Celiac disease is a condition that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, is consumed. Gluten triggers an immune response that attacks the lining of the gut, leading to symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain and weight loss. But celiac disease can also affect other parts of the body, including the brain, thus, influencing mental health.
The Gut-Brain Connection
The gut and the brain are connected by a network of nerves, hormones and chemicals that influence each other’s functions. The gut microbiome, which is the collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, also plays a role in modulating mood, cognition and behavior.
When the gut is inflamed or damaged by celiac disease, it can disrupt the communication between the gut and the brain, resulting in psychological problems.
Psychological Issues Associated with Celiac Disease
According to Beyond Celiac, some of the psychological issues that can arise in people with celiac disease are:
- Depression: Moodiness, overwhelmed, non-restful sleep
- Anxiety: Phobias, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, panic attacks
- Irritability: Impatient and grumpiness in adults, outbursts of anger or temper tantrums in children
- ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
- Eating disorders
- Social anxiety: Withdrawn, uncomfortable and afraid of people
Neurological and Cognitive Issues Associated with Celiac Disease
Celiac disease can also affect the brain’s structure and function, leading to neurological and cognitive issues such as:
- Ataxia: Loss of coordination and balance
- Neuropathy: Nerve damage that can cause numbness, tingling, burning or pain
- Encephalopathy – brain function defect that can cause:
- Severe headaches / migraines – pain or pressure in the head
- Brain fog – difficulty concentrating, remembering or thinking clearly
- Slow thinking
- Memory lapse – trouble recalling information or events
How to Improve Your Mental Health with Celiac Disease
The good news is that many of these psychological and neurological issues can improve with a strict gluten-free diet, which is the only treatment for celiac disease. A gluten-free diet can help heal the gut lining, reduce inflammation and restore the balance of the gut microbiome. This can improve the communication between the gut and the brain and enhance your mental health.
However, some people may still experience psychological problems even after going gluten-free. This could be due to factors such as:
- Difficulty adjusting to a new diagnosis of chronic illness
- Difficulty adhering to a strict gluten-free diet
- Feeling isolated or stigmatized by others who do not understand celiac disease
- Having other coexisting conditions that affect mental health
If you are struggling with your mental health while living with celiac disease, you are not alone. You can seek help from a mental health professional who can provide counseling, medication or other interventions to help you cope. You can also join a support group or an online community where you can connect with others who share your experiences and challenges.