How Gluten Affects Your Brain | What's With Wheat

Not only can gluten intolerance cause gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, constipation or diarrhoea, it can also be related to a myriad of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, sleep issues, cognitive impairment, psychosis, attention-deficit disorder or even just a foggy mind.

I see huge improvements in my clients from eliminating gluten – even if they don’t think there is anything wrong with their brain health, I often hear ‘I am much less irritable’, ‘I am so calm’, ‘I am sleeping so much better’, ‘I have so much more clarity’, and so on. These are problems that they didn’t even know were an issue in the first place!

How Does Gluten Affect Your Mental State?

So why might this be happening? There are a few possible reasons. One is that non-coeliac gluten sensitivity has been shown to create dysbiosis in the gut, which is where there is an undergrowth and/or overgrowth of particular microbes living within and on you. The microbes in our gut produce much of the essential neurotransmitters we need in order to maintain a healthy mental state. These neurotransmitters include serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, adrenaline, noradrenaline, dopamine and GABA, all of which are required to sleep well, be happy and content, less irritable and more. This suggests that a healthy balance of the microbes in our gut is essential to better brain health overall.

Moreover, gluten has been shown to cause neuroinflammation – inflammation of the nervous tissue, which is linked to many different symptoms like cognitive dysfunction, a foggy mind, schizophrenia, ADHD, bipolar disorder, dementia and more.

German researchers revealed that children with ADHD that went on a gluten-free diet showed significant improvements in their behaviour and functioning compared to when they were consuming gluten previously. There is also a suspected link between non-coeliac gluten sensitivity and schizophrenia. Moreover, a gluten-free diet has been shown to potentially be beneficial for those with ataxia (a lack of muscle coordination which can lead to problems with voluntary movements such as picking up an object, walking, swallowing or eye movement).

Although we need to look beyond just coeliac disease, there is also research showing that coeliac disease symptoms may reflect not only in gut issues, but also mental health issues. This means that coeliac disease cannot be ruled out if you don’t have the ‘classic coeliac disease symptoms’ but are showing signs of a mental health issue, such as those outlined above.

Why You Might Want to Consider a Gluten-free Diet

I choose to avoid the new hybridised wheat grain so I don’t put myself at risk of the illnesses linked to its consumption. If you are wanting to transition to a gluten-free diet, the main foods to avoid include wheat, rye, spelt, barley and oats. Also ensure you look out for sneaky gluten additives in processed foods, always check an ingredient list before consuming a food item, and always ask for gluten free when eating out of your own home.

If you are already gluten free and are still experiencing issues, then I suggest you look deeper as there are other actions you can take. For mental health issues in particular, it is important to correct the imbalance in your gut flora (eg parasite, bacterial or yeast overgrowths), increase your beneficial bacteria through fermented foods or high quality probiotics and identify your nutrient deficiencies and correct them too. Also consider increasing anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric, ginger, fresh green herbs, green vegetables, quality proteins, nuts, seeds and healthy fats like ghee, coconut oil, olive oil and inca inchi oil.

Have you removed gluten from your diet and noticed improvements in your mental state? What was your experience?

With love,

Sheridan Austin
Nutritionist & GAPS Practitioner