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.

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.

    Reply
  • 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

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

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  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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!

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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

    Reply
  • 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!

    Reply
  • 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!

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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 🙁

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • In the mid 1990s, in my 40s, I began suffering from depression and brain fog. I tried anti-depressants and could not tolerate the side effects. Then in 1996 I developed dramatic, disabling digestive symptoms and was referred to a GI specialist. He did all the tests and came up with no explanation. Finally, he said to me: “Try cutting out wheat. You don’t have celiac disease or wheat allergy, but sometimes people get better anyway when they eliminate wheat from their diet.” So I did and it worked. Much to my surprise, my depression and brain fog also lifted. Another thing I noticed is that I stopped getting mouth sores. All my life, I had been prone to mouth sores — several episodes per year. There had been no discussion of mood nor of mouth sore with my GI doctor, and nothing in my mind that connected the three complaints. And it was 1996, so I had never read anything suggesting gluten could be related to depression. In fact, I had never heard of anyone going gluten free. I have stayed gluten free ever and depression/brain fog free ever since. I don’t think I could test myself with a 3-day challenge. The lifting of the depression and brain fog was a very slow process. I didn’t notice it until weeks after it began and I could feel it progressing for months after.

    Reply
  • This is an insightful article to bring awareness. Being in the health care profession and working with people who are gluten intolerant this article really brings light. It is also great knowledge to learn that there is a link between gluten and depression. Thank you for this article and this awareness.

    Reply
  • Not to be unkind, but why does it take so long for the medical community to believe and study information that patients say that are a part of their symptoms?

    Reply
  • I was gluten free for months then I had a few pieces of cake at a birthday party, second day I was very depressed with no reason, foggy, unmotivated and wondered what’s wrong with me until I remembered I had gluten, what a horrible feeling OMG. Is affecting directly my mental states, I forgot how miserable I feel with gluten. I think the medical community is a business community and nobody care usually in a business what happen with people, is just about selling and consume, if we will wait for someone to recognize how poisonous is the gluten we might wait forever and even die, we have to take care of our-self, there is no interest and no money coming from recognizing the gluten effects in human body.

    Reply
  • I have been gluten free for several years, but cheat occasionally. I have noticed every time I cheat I notice adverse reactions follow and they seem to be worse with every incident.
    Last month was birthday month in my family. Many people in my family have birthdays in the month of March including myself. I am pretty good at staying away from the cake, but after one party I through for my daughter I fell off the wagon after everyone had gone home and left half a cake behind. I forged myself leaving all inhibitions behind. It was sooo delicious. The following few days after that I noticed I was crankier, way more tired than usual and my joint hurt all over my body. Because I was crankier and overly emotionaly sensitive than usual I ended up getting into a tiff with one of my family members. It was so bad I had to leave town for the next couple of days to cool down. I took myself to a restore town near the coast, got a hotel room with an incredibly healing view of a bay. I then proceeded to binge on gluten for two days straight. Cinnabon’s, pizza, donuts you name it. Unfortunately, I was way worse when I returned home than when I left. I booked an appointment with a counselor, scheduling it out two weeks in advance and then spent the next few days in bed completely inoperable and with suicidle thoughts. As I lay here I am convinced that, even though my family member with whom I had a tiff with was in the wrong that I still would have handled so much different if I hadn’t fallen off the gluten wagon. My pain and crippling fatigue hadn’t been this bad since before I gave up gluten years ago. I am thoroughly convinced that some severe adolescent depression was aggravated by gluten as well. If I stay clean from gluten I can handle the tough knocks life brings. If I fall off the wagon all hope and happiness disappear.

    Reply
  • I did not know this: 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. My mother in-law suffered from schizophrenia… I cannot help but wonder if gluten was her problem all along….

    Reply
  • Gluten is kryptonite. I went off gluten for arthritis joint pain. After years of cheating here and there I realized that wheat gave me the most abject sadness. Ruminating thoughts that would not stop and I just wanted to cry. I lived like this for 50 years. Now I won’t touch the stuff for ANYTHING!!! If you have acne, psoriasis, pain and or debilitating depression, go off gluten and see what happens. You may get your life back. All of these symptoms went away. It’s like a miracle. gluten is one of the most inflammatory foods there is.

    Reply
  • I am almost 100% certain that the negative comments about the test study size are from those in the bread or gluten industry. There would be no other reason for such comments to exist on this site.

    As for my personal experience, I suffered depression for most of my life. I am 61 years old. Two very potent reasons exist for this depression. Genetic testing showed five years ago that I do not absorb vitamin B 12 and currently self inject methylcobalamin. The second factor that was more difficult to come by but equally important is gluten. And the reason gluten is so self evident at this time is that when I accidentally or purposely eat gluten containing products like delicious Italian bread, which is not by accident but more by delusion, I spiral down into the malevolent affects of depression and unabated dark thoughts. It is gluten. The study was not too small.

    Reply
  • I am a retired graduate nutritionist Having my career as a State Registered Dietitian in the NHS and RNH Haslar.
    The link between depression and wheat – not necessarily gluten has been known for more than 30 years.
    I have very definite proof of it within the family of my husband. Like alcoholism it can be genetic and in his family this is also unfortunately evident. My husband returned from Somalia many years ago having been away on survey work in a famine area and feeding on fish and rice. He hungrily ate crusty bread the evening of his return and was soon sitting with his head in his hands and tears in his eyes. It was he who actually diagnosed the cause before I had ever come across it in hospital. We adopted a wheat free diet then as a family. Rye and other cereals were not avoided. Our adult daughter was recently thrown into deep, almost suicidal depression after eating Pret a Manger falafel which does not list wheat as an ingredient but I would suggest, from her reaction, may be there as a filler. She recovered within a few hours but will not be repeating that particular dining experience. There are also links with wheat and dairy allergy and schizophrenia. It is a pity that patients with mental health problems do not have dietary advice on a trial of an exclusion diet to see if their symptoms can be eliminated or lessened before they are
    prescribed serious drugs with their harmful side effects. I cannot help wondering if the lack of information on dietary control is for the financial benefit of the drug companies, The word definitely needs to be spread
    about giving this safe alternative to drugs at least a trial.

    Reply
  • Have been eating Keto, since August 29,2018. When I eat gluten I hit depression and suicidal thoughts. Had some pizza last night. Depressed, and dark place. Thanks for the study. It is good to see my question and conclusion backed up with proof. I am bookmarking this page!!!!!!

    Reply
  • I started experiencing depression in my early forties, it was like a black cloud of doom and gloom that last for a full 4 days. I wasn’t suicidal but could understand how someone experiencing this for years might be. I have an autistic son and wanted to try the gluten and casein free diet on him but struggled to get started as he was a picky eater. I decided to do it myself first so I could get all the mistakes out of the way. I started with gluten and realised the pattern, that depression started 3 days after eating it and then lasted 4 days. I also noticed other symptoms like gut pain, brain fog, joint pain and energy/enthusiasm levels all changed for the better. I removed all gluten from the house and the whole family went gluten free. A year later I removed dairy from our diet and experienced happiness! My mood was light and happy, I had never felt like that before, strangers started to chat to me in the supermarket (often) which hadn’t happened much before, I must have been very unapproachable before. It is now about 8 years later and still gluten and dairy free, I have not experienced that depression again.

    Reply
  • So happy this article & especially comments exist! I had to give up dairy last year due to acne issues, and i’ve always been moody so I decided to cut out gluten as well, man did it make a difference! I felt SO good removing both dairy and gluten that I thought dipping back into it wouldn’t hurt me at all.. SO wrong.. right back into dark, sad, feeling worthless thoughts. There is DEFINITELY a link, I just feel bad that not a lot of people know, or some are just very stubborn about their diets. It is sad that such delicious foods can alter our minds so much, but the taste is not worth the trauma! Good luck to all of you experiencing this as well!

    Reply

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