Treatment Guide

Anxiety and Celiac Disease, Causes and Response to a Gluten Free Diet

“An estimated 40 million adult Americans suffer from anxiety disorder.” (1) These 40 million people total 18.1 percent of the United States that are at least 18 or over. (2)

According to “Recognizing Celiac Disease” anxiety is common in people with celiac disease and may be the only manifestation. Celiac disease patients showed high levels of state anxiety in a significantly higher percentage compared to controls – 71.4% vs. 23.7%.(3)

Chronic maladaptive anxiety is characterized by vague uneasiness or unpleasant feeling of apprehension and dysfunction. It is marked by anticipation of danger and interference with normal functioning, ranging from mild qualms and easy startling to occasional panic, often with headaches and fatigue. Deficiency of amino acids and vitamins implicate reduction of synthesis of neurotransmitters in the central nervous system and could be linked to immunological disregulation in celiac disease patients. Anxiety itself causes depletion of vitamins and minerals. Deficient nutrients could be B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, tryptophan.(3)

A medical study evaluating bloodflow in the brain showed evidence of significant blood flow alteration in the brains of people with celiac disease who had only anxiety or depression neurological symptoms and were not on a gluten-free diet. Single photon computed tomography (SPECT) scan showed at least one hypoperfused brain region in 73% of untreated celiac disease patients compared to 7% of patients on a gluten-free diet and none in controls.(3)

Therefore, bloodflow in the brain and nutritional deficiencies play a large part in anxiety. If nutritional deficiencies are the source of the problem, then medications will be less effective requiring increasingly strong doses because the body and brain do not have what they need to utilize them.

The good news is that studies showed state anxiety improves and can usually disappear in people with celiac disease after withdrawal of gluten from the diet and improvement of nutrient status.

Consider celiac disease if you or someone you know has anxiety.

Related medical studies are referenced in “Recognizing Celiac Disease, by Cleo Libonati, RN, BSN.”

Celiac disease is a multi-system, hereditary, chronic, auto-immune disease estimated to affect 1% of the human population (3 million in the US) that is caused by the ingestion of wheat, barley, rye and oats. It is treated by removing these items from the diet. Signs, symptoms, associated disorders and complications can affect any part of the body and removal of the offending foods can result in complete recovery.

“Recognizing Celiac Disease” is a reader-friendly reference manual written for both medical professionals and the general public that specifically answers the call from the National Institutes of Health for “better education of physicians, dietitians, nurses and other healthcare providers.” It has been endorsed by top medical professionals and professors at Harvard, Columbia, Jefferson and Temple Medical Schools as well as the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the Celiac Sprue Association – USA. “Recognizing Celiac Disease” is being hailed as the complete guide to recognizing, diagnosing and managing celiac disease and a must-have for physicians, dietitians, nutritionists, nurses, patients and anyone with an interest in this complex disorder.

Editor’s Note: Recognizing Celiac Disease has been expanded upon and converted into an online resource, The Gluten Free Works Health Guide.

Click here for more information.


(1) ADAA Brief Overview.
(2) Wikipedia.
(3) Libonati, Cleo. Recognizing Celiac Disease, Gluten Free Works Publishing, 2007.

Author Information: John Libonati, Philadelphia, PA

Gluten Free Works Health Guide.
Editor & Publisher, Recognizing Celiac Disease.
John can be reached by e-mail here.

About John Libonati

Author Information: John Libonati, SW Florida Publisher, & The Gluten Free Works Treatment Guide.
  • Kenny says:

    I think to say complete recovery about an auto-immune disease where science has yet to know how long-term celiac can affect many areas of the body is very misleading.

    • John L says:

      Kenny, the trigger for celiac disease is known. The damage from celiac disease does not occur unless gluten is consumed. It is a scientific fact that a person who is susceptible to the characteristic immune reaction would never suffer any damage if gluten was never consumed. It is also a fact that when the trigger is removed, the body heals. The amount of healing depends on the severity of damage that has occured, whether nutrient defieciencies have been attended and the strictness of the gluten-free diet. In most cases where a patient does not recover, it is due to purposeful or inadvertant gluten consumption.

  • Danielle says:

    I would agree strongly with this finding. Prior to being diagnosed with celiac disease anxiety ran my life. I was on 3 different medications to try to control the anxiety to no avail. Within 6 months of being on a gluten free diet I have been able to travel again and have a normal life.

  • I would have to say I agree that if one is sensitive or gluten-intolerant it can definitely increase anxiety symptoms. At the same time there are people without an intolerance with anxiety disorders. Needs more studies.

  • Jena says:

    I’d make one small correction in this: The article mentions blood flow studies and hypoperfused areas of the brain, but then cites CT scans as the diagnostic modality used. It may be a minor point but in order to be taken seriously, the details ought to be correct. At the least, the test used would be SPECT scans, which measure oxygen perfusion. At the most, it would be a function MRI.

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