Wheat and Depression: 2

Unfortunately, the question of wheat’s relationship to depression is very poorly charted in the medical literature. We do know that people with celiac disease experience more depression and commit suicide more often than the general population (a big issue all of its own), but we lack studies of depression from wheat consumption outside of this group.

Given wheat’s effect on the brain, however, I don’t think it would be a leap to suspect that wheat’s effects may contribute to depression. After all, if wheat consumption can cause behavioral outbursts in children with ADHD and autism, mania in people with bipolar illness, hearing voices in schizophrenics, and appetite stimulation and bring “fog” in people without these conditions, then depression might be within the realm of wheat’s reach.

Here are a couple more fascinating stories of wheat’s relationship with mental health from a couple of Wheat Belly Blog readers:

Phillis said:
Just started reading Wheat Belly and it really hits home with me but I was especially blown away after reading the chapters on psychiatric issues. While I haven’t been diagnosed with any such, my mother’s family has a history of depression and my sister committed suicide from complications of psychiatric disorders coupled with major drug and alcohol addictions. One of her daughters has Crohn’s Disease and the other one has had major intestinal pains all of her life and had even been hospitalized several times for them but was never diagnosed with a specific intestinal disease.

My mother had major gastrointestinal issues all of her life (which I now suspect was undiagnosed celiac disease) leading to her having full blown invasive rheumatoid arthritis, resulting in her death from peritonitis due to a weakened lower bowel that ruptured.

I, myself, had suffered on and off with depressive episodes and up and down weight gain all of my life, as well as unexplained stomach pains, diarrhea, alternating with constipation. Type 1 (1 of my 3 brothers and all of my 3 nephews) and type 2 diabetes (my late father) is rampant in my family.

I have been following a low-carb diet now for 4 years and my mood has improved immensely but I was still allowing some wheat products in my diet on occasion not realizing that it might be the cause of some lingering issues that I’ve experienced. I lost 110 pounds but still had a “belly” and my weight has stalled. I would like to lose another 20 pounds but it just wasn’t budging and I was experiencing joint pains and periods of unexplained anxiety. Just thought I was getting old (like we haven’t heard THAT one before, hahahaha!).

I’ve been doing the wheat-free diet for a week now and my belly is finally deflating and my weight is starting to go down again!! But the cherry on the sundae seems to be that things just don’t bother me like they used to. I’m laughing more with my hubby and the sun seems to shine more in my life and now I know why!!!

I am only just sad now that the information in your book was not available to those in my family that have passed on from what I believe are wheat related issues but I am going to make sure that those who are still with me get this information. It really could save a life!!!

JJ said:
I have suffered from depression and anxiety for most of my adult years. While I have taken meds in the past, I am not currently on medication.

After going wheat-free, I suffered few physical symptoms aside from one night when I felt kind of queasy. But emotionally, I was a mess. I also had so little energy, it took effort to do anything at all. Dr. Davis told me to stick it out and I did.

I have now been wheat-free for over three weeks and I feel so good – both emotionally and physically. I haven’t taken any pain relievers or decongestants in over three weeks – which is astounding to my hubby and me! I can not emphasize this enough. No more headaches, migraines, or sinus pain. I have no more bloating or stomach aches either. To be honest I never realized how much I suffered from digestive issues before. I guess I just thought it was “normal.”

I even lost a couple of pounds. Not that I needed to, as I’m already a healthy weight. Still, it’s nice to have clothes fitting better!

But getting back to the depression link… I think there is totally a link. Whether it’s just an emotional response to our bodies being overloaded trying to deal with all the chaos wheat is causing or some type of unknown impact the gluten has on the brain, I don’t know. I do know that I am back to feeling great. Still fighting a little bit of fatigue in the evening, but I’m chalking that up to not getting enough sleep. Eventually, I think my system will get all sorted out. It’s like recovering from a major illness! It just takes time.

For anyone else out there suffering from the anxiety and depression after going wheat-free, don’t lose heart. It does get better! Just take it easy on yourself and make sure you’ve got some good supportive people around you. The rewards are worth it!

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. Trina

    I’ve personally noticed a lot of change in my anxiety issues since going wheat free. For the past 20 years of my life I have had panic attacks at least 4-6 times a week including terrible palpitations and racing heart issues that has sent me to the ER more than once. Since my husband and I for lack of better word removed all the “crap” from our diets 15 days ago I have had one panic attack last weekend and this was because of a paper I had due for school which was a totally normal reaction for a change!

    When I looked back over the last year at the times I had these attacks one thing major has stuck out to me it was always after breakfast, a night we had pasta or a day we ordered food at work and I had pizza. At first I thought I was seeing things but I have been on a health kick for a year so I chart what I eat in a day as well as keep a journal of my anxiety issues for when I go to counseling. There it was comparing journal to journal each attack corresponded with a heavy, carb laden, wheat fest which left me feel anxious, depressed and pretty much hanging on the edge of sanity because I was tired of always panicking over everything.

    My husband also has noticed improvements he has ADHD and is has very season orientated depression usually by this time of the year he is so depressed that he can’t stand to get out of bed let alone leave the house. He always complained about lack of focus that he would “drift” when trying to do things that required his attention, he is now more alert and happy than I’ve ever seen him in the 8 years I’ve known him!

    I think your definitely on to something Dr. D I just hope people truly listen and really start to look at this. Take a week, try it if you feel better than you know your going through Wheatitis yourself!

    • Panic does indeed seem to be among the most common emotional effects of wheat consumption.

      It really makes me wonder how many children diagnosed with ADHD, behavioral difficulties, and learning disabilities have nothing more than “wheatitis.”

      • Bill,
        You are so right on, even medically considering this serious and commonplace connection between depression, gluten and a variety of psych problems.

        I appreciate your ongoing partnership in bringing this remarkably frequent, and yet remarkably overlooked variable on ADHD and depression to the public’s attention. Immune system measurements [e.g. qualitative IgG] provide great data, and we find these immune dysregulations every day in any psych patient [including serious panic and anxiety, bipolar illness, developmental delay, e.g.] with refractory responses to years of multiple psych meds.

        In fact, with even a brief historical report of years of treatment failure in the first visit with obvious metabolic problems… I can guarantee we will be fully working them up for gluten, casein and more than 100 other foods before that first meeting ends.

        See my *New Jersey Food Immunity Trifecta* here: http://www.corepsychblog.com/2011/11/tic-disorder-5-essential-questions-1/ Notice that Milk is first, eggs second and wheat brings up the third level in our office testing. Surprised me too after all the work I had been doing with gluten since 2004.

        My favorite question for years: How many times do you go #2? I have a whole transit time protocol which you may wish to share with your readers and a brief explanation on this post with downloadable pdf on Transit Time with examples from 2007: http://www.corepsychblog.com/2007/10/recipe-for-brain-function-measuring-transit-time/

        Hope you and yours, and your reader team all had a great Thanksgiving! Good job, very well done, – must read your book!
        Author: “ADHD Medication Rules – Paying Attention To The Meds For Paying Attention”

        • Great to see you here, Dr. Parker!

          I am simply an observer in the mental health world, since I don’t actually treat these conditions. So I don’t want to sound like I’m performing psychometric testing or psychologic counseling. I simply observe that multiple facets of mental and emotional health improve off wheat specifically. By the way, since I do not systematically eliminate eggs or dairy (I minimize dairy for its insulinotrophic effect), I don’t have sufficient experience observing the effects.

          I’m glad you are sounding this alarm. Given the gross inadequacies of treatment of multiple conditions like ADHD, the discussion of food effects really needs to be brought to the forefront. Thank you for contributing to this cause!

  2. I believe it completely! I’m already starting to see an brighter outlook and greater optimism from the members of my Tribe whom I’ve persuaded to give the Wheat-Free Lifestyle a try!

    • I have been wheat free for almost 3mos. I really did it because I couldnt stand the thought of all the weird stuff that wheat might be causing. And of course I needed to lose 20lbs. The weight did not come off as fast as most people, but I have lost about 12lbs now. Reading all these posts made me stop and think of myself and If anything has been different for me. I guess when yo u have the age related problems you just think its normal. I am an avid horse rider, and have done many miles over the course of a lifetime which has put alot of stress on joints,ligaments, tendons and bones. I have had many falls and injuries including broken bones. But, I just realized, that my knees and legs arent hurting anymore. I have a whole lot more energy. And another odd thing Ive noticed is that Im dreaming again. Or actually I Remember dreaming. Its been a long time since I have actually had a deep sleep like that. Ive also had a complete food craving crash! I know longer think of food constantly and I get full with such little food. My moods are much better too.
      This is the first time I have ever stuck with a diet change. I now just consider it a Lifestyle change.

  3. Anne

    When I went gluten free 8 years ago it was like lifting a fog from my brain. I had never known just how depressed I was my whole life because I never had anything to compare it to. I thought it was normal to feel the way I did. I have not eaten gluten on purpose for these 8 years but if I get accidental gluten from cross contamination, I sink back down for about 5 days. I love how I feel now!!

    Depression was only one of many symptoms that improved by removing gluten. I have found that I do better off all grain products.

    • Excellent, Anne.

      “Eat more healthy whole grains” . . . and take your blood pressure medication, cholesterol drugs, arthritis drugs, diabetes drugs, and antidepressants.

      If we’re worried about the skyrocketing costs of healthcare, it seems to me that a substantial cost savings could be realized just by ridding ourselves of this thing called wheat.

  4. Renee

    I have been essentially wheat free for 3 months now. Withdrawal was only about 5 days for me, thankfully. I’ve lost 20 lbs so far and have very little appetite. Like another poster, I get full or satiated very quickly. My mind is much clearer and my chronic pain is gone. What a huge relief this knowledge has brought to my life. I tell everyone who will listen about “Wheat Belly”. It’s changed my life.

    • Excellent, Renee!

      It takes a view from this perspective to realize how far off course Americans have wandered when you watch average people eating at an all-you-can-eat buffet and you realize just how unnatural this is.

  5. Janne

    I don’t suffer from depression but I will say being wheat-free has made me more even-tempered, more content and more able to appreciate being in the moment. In another post I called it ‘feeling lighter’. It’s partly a physical feeling but also emotional.
    On another note – I did have a really good laugh to see that the USDA is now calling pizza a vegetable. How nuts can we get? (Or should I revise that to idiotic – I don’t want to say anything bad about nuts.)

  6. Phillis

    Bless you all! I have to admit that I’m truly sorry that we’ve all had to go through this but I’m also glad that we’ve now got some really solid answers here. As I’ve read through Dr. Davis’s book I’m constantly struck by how it reads just like a casebook for my whole family!!!! While I’m truly thankful for the wonderful lifesaving medical people that we have I’m also concerned that they are not being given the knowledge to truly help their patients because it might “conflict” with what they’ve already been told is the answer to their illnesses. My mother’s stomach issues were nothing new and she just about fit the template for gluten intolerance but in all of her 77 years had never even been asked outright if she had problems with wheat nor was she ever tested.

    On another note, Dr. Davis have you thought about wheat/gluten intolerance being a contributing factor with our military’s rampant PTSD? I’m not saying that what they’ve been through wasn’t traumatic because it sure was/is but the MRE’s that are given to them in combat situations are almost entirely starch with much of it being wheat in the form of noodles, binders and additives. Note* My son is a 3 tour vet of Iraq and is now a substance abuse counselor at his base. They are seeing an enormous increase in suicides, violent incidents, domestic violence, and, of course, substance abuse; primarily alcohol.

    • Hi, Phillis–

      The PTSD idea is a new one to me. Given the incredible array of conditions wheat exposure can worsen–not cause, but worsen–I wouldn’t at all surprised to find that there is some form of connection, perhaps one that simply exaggerates some of the phenomena.

      I can only hope that some of these lessons are being passed onto people involved in counseling, psychiatric treatment, etc. However, I fear that, for people with PTSD or virtually any other form of disruption of mental and emotional health, it is often left to the individual to find these answers as people in healthcare tend to pooh-pooh such associations.

  7. Susan

    Since starting the Primal Blueprint at the end of July and going off all grains, I have weaned down from 40 mg a day of Celexa to 10 and will be going to 5 next week. I don’t need it any longer. The symptoms are all gone.


      Hi Susan,

      Just wondering if you’ve lost weight since your last post. I’m also on Celexa 20 mg. and will be discussing with my doctor to wean me down to no meds.

      I’ve been wheat free since early November but not seeing any weight loss. I’m a 54 year old woman. At my next physical next week, I will ask my doctor to check my throid levels (as per Dr. Davis’ specific list of thyroid tests).

      I do have more energy since going wheat free and am determinded to continue this new lifestyle.

  8. Susan

    Hello Phillis. I’m going on two months now (wheat-free) and I can say for sure that I’ve experienced an overall calming – physically and mentally. I don’t worry or obsess about anything anymore (at least not nearly as much). That all seemed to go with the reduction/elimination of the inflamation that wheat was causing me – throughout my body but most noted in digestion (constipation) and also joints. Here is my personal theory to support why I feel so much better overall now – including mentally/emotionally;
    I used to snore and always felt tired and miserable. So in 2001 I entered the medical loop for about two years to address it. They did a sleep test and found I was waking throughout the night therefore the chronic tiredness. They noted that when I inhaled – both my nostrils collapsed closed – not open. So they did an operation on my nose to improve air passage however that didn’t improve breathing and that was the end of that. I then googled around and found the Netti Pot which is a small aparatus that pours salt water up one nostril, circulates throughout the inner nasal cavities and then out the other nostril. Once I got over the feeling of drowning – it really worked – in that a whole lot of mucus would be eliminated. I did that for a few years and could breathe freely through both nostrils at the same time – and the result was that I stopped snoring completely and the syptoms/tiredness/miserable vanished. But here’s where it gets interesting. Like most things I take on as a routine – I stopped using the Netti Pot and had been snoring again for the last year or so. However since stopping wheat – I have achieved a clear head and optimal breathing – even better than before. I can breathe like a racehorse now and I have no doubt that wheat was causing the inflamation in the first place. So my own conclusion is that with the elimination of the wheat-induced inflamation – breathing, circulation and therefore EVERTHING improves in general. That is what I attribute the mental changes/improvement to.

    • Wow, Susan, a circuitous route to the solution!

      The sinus congestion effect of wheat is surprisingly common. Makes you wonder how much sinus surgery, throat surgery, CPAP devices are all being advised for what is, at its core, nothing more than effects of wheat consumption.

  9. Jenny

    I have spend most of my adult life with anxiety, especially surrounding holidays or spending time with my mother. I would get stressed about 2 weeks before and then I would become an all encompassed ball of anxious energy. Nothing I did, exercise, sleep, mentally try to get myself out of it, talk to my husband, nothing would help.

    This year I had no anxiety, none. With the exception to make sure I had a plan for food, which I did (my family is in CT on NY boarder and everything is bread/pizza/pastry). Not one panic attack or crying jag. I wasn’t stressed out. I wasn’t having heart palpitations. No anger and avoidance. I cooked the entire meal, gluten free/wheat free. With exceptions of stuffing and gravy. I had lots of options and everyone said the food tasted better this year than ever. We got home today and I am exhausted but I am not emotionally spent like I normally would be, needed to decompress for several days. And I know it was the wheat. I know it. And Thank You!

  10. Celia V

    I have been wheat free for 3 weeks now, going on 4 and have lost 8 lbs. The last week I had severe depression and was suicidal, but I still didn’t eat any wheat. I am bipolar. I was feeling somewhat self destructive so I ate a bag of chocolate kisses with almonds, and a week later a medium bag of peanut m and m’s ….. I didn’t see any wheat on the labels, but I craved sweets and especially chocolate. But today, I woke up and the depression and wish to do away with myself are gone!!! I’m still on meds for mood swings, but I don’t change from being that depressed to feeling tons better all in a night! Am I still, or was I still in wheat withdrawal? I even ate Thanksgiving meal w/o dressing or wheat and I was satisfied! I don’t miss wheat, but I’m still doing fruit and things.

    • JJ


      Congratulations on making so long and through Thanksgiving, too! Your resolve is impressive.

      I can totally relate to what you went through. I wasn’t suicidal, but the second week of wheat-free was the worst! I was so depressed and panicky! And I also craved chocolate – which is weird for me since I was told once upon a time that I was allergic to it, so I haven’t eaten much chocolate in years. I did give in and enjoy the occasional square of dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa) when the craving got too much. One day I just felt better. I did have waves of panic for another day or two after that, but they were short-lived.

      Like you, I don’t miss wheat at all and feel fantastic in so many ways. Weird how the withdrawal was so intense. It’s like detoxing from some powerful drug! You made it, so good job! I hope this is the start of many good days for you!

  11. Hey guys, enjoying the site and looking forward to getting a copy of the book soon. I have celiac disease and was undiagnosed for 12 years. I suffered horribly at the hands of uneducated doctors. Thank God we have Dr. William Davis now. I had over 6 autoimmunes, on more than 30 meds daily – when I mentioned to my 9 doctors that there was a connection and they were missing something I got a psych referral. On my own I started eliminating foods that caused me problems and that ended up being wheat. Luckily, I still had enough in my system to get a positive celiac diagnosis.

    However, I want to caution all of you NOT to eliminate wheat from your diet until you have been tested for celiac disease. You will feel better when you stop eating wheat, but you will be missing valuable medical information that will be beneficial to you and your family in the future. Since celiac disease is inherited if you are test negative your relatives won’t ever believe they need to be tested.

    Gluten free was the best Rx I never had but you must test positive to get that Rx! Good luck!

    Join me on FB at Glutenfreecouponcorner for coupons, savings and tips on budgeting while eating well gluten free!

    Happy, Healthy, Gluten Free – got everything I wanted for Christmas!

    • Hi, Gayle–

      While I am glad you found your answer, I have to disagree with reserving wheat elimination to only those with positive celiac markers. In fact, the majority of people who benefit from wheat elimination have negative celiac markers.

      I advocate wheat free for everybody, not only for the limited number of people who prove positive for the few markers developed.

      • Uncle Roscoe

        All of the diseases caused by the release of TNF-alpha and various downstream inflammatory cytokine storms owe their cause singularly to wheat-caused gut permeability. Modern medicine does NOT have tests for gluten sensitivity as defined by the non-autoimmune conditions ushered in by this reaction ……None.

        The ONLY means which “modern” medicine has of linking conditions to wheat ingestion is to look for wheat related antibodies. Wheat related antibodies can be found in all autoimmune diseases, but not in the inflammatory conditions which wheat causes in most people. These conditions are caused by wheat directly. The body does not create antibodies.

        This failure means these conditions can be defined as a Darwinian failure of the immune system. Wheat proteins attack the body, and the body fails to respond. Would-be ancestors who mounted autoimmune responses to wheat died, and failed to procreate. People who failed to mount immune responses to wheat are called ancestors. They ranged from central Europe through Africa. Wheat ingestion causes their progeny to get type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, restless leg, cancer, etc.

        The only way we can connect these diseases back to wheat ingestion? When we remove wheat? …..the diseases disappear.

  12. I am a naturopathic doctor and I work with a lot of patients with mood issues, anxiety, depression, etc. I’ve found wheat and often dairy products to have a huge effect on making mood symptoms worse. I was just talking to a psychotherapist the other day who is now suggesting that her clients take wheat out of their diet. It’s wonderful to see how many people confirm this.
    Dr. Julieanne Neal, ND

  13. Uncle Roscoe

    Let’s say there’s a series of the worst mental disorders known to humanity. The disorders are defined by different sets of horrendous symptoms. Adding medication improves some of the symptoms, but only slightly. However, removing a single food item either vastly improves or eliminates all of the symptoms of all of the disorders.

    One could simply conclude that the treatment helps the symptoms. But removing a food is not a treatment. If removing the food removes the symptoms, then removing the food can only be described as removing the cause. If the disorders are defined by the symptoms, and removing the food removes the symptoms, then doesn’t this constitute a cure?

    Mainstream medicine and big agriculture’s snub of this information are self-serving slaps in the face. It answers the question, What are doctors going to do when everyone gets cured?

    ……Make them sick.

  14. Lucy

    I gave up the wheat way of life about 12 weeks ago. I was not really over weight but I hated that muffin top that appears on us menopausal women. My update is that I have lost 5 pounds, the muffin top is gone,so far I have not been sick a day. I did not give up sugar and I did not exercise that much. This is the easiest way in the world to slim down. My body looks like it did 10 years ago. And i can tell I am still losing weight though it is very slow. My only problem was the lack of fiber started to be apparent and so i have added one bowl of kashi cereal a day. I see that there is some wheat in that cereal but hopefully not too much. I eat only the ezekiel bread. One piece each morning. Thank you Dr. Davis for writing this book. Oh by the way- what do you think about the eat for your blood type diet.It also says my blood type O should not eat wheat..

    • Hi, Lucy–

      Great on the muffin top!

      However, I’d lose the Kashi and sprouted grain bread; both are wheat and can bring the entire mess back.

      I am only superficially familiar with Dr. D’Adamo’s work, having poked around his website and writings. I’m afraid I haven’t given it serious attention, but it strikes me that he often advocates an approach similar to what I’ve come to advocate through the lessons learned through lipoprotein and metabolic testing.

      • Lucy

        Well this may be TMI but without the kashi I just could not get enough fiber in my diet. It takes a lot of fiber for me . What kind of cereal would be better than kashi? And I hope you don’t say I should not eat any cereal ( but you probably will).

        • Boundless

          > … without the kashi I just could not get enough fiber in my diet.

          How about psyllium capsules?

          > What kind of cereal …


          • Cheryl

            The ground flaxseed definitely helps constipation. I take in a smoothie each morning, and 1Tbs. is enough for me. But try different amounts. It can also go in applesauce or cottage cheese etc. It does absorb liquid, so eat or drink it soon after mixing.

  15. kdmax

    I’ve been wheat free for almost three months now, and have lost weight and feel incredible. Over the past 5-6 years, in different weight loss attempts including this one, I have had a low carb diet.(Phase 1, South Beach, etc), and within 24 hours of cutting out wheat or cutting back on carbs, i begin having heart palpitations. They go away again within 24 hours of putting it back in my diet. My heart has tested out fine, but I’m curious about the connection. Any ideas?

    • Dr. Davis

      This sounds like a peculiar wheat withdrawal reaction, though it is odd.

      I’d like to say “discuss with your doctor,” but most will have no insight whatsoever. So just be careful. More than likely, it’s harmless.

      Doesn’t hurt to have a magnesium and potassium level checked.

  16. MRstoner2udude

    I am for the umpteenth time going grain free. I’m having slight increased heart rate. Anyone else? Will this go away?

  17. Melissa

    I have been plagued by severe anxiety most of my life. Medication hasn’t helped, so I am going wheat-, grain-, and sugar-free in the hopes that I might get some relief. This is my third day on the plan, and my anxiety is through the roof. I have been eating dry-roasted peanuts and drinking flavored water that has sucralose and natural flavors, but nothing wheat- or grain-related. Could either of those be affecting my anxiety, or is this part of the detox phase? Thank you.

    • Dr. Davis

      It’s more than likely the withdrawal from the gliadin protein of wheat . . . you know: the OPIATE in wheat!

      I know of no way to blunt the effects of this withdrawal except to grin and bear it, while trying to minimize stressful situations.

      When you emerge from it (usually several days), you feel wonderful.

      • Melissa

        I felt better by yesterday afternoon. Just sort of calm and somewhat oblivious to the stress around me. I have an extremely stressful job, so it’s difficult to minimize it. This morning I feel a little jittery again, but my weight is down two pounds since yesterday. I’ve also noticed that my heart rate dropped from the 80s to the 60s since I started this way of life four days ago.

        • Debbie

          Hi, I want to say that natural flavors are actually another name for MSG and MSG is pretty toxic and kills brain cells.. Your drink may even contain Aspartame, another Excitotoxin. MSG comes under many different names. I would not be surprised if they cause anxiety. They have many, many adverse affects. Drink plain distilled water.

  18. chris andersen

    Hi All,
    I have been wheat free for over a month now. For the first time in my living memory I can breath through both nostrils and my post nasal drip has vanished. Most surprising though is the total disappearance of my facial psoriasis and my long term reflux appears to be gone! Lost a couple of kilograms even though I have a low BMI. Also feeling calmer and more positive about life; but that could be as much attributable to the above transformations as the diet. Time will tell. Wheat Belly is proving to be my best investment Ina long lifetime.