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The Mental Disorder Diagnosis and the Gluten as the Main Culprit

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When a doctor diagnoses a brain/mental disorder the first thought post diagnosis is what medication the patient should be prescribed. Although medication is necessary for most and an effective treatment method, what the average person does not know is that many symptoms relating to mental illnesses could also spring from a gluten allergy. It is also important to acknowledge that celiac disease is not the only related illness to gluten, it is just the most well-known. Gluten has a wide range of effects, especially on the brain and its daily functioning. Disorders including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, insomnia, and brain fog can all be results of or just slightly impacted from an allergy to gluten. For many, a gluten free diet has relieved symptoms of these disorders influencing doctors to start with this approach when treating a patient. This is because the allergy is caused by an immunologic reaction. Testing for this can be difficult so research must continue to help detect these reactions. More people are becoming aware of non-celiac gluten sensitivity and it is important to understand that gluten can also greatly affect the brain; gluten can be the origin for many mental/brain related illnesses and it is proven that a gluten free diet can relieve symptoms of these disorders.

Gluten Free labels can be noticed at almost every trip to a grocery store, gluten free sections are on almost every restaurant menu, and it is very common to hear someone say that they are gluten free almost anywhere. Everyone has heard the phrase, but what exactly is gluten and why does it negatively affect the brain? Gluten is made up of proteins and is found in foods containing wheat, barley, and rye. When looking at celiac disease, the allergy is caused by an adverse immunologic reaction to the wheat proteins. With a gluten sensitivity (non-celiac) the symptoms are caused by a heightened immunologic reaction to gluten and this reaction usually stems from genetics as well. The gluten specifically degenerates brain and nervous tissue significantly to someone who is allergic, causing neurological issues. to (Gaesser). Because of people hearing about these allergies, they may assume that a gluten-free diet is appropriate for the general healthy person. Many people go on gluten free diets as a fad assuming that because allergies and celiac disease are common they immediately assume that gluten in general is harmful. This is not always the case since a lot of the problem originate from genetics. It is crucial to put the assumptions that the gluten free diet is for everyone to rest because there are benefits to gluten if you are healthy and not allergic.

Besides spreading the trend based off these assumptions, the benefits of the diet to someone who struggles with mental health is very important information to pass along.

When looking at depression, there are other ways symptoms can stem from gluten. In an article published from Functional Medicine Patient Education, the author states, “…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” (“Gluten can cause depression, anxiety, brain fog and other brain disorders”). There are many different reactions that can cause damage to the brain. This article is focusing on the bacteria found in gluten that cannot be digested by most. This is why many patients that do have celiac disease may also struggle with depression; there is a direct correlation. In addition to this way, there is also a reaction called gluten cross-reactivity. Gluten has a similar structure to brain tissue. The immune system can then confuse the gluten in the bloodstream to brain tissue and attack the brain. All of these reactions associated with gluten cause an imbalance with bacteria (good and bad) in the digestive tract. Because the digestive tract is where many nutrients are absorbed that are necessary for brain health, a lot of nutrients end up not being absorbed, thus slowing down or stopping the chemicals crucial in prevention of mental illnesses. In reality, these processes are very complicated and can be difficult to detect. Either testing or a test of a gluten free diet is usually how a gluten allergy is diagnosed because of the complexity.

In order to test gluten related disorders and treatment, the University of Maryland conducted a study over the time frame of six years with 347 patients. This study tested the symptoms of these patients and how they are related, as well as treatment. The results showed that “the two most common extra intestinal manifestations with gluten challenge were “foggy mind” (42%) and fatigue (36%)” (Reese Parish 44). Out of 347 patients these numbers are very significant when evaluating symptoms. These symptoms are also found in people with depression, anxiety, insomnia, and many other brain disorders. It is also crucial to acknowledge that the majority of these subjects were not aware that these symptoms could stem from gluten, they were chosen at random. The study then took thirty-seven patients with like symptoms and treated them with removing gluten from their diets and all symptoms were reduced. This is still being extremely researched and discussed by many scientists but studies and research have proven the benefits of a gluten-free diet on mental health and that the allergy is actually common across the world.

Many other studies validate the reasoning for doctors recommending gluten free diets to patients suffering mentally. The Gastroenterology Research and Practice publication includes another case study on a five-year-old girl with extreme psychiatric problems. Up until four years old the girl was healthy but she suddenly began experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations. From hallucinations of fairies to horrific scenes of a young boy this girl suffered extremely. At first her mother tried eliminated soy, corn, and dairy in her diet but there were no results. By attending nutrition lectures when she was older she found the idea to eliminate gluten which made her hallucinations go away completely. “She describes being able to sit down with sustained focus on study for the first time in her life, leading to the completion of her biology degree and the obtainment of employment” (Genuis). Without the gluten free diet this girl may have never been able to continue school and become successful. A second case study also validates improvement. This study was conducted in Melbourne, Australia by Monash University. They researchers specifically focused on brain fog related to gluten sensitivity and whether aspects like memory, attention, processing efficacy, and motor function would improve after eliminating gluten. The results of the study concluded: “The patients demonstrated significant improvement in 4 of the cognitive tests, and improvements in scores for verbal fluency, attention, and motor function at 52 weeks correlated strongly with Marsh scores and tissue transglutaminase antibody level improvements” (Laidman). A second time, brain functioning significantly improved after normally experiencing brain fog prior to being put on the diet. The study also showed that with some subjects’ symptoms did not improve, thus revealing that these symptoms are not always the result from gluten, yet they are very common. This study also showed how much testing has to go into really knowing the effects of gluten. IN the future it is hopeful that these studies and scientists will find more efficient testing and methods for detecting the allergy.

Gluten free diets have become a fad for a significant amount of time but not many people realize that for some this diet may be necessary when attempting to treat mental health problems.

Although celiac disease is the most common allergy of gluten, common psychiatric/ mental disorders are also linked to gluten allergies. The reactions that cause these symptoms are complex and testing is difficult so many doctors immediately prescribe a gluten free diet to test if the symptoms disappear or are reduced. Countless case studies prove the effectiveness of gluten free diets on mental related problems. This is still a highly discussed problem and is still being researched so it is beneficial to spread awareness of the benefits a gluten free diet can have on someone who is not completely healthy or struggling with mental health. This discussion need to be continued so more technology and less complex testing can be discovered to help people affected by gluten allergies.

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