Does Gluten Make You Sad?

The sticky protein conglomerate found in grain has been blamed for a lot of things, but its impact on mood remains unclear


How can you resist this face?

Forget if it’s giving you PMS-like bloating. Health and wellness types are now suggesting that the gluten in your granola may be making you sad, anxious and depressed, too.

In The Whole 30: The 30-Day Guide to Health and Food Freedom, authors Melissa and Dallas Hartwig suggest people take a gluten sabbatical (as well as one from sugar, dairy, alcohol, soy and legumes) for 30 days as way to calm the body and bring it out of a state of inflammation. In a post on the book’s website, they argue that the gluten found in grains can create an inflammatory effect that can manifest itself in a variety of ways, from allergies and asthma to depression and anxiety.

It’s not just healthy-eating gurus who are making the claim that gluten can negatively affect mood. In her book, Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Misunderstood Organ, author Giulia Enders suggests people reduce gluten consumption to maintain overall GI tract health, and by extension, mood (research suggests there’s a link between GI distress and depression). Enders isn’t entirely opposed to gluten, but she does think we eat too much of it.

Related: Why Good Gut Health Is a Game-Changer

The idea that gluten may affect mood negatively does have some scientific backing. A small 2014 study by Australian researchers found that people who had a gluten sensitivity had a greater risk of depression than those who didn’t. But not everyone is convinced that there’s a strong enough link between gluten consumption and depression to support giving up grains for good.

“There is no scientific basis to recommend a gluten-free diet in people without celiac disease to improve mood,” maintains Elena Verdu, a gluten expert and Canada Research Chair in inflammation, microbiota and nutrition at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. “Well-planned clinical trials are lacking in this area.”

Yes, there’s a great deal of anecdotal evidence out there that talks up the link between gluten and depression. “There have been some reports that people on a gluten-free diet for reasons other than a celiac diagnosis feel more energy or a clearer mental state than when consuming gluten,” says Verdu—which may explain why some nutrition experts recommend avoiding it. But she’s not moved to take the chatter all too seriously, at least not until there’s some solid science to back the claims.

Her verdict: if you do suffer any ill effects from consuming gluten, ask your doctor to test you for celiac disease before you strip it from your diet. “Without a proper celiac blood test, which should be performed while an individual is consuming gluten, a gluten-free diet should not be started.” And there you have it.

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