The Surprising Link Between Gluten and Depression

In the first study ever to look specifically at whether gluten sensitivity causes mental symptoms, researchers discover a clear link between gluten and depression.

surprising link between gluten and depression

Can gluten sensitivity cause bouts with depression?


Is there a connection between gluten and depression? Investigators from the Department of Gastroenterology at Monash University and The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, had observed from previous studies that people with gluten sensitivity (but without celiac disease) may still have digestive symptoms while on a gluten-free diet but continue to restrict gluten as they report feeling better.

The researchers therefore designed a study to investigate the possible role of gluten on mental state in those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

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IBS Patients Challenged with Gluten

The trial was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 22 patients, ages 24 to 62 years, with irritable bowel syndrome who had been eating a gluten-free diet to control their symptoms even though it had been determined that they did not have celiac disease.[1]

Patients randomly received one of three dietary challenges for three days, followed by at least a three-day period of gluten-free eating before receiving the next dietary challenge. The dietary challenges included gluten-free food (placebo) or the same gluten-free food with either added gluten or lactose-free whey protein. The patients’ mental state and gastrointestinal symptoms were carefully tracked before, during, and after the three dietary challenges.

Study: Eating Gluten Increased Depression Symptoms

Results showed that gluten ingestion was associated with significantly higher depression symptoms compared to placebo, but not whey. No differences were found for other mental symptoms, such as anxiety. Interestingly, there were no differences in gastrointestinal symptoms between any of the dietary challenges.

The researchers concluded that gluten specifically caused feelings of depression. Gluten did not, however, specifically cause gastrointestinal symptoms in this study, although it did in a previous study conducted by the same research team.[2] “Such findings might explain why patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity feel better on a gluten-free diet despite the continuation of gastrointestinal symptoms,” reported the study authors.

Gluten and the Nervous System

Gluten can cause hundreds of different symptoms. While the classic symptoms of gluten intolerance are those of celiac disease (including gastrointestinal upset, failure to thrive, weight loss, and anemia), scientific literature has noted links between gluten and symptoms all over the mind/body spectrum, even when there is no evidence of celiac disease.

The nervous system seems to be particularly susceptible in the case of gluten sensitivity. Nervous system-related symptoms may include mental/emotional symptoms as well as muscle aches and pains and neuropathy symptoms (pain, numbness, tingling) in the hands and/or feet.[3,4] Published reports in the scientific literature have linked celiac disease and/or gluten sensitivity with mental health manifestations including psychosis, schizophrenia, mood swings, and autism.[3] Many of these cases report the complete resolution of symptoms with removal of gluten. Clearly, there is more to the gluten story than celiac disease and digestive issues; mental health is part of the gluten story, too.

Treat Depression Naturally by Finding Underlying Cause

If you’re suffering from depression, eliminating gluten by strictly avoiding all foods containing wheat, barley, rye, and oats (unless they are certified gluten-free oats) is just one of many dietary changes you can try.

A host of nutritional and dietary issues, from gluten intolerance to blood sugar imbalances to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, have been studied and found to be underlying causes of depression.

Tell us and share with our readers whether you’ve encountered a link between gluten and depression or whether a gluten-free diet has made a difference in your other symptoms. Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

[1] Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2014 May;39(10):1104-12.<

[2] Am J Gastroenterol 2011; 106: 508–14.

[3] Gastroenterol Res Pract. 2014; 2014: 293206.

[4] Lancet Neurol. 2010 Mar;9(3):318-30.

Originally published in 2015 and updated.

  • I suffered severe depression and total lack of focus and concentration, all the way to suicidal thoughts for almost two years. Only my stubbornness kept me from accepting medication. But all the instruments I have to work on my mental and fisica wellbeing were no longer accessible for me. I also suffered cronic diarrhea for some 10 years. Both stopped when I gave up gluten! I gave it up because I had discovered a slight gluten intollerance, and as I put it to the test realized the direct link to a new attack of depression and mental confusion.

  • I’ve struggled with depression since I was about 10 (although I didn’t know what it was then ) it got worse as a teenager with metal clouding and difficulty making decisions. I eventually got diagnosed at the age of 20 and started taking anti-depressants. These helped quite a bit but I would still get major episodes, especially when I tried to taper off them. I had also always had random stomach aches but when I was about 27 I developed IBS. The Dr told me to try cutting out gluten and dairy to see if it made a difference so I did. I can honestly say that my thinking has cleared, and Ive started to come off my meds with no negative effects, my moods are mostly positive! I thought there may be a link so it’s nice to read this article

  • You report on a study of 22 people…That is an extremely small random sample…..that gluten causes depression is not at all proven…..

  • Anne S.

    A number of story tellers in my award-winning, life-transforming book, Toxic Staple: How Gluten May Be Wrecking Your Health and What You Can Do About It! talk about any number of neurological symptoms and ailments including depression. Nearly everything gets better when they detect gluten is the issue and address a gluten-free lifestyle. Their symptoms and associated conditions are backed up with significant research from around the world. The longest chapter in the book is “Neurological Dilemmers: The Mind-blowing Hazards of Gluten. One gentleman found his depression and memory issues (that interfered with his work) resolved in 7 months with a GF lifestyle. Gluten can affect any part of the body/brain. Don’t let it wreck yours. Become your own advocate by getting educated.

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