Not too long ago I had posted an article about how gluten impacts and damages the human nervous system. This morning, I came across an article from fellow blogger, Gluten Free Gigi, in which she shares information about gluten’s role in clinical depression. Read on…
Celiac Disease, Depression and the Role of Food in Mood
Did you know individuals with celiac disease (CD) have a higher risk of depression than non-celiac individuals? It’s true, and being on a gluten-free diet doesn’t appear to change that. In fact, several research studies have examined and confirmed the link between CD and depression.
- Pennsylvania State University researchers assessed 177 women with CD for signs of clinical depression. Even when adhering to a strict gluten-free diet, findings revealed a significant number of the women suffered clinical depression.
- A study from Italy evaluated men and women with CD and confirmed depression is more prevalent in individuals with CD than those without.These researchers also discovered even after one year on a gluten-free diet, symptoms of depression in individuals with CD were not alleviated.(This study did find those with CD experienced a reduction in anxiety after one year on a gluten-free diet.)
- Researchers from the Orebro University Hospital in Sweden found patients with CD are 1.8 times more likely to develop depression than those without CD.
With a direct connection between CD and depression established, researchers now work to discover the reason why depression is so prevalent among patients with CD.
Scientists believe the link between CD and depression is likely due to multiple factors such as:
- Some individuals with CD view their gluten-free lifestyle and diet as restrictive and because of this feel they have reduced quality of life.
- It may be the case that individuals with mood disorders like depression are more likely to be screened for diseases like CD than the general population.
- The production of certain brain chemicals important in regulating mood, like serotonin (sometimes referred to as the “feel good” hormone), may be affected due to poor nutrient absorption in individuals with CD.
- Inflammation of the small intestine lining caused by CD may reduce certain amino acid levels because of specific vitamin and mineral deficiencies. For example, reduced levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that serves as a precursor to serotonin, tends to be reduced in patients with CD. Tryptophan levels also tend to be low in those with depression.
Nutrition is an Important for Physical and Mental Health
It is understood the psychological causes of depression are important and should not be taken lightly; however, when it comes to the link between depression and CD, it may be the physiological contributors that warrant the most discussion. In particular, the poor nutrient absorption associated with CD.
Without the proper nutrients, our bodies cannot carry out all the jobs necessary to keep body systems running smoothly.
Fortunately, each of us has the power to transform our health naturally through the foods we eat…right down to influencing chemicals in our bodies that govern our feelings.
That’s right! Certain vitamins and nutrients in foods help our bodies produce brain chemicals (also called neurochemicals or neurotransmitters) that affect how we feel. Three key neurochemicals (the same ones I studied in my research laboratory at the National Center for Natural Products Research) are involved in balancing our mood.
3 Neurotransmitters that Balance Mood
Norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin are the primary chemicals controlling feelings like joy, agitation, motivation, and even depression.
Certain nutrients in foods are needed for our bodies to produce these critical neurotransmitters.
As you might guess, the processes involved in the conversion of a nutrient in a food like a banana to a neurotransmitter like norepinephrine is quite complex.
Fortunately, those details aren’t necessary to benefit from “good mood food” nutrition on our gluten free diet. Of course, I do have a few examples for you so you can see how common foods and the amino acids they contain play a role in manufacturing these three vital neurotransmitters.
Naturally Gluten-Free Foods that Play a Role in Mood
Bananas, avocados, and legumes naturally contain the amino acid tyrosine, which is a precursor to norepinephrine production.
Eggs, soy, and sesame seeds contain the amino acid, phenylalanine, which can be converted by the body into dopamine.
Most often associated with that super-relaxed feeling after eating turkey or drinking red wine, the amino acid tryptophan, can be converted into serotonin in the brain.
Research also reveals certain vitamins – vitamin D, vitamin B12, and folate (vitamin B-9) – are critical in the production of these key brain chemicals. Interestingly, these are vitamins in which many celiac patients are deficient.
Vitamins in Naturally Gluten-Free Foods Help Balance Mood
Vitamin D increases brain levels of serotonin, one of the mood stabilizing neurotransmitters we discussed earlier. Excellent sources of vitamin D are Omega-3 rich cold-water fish like mackerel and salmon, egg yolks, and mushrooms.
The B-Complex vitamins, vitamin B12 and folate, are also associated with increasing a positive mood. Studies show these vitamins work along with the amino acids in protein to produce all three neurochemicals that regulate mood. Foods like meat, turkey, fish, potatoes, bananas, lentils, beans, molasses, and nutritional yeast are great sources of B-complex vitamins.
It’s easy to see from these examples how the foods we eat play a significant role in how we feel. Even a slight change in the level of any of these three chemicals in our brains alters our mood.
By consuming a wide range of seasonal produce, high-quality proteins (either from animal products or non-animal complete proteins like amaranth and quinoa), and Omega 3-rich fats (from foods like wild-caught cold water fish, sea vegetables, walnuts, flaxseed, and chia) we can usually get an adequate amount of the nutrients we need.
However, sometimes, for those who have medically diagnosed nutrient deficiencies, which is common among newly diagnosed celiac patients, supplements may be necessary. If your doctor recommends supplements, be sure to choose wisely, as not all supplements are created equal. I recommend Celi-Vites nutritional supplements from Gluten Free Therapeutics. They are currently the only pharmaceutical grade supplement on the market created for celiac patients.
Depression is a Serious Health Condition
Do not feel ashamed if you are suffering from depression. Depression is a very serious health condition that requires qualified medical attention. And keep in mind, while no single food or nutrient can eliminate depression, proper nutrition – from food and quality supplements – supports the production of key neurochemicals, and in turn, how we feel.
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from depression, you can learn more here.