How Gluten Can Affect Brain and Thyroid Function

gluten and brain function
Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity have been described in many different research journals. Unfortunately, few take into account the possibility of ameliorating the patient’s symptoms through the reduction of symptom-inducing components of wheat. Reducing components such as fructans, a short chain carbohydrate which is poorly absorbed by the patient’s body, can help symptomatically improve the patient’s condition.1

Gluten and Psychological Problems

Psychological problems and illnesses have been explored extensively among patients with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. These psychological illnesses include several neurological and psychiatric illnesses which were found to be common in patients with celiac disease.2

Anxiety and Depression

Among these psychological illnesses, anxiety and depression was reported to have the highest prevalence among patients in treatment.3 In most cases, depression and anxiety are found to be a personality trait problem where feelings and behaviours are consistent and relatively persistent.4

It is important to note that these symptoms are reversible. The anxiety and depression caused by celiac disease were found to be reversed within one year of the patient adhering to a gluten-free diet. The temporary change in the patient’s predisposition observed in patients with celiac disease was also found in patients with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.5

Along with the improvement of their mood, patients found subscribing to a gluten-free diet permitted sounder sleep and increase in overall energy. Patients also noted a change in the way they view life. It was also observed that patients who have successfully kept a gluten-free diet and who were negligently re-introduced to gluten suddenly crash in both their energy and outlook. With the re-introduction of gluten, patients experience a sudden wave of depression and anxiety once again.

Celiac Disease a Silent Killer and Cause of Underachievement in School

Silent celiac disease is a condition reportedly found in 1% of Caucasians, hence population screening might or might not be an option. A study was done on a well-defined cohort of Finnish children, untreated for celiac disease, in conjunction with one done with regards to Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns. Drawing blood from the sample population throughout the study period through to a follow-up 21 years later, the research team tested for serum IgA-transglutaminase and IgA endomysium antibodies. The result? Positive findings in 21 subjects who turned out to have silent celiac disease. The study found that this correlated with inferior academic achievement and performance at work. The proponents of the study suggested that this may be linked to the frequency of disruptive and depressive behavioural disorders in adolescents with untreated celiac disorder.6

In essence, this means that an individual suffering from celiac disease may be living a life full of restrictions. Because the child was not diagnosed with celiac disease, they may not be aware that the continuous intake of gluten-filled foods could be damaging to their health and academic life. The reason that these individuals suffered from an average or below average score in their SATs could be due to the dimers coming from gluten which acts on the brain. This could impact their lives in the long run.

Not All Gluten is Bad for You

Gluten is a protein found in varying amounts in all grains. There is gluten as well in rice and corn. However, it is important to note that it is not gluten itself but solely the bad family of gluten which is harmful for a patient with sensitivity or intolerance.

For instance, flour milled from rice has a comparatively higher glycemic index than wheat flour. Thus, if an individual ingests pastries with rice flour as its base, it produces a more profound alteration to their blood sugar in comparison to ingesting wheat flour pastries.

Humans still need some form of cereal, most especially if their work or everyday task are physically demanding and requires high-energy carbohydrate intake. It is important to note that giving up grain completely will be a difficult task to ask from people suffering from gluten-sensitivity or celiac disease. Thus, the main priority is providing quality food, vegetable, meat and grain which will be safe, whilst ensuring the negative effects of gluten will be avoided by minimizing the intake of bad gluten.

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Gluten Sensitivity

Common protocol for patients who are experiencing the signs and symptoms of a thyroid disorder, such as cold extremities, abnormal weight changes (or the lack of weight change even when the individual has been fasting for days), and mood changes, is to be tested on thyroid blood markers. Recent studies show that patients who present with antibodies specific for gluten sensitivity have a 92% likelihood of developing Hashimoto’s Disease.

Hashimoto’s presents with hypothyroid symptoms due to an active inflammation within the thyroid tissue. Hypothyroid symptoms include weight gain, constipation, puffy face, increased sensitivity to cold, muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness, depression, fatigue and excessive menstrual bleeding.

Show 6 footnotes

  1. Biesiekierski, J., Peters, S., Newnham, E., Rosella, O., Muir, J., & Gibson, P. (2013). No effects of gluten in patients with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity following dietary reduction of low-fermentable, poorly-absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates. Gastroenterology, 145: 320–328.
  2. De Santis A, Addolorato G, Romito A, Caputo S, Giordano A, & Gambassi G.(1997). Psychiatric schizophrenia symptoms regression and single photon emission computed tomography normalization in celiac disease after gluten-free diet. Journal Internal Medicine, 242: 421–423.
  3. Addolorato G, Stefanini G, Capristo E, Caputo F, Gasbarrini A, & Gasbarrini G. (1996). Anxiety and depression in adult untreated celiac subjects and in patients affected by inflammatory bowel disease: A personality trait or a reactive illness? Hepatogastroenterology 43: 1513–1517.
  4. Ciacci C, Iavarone A, Mazzacca G, & De Rosa A. (1998). Depressive symptoms in adult coeliac disease. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 33: 247–250.
  5. Addolorato G. (2001). Anxiety but not depression decreases in coeliac patients after one-year gluten-free diet: A longitudinal study. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenteroogy, 36: 502–526.
  6. Verkasalo, M.A., Raikitakari, O. T., Viikari, J., Marniemi J. & Savilahti, E. (2005). Undiagnosed silent celiac disease: A risk for underachievement. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 40 (12) 1407-1412.