

I also want to say if you’re struggling with mental health issues, talk to your doctor and seek 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. More specifically, I’m going to explore the mental health symptoms you might experience if you have celiac.


Celiac Disease and Mental Health Impacts


Unexplained behavioral problems in kids

Studies are starting to find that symptoms of celiac disease can go beyond gut distress. In a study conducted by Dr. Jessica Kiefte-de Jong on 3,715 children, they found that kids diagnosed with celiac disease were found to have anxiety and oppositional defiance problems before diagnosis.

Meaning that celiac disease symptoms in children aren’t always related to an upset stomach. Manifestations beyond the gut should not go overlooked – but that is what this post is all about. However, it should be noted that more research needs to be done in this area of celiac disease.

Personally, this explains a lot about my childhood. I was a very anxious kid and it took a long time to learn how to manage it. I can’t help but wonder if my anxiety could have been an early manifestation of celiac disease – though I also did have a lot of GI complaints too.


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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Do you have celiac and struggle with focusing? I know if I accidentally get glutened I am often faced with serious brain bog. Suddenly keeping my focus is a big ask.

Well, studies show that there might be a connection between symptoms of ADHD and celiac disease. A preliminary study conducted by Helmut Niederhofer and Klaus Pittchieler looked at the relationship between ADHD symptoms and celiac disease. In this study, they assessed ADHD symptoms in celiac disease patients before and after they were treated with a gluten-free diet. They found that ADHD symptoms improved after their gluten-free diet treatment.


Depression and mood disorders

In a study conducted in Sweden, they found a positive association between depression and celiac disease. Meaning that depression can be common in people with celiac disease. Despite that it’s common, they can’t quite yet explain this relationship. Some people suggest it could be related to the reduction of quality of life. I’d say that’s definitely something to consider.


Social phobias

In a small study conducted on 40 people with celiac disease, researchers found that there was a significantly higher prevalence of social phobia in people with celiac disease. Much like the other research presented above, the reasoning behind this finding is not yet understood.

Meaning we still don’t fully understand why social phobias are related and if a gluten-free diet could help.


Eating Disorders

There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes with the relationship between eating disorders and celiac disease. Risk factors like broken trust between food and your body and feeling stressed around food. Not to mention the only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet, which is very restrictive.

There is not a lot of research connecting the two, but the research that is out there seems to support the connection.

For example, a study conducted in Sweden found that women diagnosed with celiac disease had a 1/3 chance higher than the control group to also be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

Bottom line, definitely work with your health care team to make sure you get the support you need and aren’t over restricting. If you are concerned, please seek support.


Anxiety

Lastly, in this discussion of mental health and celiac disease, I present to you, anxiety. Anxiety is often documented in patients with celiac disease.

In a study conducted on celiac disease patients experiencing depression and anxiety, researchers found that symptoms of anxiety were improved after following a gluten-free diet for one year. Meaning that you could start to see improvements in your anxiety levels after eating gluten-free.

However, I will also say some people experience increased anxiety, especially around food when following a gluten-free diet for celiac disease. This can lead to other problems (like eating disorders or disordered eating).


Ultimately, a lot of the research and mental health symptoms of celiac disease are not yet fully understood. Research in this area is relatively new. The research we do have has found that there is a connection between mental health and celiac disease. If anything, current research is eye-opening. It shows the need for more exploration into the various manifestations of celiac disease – manifestations that go beyond the gut.



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