Gluten free for energy & mental health

gluten free for mental health and energy

Going gluten free for energy and mental health

There is no way around it.

Yes I do recommend going gluten free to my Naturopathic and Psychotherapy clients with mood imbalances such as “depression like” symptoms, irritability, brain fog, chronic fatigue, insomnia and anxiety.  These mental health symptoms are also closely linked to food intolerances. The largest culprit being gluten and wheat.

Recommending going gluten free often isn’t received well because removing gluten containing foods can be very challenging to our pre-existing concept of what so called “yummy” food is. But if these people are presenting with symptoms of either brain/mood and immune problems, then it is typical that these same people will be suffering from a hyper-permeable gut epithelial cell wall lining – also referred to as Leaky Gut.

Our gut lining is supposed to be a secure barrier to protect us from the outside world. The food we eat is part of this outside world. Until it is completely digested, it is not meant to travel through our gut wall lining, even in microscopic amounts, though into our blood stream. If it does, we risk disease states including auto-immunity and mental health problems.

When we eat foods containing gluten, it opens up the tightly closed junctions in the gut wall lining, thus allowing microscopic particles of undigested foods out into our blood stream. Our immune system is then impacted negatively as is our mental health.

I always see remarkable improvements in mental health and immune regulation when a patient commits to going totally gluten free.

A case study for going completely gluten free…

One staggering example of this which bought tears to my eyes, was when an old friend rang me out of the blue last year after 20 plus years. He said he was tossing up whether to come and see me professionally to discuss his health problem. He was diagnosed 2 years previously with Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease.

This is a serious auto-immune disease where the thyroid gland in the base of the neck is slowly destroyed if left untreated. It causes systemic inflammation, pain, crushing fatigue, weight problems and a brain that just doesn’t work well, looking a lot like the symptoms of black suicidal depression, anxiety and at times even bi-polar. The standard medical treatment for Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease at present unfortunately does not include dietary enquiry or recommendations – and the first line of treatment is thyroid medication. Which is necessary and life saving in most cases.

However, my old friend had been on his necessary thyroid medications for this two years, and was still suffering from 8/10 intensity body pain daily and debilitating brain fog with very bleak depression. He was told that this was the nature of this condition and that there was nothing more his doctor could do to improve him other than to take pain killers and anti-depressants.

I enquired about his diet. He assured me that his nutrition conscious wife did the cooking and meal planning in the family and that his diet was extremely healthy…and that he was also gluten free… “mostly”. And there you have it. My radar immediately went up as “mostly” isn’t good enough when it comes to an auto-immune or mental health condition. Especially an auto-immune thyroid disorder – which most thyroid conditions are.

He was on the right track, and I said to him, “just focus on one thing from this moment onwards…properly and diligently go completely gluten free for one month and then come and talk with me”.

I didn’t hear from him again for a couple of months but out of the blue he called. Apparently this one simple suggestion changed his life. His words, not mine. His 8/10 intensity upper body pain which was present all the time, disappeared entirely after 3 days of going completely gluten free! I’m not kidding! He even couldn’t believe it and wanted to test it for sure. So he had some gluten containing bread and the next day the pain returned as did the brain fog and dark mood! It was a remarkable experiment.

I’ve spoken to him off and on since, and he is improving every month. He is now back playing touch footy and his old normally positive demeanour is back and he seems pretty happy with himself…and his life again. The tragedy was that his particular GP didn’t believe this positive result could be as a result of going gluten free, as he had already tested negative for celiac disease, the celiac gene and celiac serology – all common tests to establish whether someone should go gluten free or not.

You see, the reason I’m writing this is because there is now growing evidence of something we have suspected for years, and is called Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) or Non Celiac Wheat Sensitivity (NCWS).

A recent heading in Science Daily states…

“Biological explanation for wheat sensitivity found!”

I’m really excited and a little relieved to see more and more published articles backing up what I was taught over 20 years ago in my Naturopathic training.

Since 2008 when the Human Microbiome Project was launched, we are seeing a huge number of articles from research done in this growing field. Ten years ago, there were hardly any studies at all.

This particular latest study conducted and published by the Columbia University Medical Centre in the Journal GUT – states that…

“people with non-celiac wheat sensitivity have a weakened intestinal barrier, which leads to a systemic inflammatory immune response after ingesting wheat and related gluten containing cereals…” (also known as Leaky Gut)

“Our study shows that the symptoms reported by individuals with this condition are not imagined, as some people have suggested.” Said study co-author Peter H. Green, MD, the Phyllis and Ivan Seidenberg Professor of Medicine at CUMC and director of the Celiac Disease Centre. “It demonstrates that there is a biological basis for these symptoms in a significant number of these patients”.

There are no 100% specific pathology testing markers which can without a doubt prove this condition at this point of writing. Especially if someone is already on a gluten free diet.  However, Nutripath labs in Melbourne have some promisingly accurate lab tests for Non Coeliac Wheat/Gluten Sensitivity.  Specific anti-body testing for gluten type proteins, coeliac gene testing, and in some cases doing a stool test which assesses the health of the gut flora are some ways to get an accurate picture.

Australian Functional Medicine practitioner Dr Mark Donohoe is convinced that anyone with a negative coeliac gene result but with a DQ2-5 result present, should stay off gluten as they are prone to get an inflammatory response.  Just because you have a negative coeliac gene test doesn’t mean you are not gluten sensitive.  Depending on the lab you test with and the details obtained, it will give you an indication if you should stay away from gluten and wheat.

Of course the main hands on test I find most telling  (but without the bells and whistles or the financial cost) is to do a total fast off gluten for 4 weeks then have it again for a couple of days to reassess how you feel. It is as simple as that.  But getting as much evidence as possible is always preferred when it comes to deciding to stay away from crusty fresh delicious bread.

The symptoms of NCGS or NCWS are varied and include digestive system symptoms, fatigue, mood and cognitive difficulties.

In The Lancet, Dr Majos Hadjivassiliou of the United Kingdom who is a recognised world authority on gluten sensitivity, has reported that “gluten sensitivity can be primarily and at times, exclusively a neurological disease”.  Meaning, that people can manifest gluten sensitivity by only having issues with their brain, mood, energy and cognitive ability, without having any of the gastrointestinal symptoms.  He states that the anti-bodies that a person has when they are gluten sensitive can be directly and uniquely toxic to the brain.

My old friend was heading down the track of anti-depressants and strong and addictive pain medications before he tested the gluten theory – properly.

For more evidence based scientific articles on the importance of going gluten free for mental health, nervous system health and auto-immunity, click here and here.


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