How Gluten Affects Your Mood

gluten affects mood
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gluten affects mood

 

Gluten has been named as the culprit in a wide range of ailments but might it also be something that affects your mood?

We know gluten can cause digestive problems in people with intolerances and sensitivities, but could it also be the cause of depression and anxiety?

To help you understand how gluten affects your mood, we have taken a closer look at gluten, the conditions directly attributed to gluten intolerance and sensitivity, and the current scientific research into how gluten affects mood.

Here is everything you need to know about gluten and how it could be impacting the way you feel.

 

What is Gluten, Exactly?

Rarely has something been so talked about AND so rarely understood.

If you are a little hazy about what gluten actually is, we totally understand.

Most people assume that gluten is simply wheat, and, in reality, that is only part of the story. Gluten is a general name applied to proteins found in wheat (including wheat berries, farro, durum, Khorasan wheat, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, graham, and einkorn), barley, rye, and triticale.

The unfortunate fact is that these substances, and therefore, gluten, are found in a number of food products.

 

Wheat can be found in:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Cereal
  • Salad dressings
  • Soups, sauces, and roux

 

Barley can be found in:

  • Beer
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Malt (including malt vinegar, malted barley flour, malt syrup, malted milk, and milkshakes)
  • Soups
  • Food coloring

 

Rye can be found in:

  • Cereals
  • Rye breads
  • Rye beer

 

As you can see, even if you don’t think you are eating wheat, you may be eating something—like salad dressing—that contains gluten.

Individuals looking to avoid gluten in their diets need to pay close attention to everything they consume. Many ingredients or foods may appear safe but actually contain hidden gluten.

French fries, for example, may be cooked in the same frier as battered and breaded foods, leading to cross-contamination. Some potato chip flavors contain malt vinegar. Soups, especially creamy soups, may use flour as a thickening agent. Even some medications and supplements may use gluten in their coating.

 

Here is a list of ingredients that are hidden sources of gluten:

  • Starch
  • Modified food starch
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein
  • Textured vegetable protein
  • Dextrin
  • Maltodextrin
  • Glucose syrup
  • Caramel
  • Brown rice syrup

 

Remember if something is labeled “wheat-free,” it does not necessarily mean that it is gluten-free. It may use spelt, rye, or barley. If it is not labeled as certified gluten-free, always read the label, and when in doubt, leave it at the store!

 

What are Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity?

Before we delve into how gluten affects your mood, we need to take a quick look at the illnesses and conditions linked to gluten.

Research into how gluten affects mood has indicated differences depending on the specific gluten-related condition the individual has. The two primary conditions are celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

 

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where the ingestion of gluten will lead to damage in the small intestine.

When people with celiac disease eat gluten, the body’s immune system responds by attacking the small intestine and, more specifically, the villi that line the intestine. These are the finger-like projections that aid in and promote nutrient absorption.

Celiac is a hereditary illness that impacts 1 in 100 people around the globe. If you have a first-degree relative (i.e., parent, sibling, or child) with celiac disease, your odds of developing it are 1 in 10.

Left untreated, celiac disease can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies, anemia, and early onset osteoporosis or osteopenia. It can also lead to other autoimmune disorders like type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis. It can also dramatically increase the risk of coronary artery disease and small bowel cancers.

In addition to being a threat to one’s health, celiac can be extremely uncomfortable. It can cause extreme bowel pain and lifestyle disruptions. Celiac disease can develop at any time after a person starts to eat solid foods and the only treatment is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet.

 

The symptoms of celiac disease in children can include:

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal bloating and pain
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability and behavioral issues
  • Iron-deficiency anemia

 

The list of symptoms changes in adults as they are less likely to experience digestive symptoms. Instead, some common symptoms are:

  • Bone or joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Arthritis
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Peripheral neuropathy (tingling in the hands and feet)
  • Skin blistering
  • Seizures and migraine
  • Missed periods
  • Infertility or recurrent miscarriages
  • Canker sores inside of the mouth

 

What is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity?

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is exactly what it sounds like—a sensitivity to gluten that is not related to celiac disease.

Specifically, the condition refers to sensitivity or intolerance to gluten that shares many of the same symptoms as celiac disease without the related antibodies and small intestine damage found in celiac disease.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity might show up as gas, bloating, anemia, joint pain, brain fog, skin irritations, headaches, and fatigue.

While these are similar symptoms, the biggest difference between non-celiac gluten sensitivity and celiac disease is that non-celiac individuals can tolerate gluten, even if it presents a range of uncomfortable side effects.

How Gluten Affects Your Mood

While we know that healthier eating can improve your mood. But what happens when you eliminate gluten, either by necessity or by choice?

Many people have reported, anecdotally, that they feel better and their mood has improved when eliminating gluten from their diet. But is there scientific evidence available to back this up? Is giving up gluten when you do not have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity worth it?

To help you answer the question, we’ve taken a look at the most up-to-date scientific research on mood-related conditions and how gluten may or may not impact them.

 

Gluten and Mood Disorders

Gluten can be incredibly disruptive (to say the least!) to people that suffer from gluten sensitivities and celiac disease.

Beyond the typical symptoms of cramping, bloating, fatigue, diarrhea, and gas, it seems that gluten may cause some psychological distress too, including anxiety and depression.

 

Gluten, Anxiety, and Depression

When it comes to anxiety and depression, the scientific community is mixed on whether or not gluten is a factor.

Some early studies suggest that gluten may cause depression in subjects with non-celiac gluten sensitivities while some later studies have indicated the opposite. Clear as mud, right?

Here is what we do know:

  • A gluten-free diet may improve mood disorders and depressive episodes in individuals with gluten-related disorders. While the exact correlation remains unclear, a 2018 scientific review of three randomized-controlled trials and ten longitudinal studies found that a gluten-free diet improved depressive symptom scores and that there was a tendency towards worsening depression in non-celiac gluten sensitive participants in a blinded gluten challenge vs. placebo.

This supports the theory that gluten and mood disorders are related for susceptible individuals. The researchers indicated that future studies should be conducted related to the effects of a gluten-free diet and mood disorders in individuals without gluten-related sensitivities.

  • Another review, also published in 2018, looked at the previously suggested “association between gluten-related disorder and psychiatric comorbidities” in both children and adults. After reviewing 47 studies, there appears to be an association between celiac disease and depression. This association, however, may be due to factors other than the consumption of gluten.

Much of the scientific literature suggests that while there may be a connection, gluten may not be the only culprit in bringing about depressive episodes or feelings of anxiety. It is entirely possible that participants in the research are experiencing a nocebo effect. A nocebo effect occurs when an inert substance, like gluten, causes negative effects in the test/study subject. IN this instance, it means that participants may have reported experiencing symptoms simply because they believed these symptoms may occur. And given that much of the research involves self-reporting mood and mental health effects, a nocebo effect could impact the results.

It is also worth noting that depression is a common symptom of celiac disease and may not actually be tied solely to the consumption of gluten. Some believe that the anxiety and depression experienced by those with gluten intolerance and sensitivities may actually be tied to the difficulties it presents for their lifestyle.

Individuals with celiac disease may find it difficult to participate in social activities involving food, they may find their options extremely limited, and the constant focus on diet may play a role in their depression.

Future studies will look more deeply into the ways gluten may, or may not, impact the brain and its effects in the general population (those without celiac disease or gluten sensitivities) will be further explored so a better overall understanding is achieved.

 

Gluten-Free Snack Ideas and Pantry Staples

While there is no concrete evidence that a gluten-free diet will affect your mood, especially if you do not have a gluten-related disorder, some individuals prefer to eat gluten-free because it makes them feel better. And, really, isn’t that the point?

But, if you must, or choose, to go gluten-free, having the following items on hand can make your life a whole lot easier. Even if you don’t plan to follow a gluten-free diet, these food items can help those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities feel welcome, relaxed, and included, in your home!

Remember: before you buy, read the label. Look for products that are certified gluten-free. If you have any doubts, it is best to leave it at the store, especially if you have celiac disease.

 

Harvest Snaps Snack Crisps and Crunchions

For people with food sensitivities, finding allergy-free snacks or gluten-free snacks can be difficult.

Fortunately, Harvest Snaps Snack Crisps and Crunchions are both certified gluten-free! Made with green peas, red lentils, or black beans, these vegetable-based snacks offer a playful crunch that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

Snack Crisps, with a snappable peapod shape and a range of flavors are sure to satisfy every snack craving and snack style! The mouth-watering options include, Lightly Salted, Tomato Basil, Caesar, Wasabi Ranch, Mango Chile Lime, Black Pepper, and Parmesan Roasted Garlic.

Crunchions will quickly become your favorite ring-shaped snack! The flavor options include the classic Sour Cream & Onion, the sweet and sharp Tangy Sweet Chili, and the bold, spicy, and slightly sweet Kick’n BBQ.

You can enjoy these snacks on their own, or add them to your favorite trail mix recipe or use the milder flavors in place of breadcrumbs in your go-to recipes! Harvest Snaps are even a perfect way to top off salads and soups!

 

gluten free soup

 

Stuffed Dates

If you need a quick, nutritious snack, simply fill pitted dates with crunchy peanut butter and a light sprinkle of unsweetened coconut flakes.

Full of fiber, this sweet and crunchy snack is good for people with troubled digestive systems!

Whenever using dates in your snacks and baking, be sure to use whole dates. Some chopped dates may be processed with flour and therefore might contain gluten. Always err on the side of caution and chop the dates yourself!

 

Mini Zucchini Pizzas

For a quick after-school snack or something to satisfy mid-Sunday afternoon munchies, try zucchini pizzas!

Slice a zucchini into thick, round slices, and brush each side with olive oil. Place the slices on a lined baking sheet and broil on each side for about two minutes or until they start to brown.

Remove from the oven, top each slice with tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella or Parmesan cheese. Put back into the oven and broil for about one minute or until the cheese is melted.

Quick and easy!

 

Gluten-Free Oats

Gluten-free oats are a perfect breakfast option. They can also be used in gluten-free baking (apple crisp, anyone?) or ground to make oat flour.

Read the labels before buying and look for items that are certified gluten-free.

 

Gluten-Free Flour

While general all-purpose flour is a gluten bomb, there are many gluten-free flour options available.

The flour you choose will depend on your tastes and any other allergies or food sensitivities in your household.

Some gluten-free flour options are:

  • Almond flour
  • Brown or white rice flour
  • Tapioca flour
  • Potato starch
  • Arrowroot starch or flour

 

Tamari

Soy sauce is a common ingredient, used to add flavor to savory dishes. Unfortunately, many soy sauces contain wheat proteins. Tamari, on the other hand, can be used in place of soy sauce and is naturally gluten-free.

There are also gluten-free soy sauces available so, again, reading the label is key.

 

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum provides the elasticity to baking goods that would otherwise come from gluten. Many store-bought gluten-free flour blends will already contain xanthan gum.

If you see this ingredient listed in your gluten-free recipe, check your flour blend before adding it in.

 

Quinoa

Quinoa is an edible seed with a light nutty flavor that can be used in a variety of ways. You can cook it on its own to use as a rice-like side dish, or add some vegetables, herbs, and spices to create a flavorful side salad.

As a plant-based protein, you will find quinoa in a lot of vegetarian and vegan dishes as well as healthy, protein-rich snack foods.

 

Brown Rice Pasta

Regular pasta can be a straight-up gluten nightmare. For an easy alternative, use brown rice pasta.

Mild in flavor with a chewy texture, brown rice pasta makes a perfect gluten-free alternative for all of those time-honored Italian dishes!

Keep a jar of tomato sauce in your pantry and you’ve got a last-minute gluten-free meal any time you need!

 

White or Brown Rice

White and brown rice are great gluten-free options to have around for a wide range of meal ideas. Quick, easy, and nutritious, you’ll never be left without a solid meal idea.

As a versatile side or as part of a main, all it takes is adding some fresh ingredients and you are all set!

 

Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes are a hearty, gluten-free food option. An excellent source of protein, iron, and essential vitamins and minerals, adding things like black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and red kidney beans to your pantry means you will always have something available to you in a pinch.

Beans and rice, for example, is a great last-minute meal idea. Or, if you need to make a gluten-free dessert for your next potluck, black bean brownies will always be well received.

 

Conclusion

The science surrounding gluten and mood is contradictory at best. While this does not mean that gluten will affect your mood, it also does not mean that it won’t. We simply do not know for sure.

In the years ahead, we are likely to see more research on the topic. Current published studies have recommended a deeper look at the impacts of gluten in people without celiac disease or gluten sensitivities so we can better understand what role it may play in mood regulation.

For people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, avoiding the substance is a necessity and not an option.

Fortunately, following a gluten-free diet may reduce the experience of depression and anxiety. And as the scientific community continues to investigate the connection between gluten and mood, we will better understand celiac disease and gluten sensitivities, further empowering sufferers to live their best (and healthiest) lives!

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