Anyone can experience the physical symptoms of gluten intolerance as the body’s normal immune reaction to the presence of gluten in body tissues and blood. These symptoms might include body aches and pains, stomach discomfort and diarrhea, for example. People who are sensitive to gluten are also more likely to experience depression and anxiety. In fact, numerous studies indicate that people who are intolerant to gluten also experience social phobias, which can lead to increased depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle that can, fortunately, be helped by removing gluten from your diet.

How and Why Does Food Lead People to Feel Depressed and Anxious? 

When you eat food that contains wheat (and even milk, soy and rice), the stomach breaks down the proteins into small peptides (these peptides are often referred to as exorphins, but more on that later). Those peptides in turn bind to the gamma and delta opioid receptors in the brain, which then affect the central nervous system. When wheat binds to the opioid receptors, you experience a variety of short-term “positive” effects, such as mood elevation, numbed pain, decreased emotional sensitivity, confidence and self-assuredness.  Much like a drug, gluten-filled foods make you feel good in the immediate moment. 

Negative long-term effects to the consumption of gluten:

  • stress responses 
  • sedation 
  • dullness 
  • respiratory depression
  • decreased body temperature 
  • hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • satiety   
  • In turn, people may experience changes in sexual behavior, social phobias, depression and anxiety.

The Emotional Attachment to Gluten-Filled Food

One of the challenges of removing gluten from your diet is breaking through the deep emotional attachment to gluten-filled food. However, researchers theorize that it’s not simply an emotional attachment, but more of an addiction. At this point, we return to the discussion of exorphins, which are the peptides that bind to opioid receptors. Interestingly enough, these exorphins are the result of an external trigger (i.e. foods containing wheat) and have a morphine-like effect on the body, much like endorphins, except the body makes endorphins. The theory is that certain foods result in an effect that is not unlike heroin or morphine. In short, the body becomes addicted to certain foods, like wheat, in spite of the fact that a person is sensitive or allergic to that food. In fact, many studies indicate that people with schizophrenia may experience fewer symptoms if they stop eating wheat, as well as dairy products.

Misdiagnosis?

The point is that people with gluten sensitivities may experience symptoms that are easily passed off as normal aging or worse, a psychological condition. They may experience:

  • fatigue 
  • IBS 
  • chronic depression
  • ADD 
  • ADHD 
  • learning disabilities 
  • anxiety
  • aches and pains 
  • weight fluctuation/gain 
  • bloating 
  • constipation/diarrhea 

The good news is you don’t have to live your life tired, in pain and sad. Removing gluten from your diet may very well be a means to alleviate your depression and anxiety. Once you get over the “addiction” to wheat products, you will experience a whole new world of food.

The world is waking up to the realities of gluten intolerance and you will find that it’s becoming increasingly easier to find gluten free foods. In fact, your local grocery store probably even has a selection of gluten free products, and there are entire websites dedicated to offering gluten free foods to people that cannot consume products containing wheat, rye and barley. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that after the first few weeks of eating a gluten free diet, you will have increased energy and a renewed spirit in which depression and anxiety are things of the past.