Gluten and Mental Health

Your diet has a tremendous amount to do with your mental health. Recently I read an article about how people who regularly consume fast food are more likely to be depressed. For years I’ve followed success stories of children who cut out gluten, dairy, and sugar, the Autism Diet. Today I noticed a piece on Psych Central by Richard and C.R. Zwolinski titled Does Gluten Cause Mental Illness?

Of course gluten factors into mental health! About one in 99 Americans has celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder in which the body cannot tolerate gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, and rye. Many other people are gluten intolerant which means their bodies don’t want gluten in their system either. There is a very wide range of symptoms in such people and the most overlooked category of symptoms is those having to do with mental health.

When you’re eating a food that makes you sick, that sickness can affect every part of you. I’ve said for years that people suffering from anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia should be tested for celiac disease, other food allergies, and food intolerances first and foremost– period. I like to challenge people with the question, “what kind of gas are you putting in your car?” I ask them if they know if they are leaded, unleaded, or diesel.

If you are unleaded and are putting leaded gas into your car, your mind and body aren’t going to function correctly. You’re not fueling up with the right substances. It makes tremendous sense that our diets affect our mood and well-being because the ingestion of food keeps us going. If you are taking in something that cannot be properly processed or absorbed by your body, you’re not going to feel right.

When I cut gluten out of my diet, the inexplicable anxiety I had dropped dramatically within a week. I realized that not only was gluten killing my body– my symptoms were severe– they were causing me mental suffering as well even if I didn’t show it. I know people who suffer from depression who have histories of celiac and food sensitivities in their families, but, despite my own dramatic experience, they don’t believe me when I say that being tested and changing their diets is worth a try.

It simply floors me that people who have anxiety and depression would rather be on potentially harmful medication with a myriad of side effects to manage their symptoms than try the safer route of changing their diet. I’m no longer willing to listen to, “oh, but I’d miss gluten” given the astounding variety of gluten-free products out there. I’m celiac and have a number of other food allergies; that’s where it gets tricky. Going gluten-free is easy compared to having to cut a number of foods out.

Sometimes when people tell me, “I’m certain I’ve cut gluten out of my diet but I’m still not feeling right,” I can pinpoint, in short order, how they’re still ingesting gluten. Cross-contamination is a big factor. Home kitchens are rarely free of gluten; the only way around that is to have a dedicated area and equipment for gluten-free cooking. Many restaurants are now serving so-called gluten-free food, but they’re preparing that in the same pans with the same utensils in the same kitchen.

I would venture to say that most prepared foods contain gluten, and it can be difficult to spot when it wears myriad labels like “modified food starch.” Pull some cans out of your cupboard and start comparing them to a list of gluten-containing foods. Also note the fine print on the labels that tells you the ingredients were processed on shared equipment with wheat and other contaminants. Are you eating oats? Oats are often contaminated. Gluten hides everywhere and you can’t just cut out the items that say “wheat” on them, you have to do some digging.

To be gluten-free, you have to be aware of every form of gluten and be vigilant about how your food is being prepared. Additionally, many people I know with celiac disease and gluten intolerance are allergic to dairy, soy, and other foods as well. Celiac damages your small intestine and allows other food proteins to get into places they’re not supposed to go (Leaky Gut Syndrome), so undiagnosed celiac can be the gateway for other problems. Don’t just get tested for gluten issues; get the whole ELISA food allergy panel done. A simple blood draw can tell you a lot about your diet.

It makes sense that so many people are having problems with gluten. The American diet gorges on it. We have been overexposed and genetically, some of us are not built to tolerate it. Certain ethnic groups are more likely to be unleaded than leaded; just today there was an article on that says celiac is more prevalent in North Indian and Asian populations: It’s widely studied in Italy and I’ve read studies about its occurrence among the Irish.

The same holds true of dairy. In one book I read, the author argued that the vast majority of Native American and African American people are sensitive to dairy. I’ve heard speculation about how many Native Americans could have celiac disease. Many of our ancestors, no matter what part of the world they were from, did not eat wheat, and here in the 21st century, it pervades the standard American diet to an obscene degree (as does dairy– and why is it natural to eat another species’ milk anyway?!).

Years from now, I’ll bet that the first thing doctors will look at when assessing a patient’s mental health is their diet. That’s how it should be NOW. Instead, medical and mental health care providers, in as astounding epidemic of ignorance, would rather write prescriptions for issues like depression and anxiety instead of looking at what type of “gas” people actually need. They treat symptoms rather than causes. They would rather keep a constant flow of synthetic substances with sometimes tragic side effects pumped into the populace ($$$) than take the very simple step of finding out what folks should and shouldn’t be eating.

Does your child have ADD? Look at their diet. Do you feel horribly anxious for no apparent reason? Look at your diet. Do you have a friend who’s inexplicably depressed despite eating a healthy diet and trying to overcome it? Look at their diet. This is so common sense and so elemental, yet we go looking for answers in pills and pop science rather than taking a moment to examine what we are putting inside ourselves day after day after day.

I would like to see scientific experiments conducted in which various segments of the population are put on a gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free diet to note any changes in their mental health. Some studies have already been conducted among those with schizophrenia. Try this in nursing homes, in prisons, in schools, and in mental health treatment centers, and I guarantee you will see a difference. We are not all designed to eat the same foods and we should be customizing our diets to ourselves. Frankly I think the human race could wipe itself out through the poisons we include in our diets.

Sometime in the future we’ll look back and consider our heavy-handed pharmaceutical approach to mental health barbaric. We are far too quick to medicate mental problems and completely ignore the very real physical issues that could be causing them. Some doctors don’t even believe in food allergies and put them in the same class as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I hope to see food allergy and intolerance testing become as standardized as immunizations and look forward to free market innovations that will help people eat for their own fuel type.

Can your diet cause mental illness? You bet it can. You have to know what type of gas you need and make sure that you’re not mixing fuel types. For some great information on food allergy testing and drilling down to the root causes of mental symptoms, please visit Dr. Steve Wangen’s website at


My soul is dark with stormy riot,
Directly traceable to diet.
-Samuel Hoffenstein


©2012 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/


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