Do you suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, brain fog, memory loss, or other brain-based issues? While conventional medicine turns to drug treatments, recent research points to poor gut health as the root of mental illness. This is because inflammation in the gut triggers inflammation throughout the body, including in the brain, bringing on depression, anxiety, brain fog, memory loss and other neurological symptoms.
Although many factors affect gut health—and hence brain health—one of the more profound is a sensitivity to gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other wheat-like grains. In fact, a gluten sensitivity has been found to affect brain and nerve tissue more than any other tissue in the body.
Gluten sensitivity once was thought to be limited to celiac disease, an autoimmune response to gluten that damages the digestive tract and is linked to depression. However, newer research has confirmed the validity of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, an immune response to gluten that causes many symptoms, including digestive problems, skin rashes, joint pain, and neurological and psychiatric diseases. Recent research shows gluten degenerates brain and nervous tissue in a significant portion of those with gluten sensitivity.
How Does Gluten Affect Mental Health?
Gluten can affect mental health in a variety of ways.
For instance, gluten sensitivity can lead to depression, anxiety, brain fog and other brain symptoms by irritating the lining of the small intestine, resulting in “leaky gut,” a condition in which the intestinal wall becomes overly porous. This allows undigested food, toxins and bacteria into the bloodstream where they trigger inflammation throughout the body and brain. Also, certain harmful bacteria that travel through a leaky gut into the bloodstream release toxic molecules (lipopolysaccharides) that are linked to depression and various psychiatric disorders.
Another way gluten can trigger depression is through gluten cross-reactivity. Because gluten is similar in structure to brain tissue, when the immune system attacks gluten in the blood, it can confuse brain tissue with gluten and accidentally attack brain and nerve tissue as well.
Gluten is also known to disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract. There is a relationship between gut bacteria and the brain, and an imbalance in gut bacteria has been linked with psychiatric disorders.
The gut damage caused by a gluten sensitivity can also prevent the absorption of nutrients essential for brain health, especially zinc, tryptophan, and B vitamins. These nutrients are critical for the synthesis of brain chemicals that prevent depression, anxiety and other brain-based disorders.
What Steps Can You Take?
If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, brain fog, memory loss, or other unresolved brain-based issues, testing for gluten sensitivity can be a valuable tool in knowing how best to manage it. Addressing leaky gut is also paramount.