So gluten doesn’t agree with you?
You’ve heard the stories of people going gluten free for all sorts of reasons, including being diagnosed with coeliac disease, and now their life is transformed and they feel fantastic for the first time in their lives.
But that’s not you. You may feel better than you used to, but to be honest, still not that great. It could be better.
Maybe it’s simply because you feel deprived. Feelings of ‘poor me’ or ‘it’s unfair’ that I can’t eat that delicious flaky-crusty-hot-bread roll like everyone else can. (Because lets face it, although gluten free bread has come a looooong way it is still nothing like its hot-out-of-the-oven gluten laden cousins).
But maybe you’ve been good and followed the rules, so why are you not on the top of the world now that those pesky painful gut symptoms have gone? The big reason why- because gluten sensitivity and Coeliac Disease leave you nutritionally deplete, leaving your mind and brain drained.
It’s been recognised for a little while now that psychiatric symptoms can be common complications or symptoms of those with undiagnosed gluten sensitivity or the more serious Coeliac Disease. Its yet unknown how there can be emotional difficulties related to coeliac disease although its suggested that reduced tryptophan or changes in the function of serotonin may have a part to play. This is why a gluten free diet can be found to improve depressive symptoms and behavioural problems – think ADHD and Autism- by seemingly increasing tryptophan levels as well as serotonin and dopamine metabolites.
You’ll need help from a nutritional medicine specialist (like me) to work on those areas, but here’s a run down on some other nutritional deficiencies that you can work on now:
1. Magnesium deficiency and zinc deficiency.
Magnesium deficiency is nearly always found with anyone with mood and behavioural stuff going on, not just those with gluten sensitivity or coeliac disease, so we shouldn’t be too surprised by this one. Zinc deficiency is just as common. Both these minerals are needed for intestinal enzyme, Intestinal Alkaline Phosphatase. This enzyme keeps the gut microbiota in balance (eg the helpful vs the unhelpful bacteria), helps top up the good guys and maintains the health of the gut lining. The gut is especially hammered in those with gluten sensitivity and coeliac, so you need to do all you can to nurture and protect it.
2. B vitamin and iron deficiency
Another common nutrient deficiency for everyone I would say, but B12, folate and iron are particularly low in gluten sensitivity and coeliac. Supplementation is important because even a healthy diet will struggle to fill the nutrient buckets quickly enough to allow you to have energy, physically and mentally. If you’re feeling moody or all over the place, can’t focus or concentrate, can’t sleep, then you need these nutrients now. You will need to get a blood test to double check what your levels are first, because sometimes you have too much, and that will also affect your mood and energy, but supplementation won’t make things better.
3. Omega 3 fatty acids
Even with cutting out gluten and giving the gut cells and other cells some breathing space and a chance to do some repair work, it takes quite some time to bring fatty acid concentrations back to normal. The key ones are EPA and DHA, as found in oily fish and fish oil supplements. Interestingly, depression and mood related disorders including hyperactivity, are known to be relieved when EPA and DHA levels are good. EPA seems to be best at bringing up serotonin levels, whilst DHA seems to be best at improving the way cells use serotonin. Serotonin you will probably know as the ‘feel good’ brain chemical, although it is also needed for a wide range of brain functions and reduces inflammation. This is all translates to improved brain energy for mood and concentration.
Apart from the nutrient deficiencies, there is one other key reason why a gluten free diet is not magic for you.
Secondary lactose intolerance
With coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity, the little fingers known as the microvilli that live along the inside of the small intestine become shortened or even completely flattened out. This reduces absorption of nutrients, but also reduces the amount of certain enzymes such as lactase, sucrose and maltase. The decreased production of lactase results in lactose intolerance. So its worthwhile trialing a lactose free diet on top of being gluten free to see what extra benefits you will get.