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.

gluten and depression

Is there a link between gluten and depression? Research has found a connection.

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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 or wheat intolerance symptoms.

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 a gluten detox 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.

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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 or wheat allergy symptoms 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, try eliminating gluten by strictly avoiding all foods containing wheat, barley, rye, and oats (unless they are certified gluten-free oats), as one depression treatment option.

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.

Gluten and Depression: Share Your Experience

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 experience on seeking help with depression 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 regularly updated.

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Comments
  • 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.

  • Nancy L.

    Gluten and depression, heck yeah. My daughter was depressed, anxiety to the point of suicidal thoughts. Started therapy and loss depression meds. It helped a little and was upped in dosage twice. That was in 2014.15.16. Now 2017. In march, we went to a health and wellness dr. who did extension blood tests. Found her to be highly gluten sensitive and malnourished. Her gut was just not processing all the good food and supplements she took. Started gluten free diet in march and now she actually poops everyday (another symptom to watch for, lack of pooping). Her therapist said she didn’t need therapy anymore and she is being weaned off her meds. She will be off meds by Thanksgiving. She is 18 now

  • Three weeks ago I cut gluten from my diet as I was becoming a daily user of anti-acid pills and I wondered if going gluten free might help. It did but one totally unexpected benefit of no gluten is feeling really positive and having great mental clarity. I am on HRT for mood swings and I am seriously wondering if I should come off it as, with a totally gluten free diet, I think I might be able to eliminate mood swings. I am amazed at this.

  • From early childhood I had symptoms that no doctor could explain but treated them in silly ways. Most of my life I have experienced a type of depression that was difficult to define or explain this was mostly put down to a severe thyroid problem.I did a lot of research myself and I realised it was an autoimmune disease and I wondered what else was in the pipeline for me.I am a vegetarian and have allergies towards the belladonna family of foods . For the last five months I have been on a totally gluten-free diet, steering towards Palio diet-after three weeks my feelings of depression and anxiety had lifted, it was gradual until one day I suddenly felt euphoric happy and contented with who I was for the first time in my life. Last week I mixed up my daughters ordinary bread with my own gluten-free and ate two slices.it was only when I experienced an overwhelming feeling of fear and dread for no reason – I just wanted to go to bed and sleep and never wake up . It was about 4 hours later when I realised my mistake. I am 68 years old I wish I had understood about gluten years ago.

  • I have had nasty depression on and off for 8 years or so. The last 7 months I have had stomach cramps and very loose bowel movements EVERY day. I was thinking about bowel cancer! I then read an article about gluten intolerance and thought I’d cut out gluten to see what happened… Within 3 days of cutting out gluten my bowel movements were fairly solid, and the cramping had disappeared (all to my amazement). I also then noticed that my mood, which had been low recently, lifted to the point everyone around me commented on it. I have been feeling energised both mentally and physically. I can’t believe the difference in such a short space of time. All coincidence…we will wait and see. If things continue to go so positively then I will never touch gluten again!

  • I have eliminated wheat and casein after having a laboratory test done showing I was producing excess peptides to both of these (aka. intolerant). I feel a lot better and have been getting up earlier in the morning full of energy. I’m now the first one to the office and that has never been ME. I could sleep all day. Mood swings all over the place. I always felt so caged in, fight-or-flight mode, suicidal thoughts, excessive hunger, neuropathy, joint pain/aches, exhausted, too much energy, etc, but really once I eliminated gluten/casein, all these things have vastly improved. I wouldn’t say my anxiety is completely gone, but I am 37 and for the first time I actually have somewhat long fingernails. I’ve been a nail-biter all my life and now don’t feel the need to do so. Only thing I’ve changed in my life is this dietary change. I’m so afraid to eat almost anything if I am not sure of everything in it. I just wonder if I have other food intolerances since my digestive system is obviously very sensitive. Another odd thing I’ve noticed is since I’ve given up gluten/casein, my tolerance to coffee has increased substantially. One cup used to get me pretty jazzed up, whereas now I can hardly tell I’ve had caffeine.

  • Jellojello

    This seems to be a very important study. There is also a growing body of evidence of the gut-brain connection in depression and anxiety disorders. That is, people with GI and digestive issues tend to have depression and anxiety issues. So perhaps gluten isn’t directly the culprit with depression but it may interfere with proper digestion which then leads to depression.

  • Andrew B.

    I was depressed through all my teenage years and pat of my twenties. This included brain fog, lethargy, lots of random aches and pains, and suicidal thoughts. Eventually I went on a strict gluten free diet and my head cleared up and most of my negative thinking went away. Whenever I eat a normal portion of gluten now my suicidal thoughts return and I can’t focus on anything. I know it absolutely sounds crazy that eating bread can make someone feel like they want to die but it’d absolutely true and there’s something going on with the wheat in this country.

  • Mitzi, A small sample size indeed! And no one from Norway, either! If you really understood how studies work, you would know one is never enough to hang your hat. That said, perhaps further investigation is warranted. Sigh. The morons never give up.

  • All my life I had digestive issues. It wasn’t ever investigated by a doctor. But I started to realize on my own that gluten and dairy were problems for me. But I was still eating 1-2 portions of gluten per week when I was out at a cafe of restaurant. All my life I had suffered depression and knew that the extreme lethargy I felt and brain fog was related in some way to gluten consumption. But I also had serious short term memory problems which were getting worse and worried me as my mother had early onset Alzheimer’s (I am 42). So in January this year I became vigilant about not eating gluten. And the way I now describe the impact of gluten on my life is catastrophic. Within three weeks my memory became Normal, my brain fog lifted, my depression had gone. All sorts of other physical symptoms disappeared too.
    Then I ate a pastry. And what happened to me over the next three to four days was very revealing. I had to sleep within half an hour of ingesting it and couldn’t wake up all afternoon. By nightfall a sense of doom kicked in and I couldn’t perform my normal childcare duties, I was depressed, lethargic, and my memory was shot for the next four days, and my gastrointestinal symptoms didn’t resolve until two weeks later. Needless to say I won’t be eating gluten again. The effect of it upon my life cannot be understated. I thought I would always be depressed. Never have energy, couldn’t function like a normal person. I feel now I am on fire, sharp of mind, intensely curious and passionate, joyful at the life I managed to create while only half functioning. And if a low feeling comes up I can see it’s real cause and it moves on naturally.
    I think further research is required into the role of gluten in depression, brain fog and memory problems.

    I am now a believer that food must be the first line of defense in mental health care.

  • jonathan

    I suffer from terrible depression and anxiety and the other day I was in a rare good state and had some wheat (3 small salty crackers) …. within 10 minutes I felt terrible and thought can this be a gluten reaction? So I cut out gluten totally, had an awful first day (detox?) and since then have had some of the most lucid happy days I can remember in years and years! Holding thumbs

  • Same story here: depressed for 15 years, all the therapie in the world, nasty meds, drug and alcohol to ease the pain. Started eating gIuten- and lactose-free 3 years ago and everything changed. I just wish I found out earlier. There was no doctor ever talking about gluten or lactose. They just stuffed me with pills because there is no money made with a healthy diet. No, it is the meds that make the money!

  • Matty C.

    While the study may be small, you only need to read the comments to see a direct link or effect gluten can have on others.
    I have suffered horrendous IBS for years, and severe Anxiety, fear lived within me. I eat plant based only for the last two years, and I did find some relief, (and the animals :)) Ima runner and i am always bloated. I realised afte ri ate bread it was at its worst. So i decided to eliminate bread and switched to Gluten free. Well, hold me back……. within 3 days, my life head was clearer, fear was heavily reduced and i was not bloated….. I deliberatly ate normal bread again, and within hours all my symptons returned. I am now 2 days back in to being off gluten and feeling the freedom and happiness I once owned come back into my life!

  • Heidi R.

    I have been taking anti-depressants since 2003, and have been on a gluten-free diet since 2012. Recently, my depression has been off the charts. I have been sleeping 9-10 hours a night, and taking naps in the afternoon. I cannot motivate myself to do the things I enjoy much less chores and personal maintenance. It’s been rough. Other symptoms such as joint aches, brain fog, and eczema that I associate with my gluten intolerance have also increased as well. This morning, as I was filling up my weekly pill box with my meds and supplements, I decided to take a closer look at a new daily supplement I have been taking for dry skin. I looked up the ingredients for the phytoceramide product and learned that it contains 70mg of wheat seed extract – a primary source of the lipid in the supplement. I feel stupid for not researching this before I tried it. There are similar products that are rice-based and GF. I am about 2/3 the way thru a 30 days supply of this product, so I am fairly certain it is the cause of the depression spike.

  • Naveed Z.

    I am taking Anti-depressant for 10 years, my stomach was always in bad shape, cant digest food and then diarrhea, never had a thought that my food can be reason and plus to that, Dr never gave that a thought, off-course they wont, they cant mint money otherwise, i spoke to a nature-path dr and first thing she did was my food intolerance test, it came positive for casein , but she advised me to quit Gluten as well… i felt much better after Quitting Gluten and Dairy prods, i wish i had known this before ,lost 10 years of my life with lethargy, depression, low moods, fatigue etc 🙁

  • Chaim B.

    I was STRICTLY off gluten and casein for many years and it helped me zilch. I was even hospitalized twice while on gluten and casein free. If it helped for some, good for them but this study is too small anyway.

  • i am a 65 year old retired teacher who has suffered from anxiety, depression, constipation, bloating, and memory problems my entire life. No physician ever discussed nutrition at all. So after retiring, I made it my mission to become as healthy as I could. My research led me to think I may have a gluten sensitivity due to my myriad of symptoms. Of note, one of my grandchildren has celiac disease. So I began a gluten free diet several weeks ago and it has been nothing short of miraculous. My mood has lifted, anxiety gone, constipation improving and no longer in a mental fog. I have an appointment with my doctor next week. Plan on asking him for lab confirmation.

  • I have had Diabetes for about 5 years and even though I eat pretty healthy decided to go gluten free and lean towards Paleo to see if that would help my glucose numbers. I have what’s considered healthy numbers for a diabetic, but if I can reverse my disease I will try anything. I gave up all wheat products, and 90% processed foods, no rice, no pasta. I do eat some dairy, eat meat and veggies and light fruit. Took a couple months to get the hang of the new lifestyle. I thought I would try eating some wheat products, wow, felt terrible. Tired and depressed, moody, digestive bloating, almost like my mind was stressed out. I had no reason to have mood swings or depression, let alone weird anxiety feelings of doom. Okay, so a couple weeks later, back to normal, decided to try gluten again, same thing. No one can convince me that something is not connected here. I tried it about 4 times, at least a two week period in between, different foods like, a dinner roll, breaded chicken, hamburger, and all with the same results. Moody serious fatigue, depression, anxiety. I was tested and have no gluten intolerance according to tests. So, maybe it’s gluten or not the gluten but the Roundup or some other thing that’s associated with wheat products. Either way if something makes you feel bad, stop doing it.

  • Karin U.

    I have been on a GF diet for about 18 months now, with amazing results: Soaring motivation, increased confidence, better social skills and enjoying life to the fullest. Recently, at a work meeting we had some afternoon tea and it was pointed out to me that some of the slices were gluten free. Not wanting to appear rude, I tried a small slice. Within hours I felt weirdly nauseated, the next day I experience abdominal cramps accompanied by irritability followed by outright depression and feelings of doom. I also noticed a soreness in the liver area which I remember from the gluten days, but had never felt while GF. I think next time I will politely reject dubious “gluten free” food even if I am considered rude. Other people just have no idea how miserable it can make one feel! It is just not worth it.

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