How bread can make you DEPRESSED: Bloating and cramps from eating gluten may be in your mind but the wheat protein can affect your mental health

  • Only one per cent of people are actually coeliac, meaning they cannot eat gluten
  • Others who say they are sensitive to gluten could be affected by something else
  • But the protein found in wheat and other grains can have mental health impacts
  • People in a study felt fewer positive emotions and increased tiredness 
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Gluten could be making people depressed or tired more often than it causes actual stomach problems, research has found.

Scientists have discovered gluten produces ‘mental health responses’ in some people after they eat foods like bread or pasta.

Although some people are genuinely intolerant of the grain protein because of a condition called coeliac disease, only one per cent of people actually have this.

But many more – approximately 12 per cent of people – claim they have gluten sensitivity which causes bloating and cramps.

To determine whether this non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is real or all in the mind, researchers carried out blind food tests on people and measured their symptoms.

In the process they found some people experience genuine mental health problems as a result of eating foods high in gluten.

Researchers say gluten sensitivity could all be in the mind in people who don’t have coeliac disease – in a study they found people who claimed to be gluten sensitive reported similar levels of bloating and cramps even when they weren’t eating gluten but didn’t know

The small study, by researchers at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, tested what happened when 14 people ate gluten.

Of the course of several weeks participants were given yoghurts and muffins which either did or did not contain gluten, but weren’t told which ones they were eating.

Participants couldn’t tell the two types of food apart so when they reported symptoms, scientists could tell whether they were caused by the food or their minds.

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People said they felt similar levels of bloating or cramps after eating both types of food, suggesting gut symptoms of so-called gluten sensitivity are caused by something else.

Experts suggest bloating or cramp could be caused by carbohydrates called fructans or brought on by a fear of eating gluten, the New Scientist reported.


Coeliac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder in which gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.

Gluten provokes inflammation in the small intestine which affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. 

The condition is estimated to affect one in 100 people worldwide. 

One percent – or three million Americans – are living with coeliac disease.

There are more than 200 symptoms of coeliac disease but the more common ones are:

  • Abdominal bloating and pain
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Pale, foul-smelling, or fatty stool
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue 

The only treatment for the disease and is a strict gluten-free diet. 

Only foods and beverages with a gluten content less than 20 parts per million are allowed.

 Source: Celiac Disease Foundation

But they also found that when people ate gluten they were more likely to feel tired or experience less positive emotions, suggesting it has real effects on the brain.

Lead researcher Jessica Biesiekierski said: ‘We’re certainly not saying that everyone will get depression after eating gluten.’

She added that this phenomenon is only likely to affect a small number of people.

But it could go some way to explaining why some feel better after going gluten-free.

In addition, people tend to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and live healthier lifestyles after choosing to stop eating gluten, Dr Biesiekierski said.

Her findings add to past research which found gluten causes more symptoms of depression than an inactive substance in people who claimed to be sensitive to the protein.

Another study, done in Italy in 2015, found an increase in depression and ‘brain fogginess’ among gluten-sensitive people when they ate it.

Michael Potter, a researcher at the University of Newcastle in Australia, added: ‘These studies suggest there are definitely people who have reproducible mental health responses to gluten when they undergo blinded challenges.’

Dr Biesiekierski’s findings were presented at an annual conference of the Gastroenterological Society of Australia last week. 

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