Wheat and . . . depression

Barbara left this informative comment about depression and her wheat-free experience:

Hi, I live in Brooklyn, New York. After devouring your book at the end of September, I decided to do “one” month of wheat free living. I was suffering from weight gain, depression, joint pain, and lethargy. I was really at the end of my rope. No weight was coming off and I thought I was eating so healthy.

Well, after one week of eliminating wheat, I swear, I felt no depression any more. I was astonished. I would literally sit at my desk and cry, with a heavy heart. I had experienced some life trauma’s a few years back, but had worked diligently on releasing it. So, I could not understand why I was still feeling that way. I am not into taking drugs, so that was out of the question. I wanted to handle it holistically. I have lost about 5 inches off my waist (not getting on the scale)……and everyone says I seem happy again. My joint pain is gone and I have so much energy, that even drinking coffee seems like too much now, LOL.

So, this has definitely become my way of life now. I have no desire for carbs or desserts (maybe some chocolate from time to time)……and the choice between having wheat or feeling great is not even an issue anymore. I am talking about it with everyone, and may have been able to help a few people.

At home, I am slowly weaning daughter and husband (he will make some rice instead of pasta for dinner now)…and lots of salads. As he is French, the baguette is not going anywhere for now……not for him at least…haa haa.

I saw your book in the bookstore, and it just called out to me. I guess the teacher appears when the student is ready. I ran home and downloaded it on my NOOK and read it in two days. I am enjoying my way of eating and love the challenge of finding delicious things to make that fill me up and leave me satisified for hours on end.

Thank you so much for all you have done! I feel you have saved my life and my brain is more alert now, so I can actually feel confident in the new career path I have chosen.

While I would not argue that all depression is caused by wheat consumption, how many other causes can be so easily remedied? No prolonged psychotherapy, no nasty antidepressants, no electroshock therapy to your zapped cerebrum. And what other therapies for depression come with relief from joint pains and arthritis, increased energy, and weight loss?

Anyone depressed, I believe, should at least give wheat freedom a four week test.

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. Iva

    My family went GF because my husband’s doctor recommended it for managing some of his pain. There are other medical issues going on with my husband as well, so I can’t say that cutting wheat has made me happier, per say. What I CAN say is that I’m handling a full plate, all spinning a heck of a lot better than I was a couple of months ago – despite so many uncertainties in my family’s situation.

    Also, I would have never thought it would happen to me but after three weeks, I just don’t spend my time thinking about food – at all. Before, I was thinking about where my next meal was coming from. Now, I think about meal planning – as in what is something I can serve my family that is healthy – but not so much, “Oh my gosh…I’m sooo hungry.” As far as cravings for pasta, bread and sweets – I just don’t have them anymore. It is truly amazing.

      • jos24

        This so, so true. I began a wheat free..actually a totally “white” free and grain free low carb no processed food-diet just over a year ago.

        Within a few weeks my hands stopped aching and stiffness went away all over.(I have tended towards depression on and off my whole life and had just gone through another bad bout. ) I did recognize the abscense of aches had to do with wheat as it was the food I began to eat again and the aches came back.
        Bread has always been my favourite food and I have often remarked on that.
        Of course I would sneak just a bit..lol..and bingo..before you know it..here comes the pie, the cake, the baguette, the gravy.
        and shortly thereafter follows the aches and stiffness and cloudy head. It does not take long to get to the binge part. I am restarting for the 3rd time in 15 months..after my last relapse into wheat . A friend told me about Wheat Belly and now I have another layer of great information to make sure I never give in again to my desire for bread, cake, pie, gravy.
        Although I could lose a few more lbs at 61, I am not obese -overall health and wellbeing are my primary reasons for giving up wheat (and some other foods). No more aches, pains, stiffness, mental fog!! The past year of my life has been one of my happiest..and it never ocurred to me it could be because of my wheat free -low carb diet.

        • Dr. Davis

          Gotta stay strong, Jos24.

          Remind yourself that is an opiate cleverly disguised as an innocent bagel or baguette. It is just too easy to relapse, the price is too great.

  2. Jan

    Antidepressants are not “nasty” for those of us suffering from chronic depression (in my case, since my teens). They are a lifeline if prescribed by a doctor who knows shat s/he is doing. That said, I’m feeling so good after kicking all grains I’m going to ask my psychiatrist about cutting back from the expensive brand to the generic in January… then seeing how that goes. If I’m still feeling this much better, I might try under his supervision weaning off them in 2012 and seeing what happens. I really do feel “up” all the time now which I think has a lot to do with the simple fact of having more energy and mental clarity from eating low carb and eschewing grains.

    • Dana

      No, they’re still nasty. I was on Lexapro for a while. It dulled me and almost killed my libido. I was also encouraged to take it while pregnant and I have no idea what it did to my daughter. In the end it turned out I wasn’t getting enough animal fat in my diet and particularly saturated fat, the introduction of which in greater amounts has worked miracles for my mental health. I even find there’s some degree of protection against grains, though the protection is not complete and I really do need to avoid them completely. (Working on it. I feel like a recovering junkie.)

      I refuse to believe depression is an antidepressant-deficiency disease. I have no idea how our species has survived for so many thousands of years if we’re so fatally flawed that we need pills which were only invented in the past half-century just to stay alive and functional.

      Any doctor who just puts their patient on a drug without exhaustively investigating all nutritional options first is a quack in my book. Harsh, yes. But if you don’t know what you are doing, you shouldn’t be practicing medicine. People’s lives are in your hands and you have the power to make them better or to utterly destroy them. It’s a huge responsibility, not to be undertaken lightly or incompletely.

      I used to work for a doctor I once overheard telling a pharmaceutical sales rep that he’d rather put his patients on antidepressants than send them to therapy. Lovely.

      • John

        Yeah, I agree that depression is not caused by a lack of anti-depressants. I do believe it could be due to a lack of certain amino acids, as Julia Ross explains in her book The Mood Cure. She basically treats people with depression and other mood disorders with a combination of diet, supplemental amino acids, and therapy sessions. She lists Sugar, Flour, and Wheat as her top 3 foods that cause bad moods. Some of her patients get great results simply from cutting out those three foods, and doing nothing more.

        • Julie

          I have recently had some blood test results back. One that hit me was the B12, the count was 275, the acceptable range was 250 to 950. Yet the doctor told me everything was ‘normal’. Since starting to take B vitamin complex with a hefty does of B12 in it (like 48,000% of RDA) I have definately started feeling brighter. In fact so much so that I am bored, I get all my chores done so quickly that I now need a hobby.

          I personally think that when the ‘normal’ range was invented and they designated that normal was everyone above the bottom 10% and below the top 10% (so the middle 90%) they forgot to ask the bottom 20% in the range how they felt. I bet they didn’t as there is no way that 90% of the population feel that well all the time.

          • Angela

            Agree with you Julie on B12. I was at 200 and couldn’t get my GP or a walk-in clinic physician to provide me with a b12 shot. Luckily i found a naturopath who was much more sympathetic and had a different take on the concept of a “normal” range. I too have seen a huge difference in energy level, which has improved even more with gluten elimination.

          • You are absolutely correct, Julie: The basis for “normal” is often a population range. The population surveyed to develop the range may be an unhealthy population.

            This was true with vitamin D, for instance, when we saw the quoted “normal” or “reference range” included a level now regarded as severe deficiency.

          • PJ

            You’re right, Julie. Most doctors don’t seem to understand that there is a HUGE difference between “medically normal” and “nutritionally optimal”.

          • Iva

            My husband’s dr told him he needed a multi-vitamin and B-12 supplements. Of course, even though she put HIM on the regimen, I signed on, too. It’s amazing how much better I feel. I haven’t had blood work done (my insurance doesn’t cover it), but I would be interested to know how I’m doing on the inside.

            Good luck finding your hobby!

      • Jan

        I agree that Lexapro is nasty! But WellbutrinXL (for instance) has been a godsend. I hope we won’t paint all antidepressants with the same brush, because they are not all from the same drug class, and some have much milder side effects than others. I have had NONE from Wellbutrin, whereas with Lexapro I experienced lethargy, a total lack of caring about anything (better than despair, but still), and a 40-pound weight gain when it became my mission in life to eat every Christmas cookie within a ten-block radius of my house.

        I suffered for decades and tried everything and resisted and resisted antidepressants, until finally a therapist talked me into at least giving them a try. As I said, Lexapro – no. Wellbutrin – score. Most people have to try more than one before they find one that works for them. But I am hopeful that going grain-free will allow me to take none in time, because I’m not a big drug/pharma person to begin with.

      • Rebecca

        I have always been a bit worried about anti-depression meds. My husband had a few terrible spans of time when he was incapable of functioning at any level and finally saw the doctor, psychiatrist during second time, and was put on anti-depression med. His over all state mentally on every different med and there have been about five became like a roller coaster. But the thing that really stood out to me was I went to the same physician ,while the second span of depression was going on, for a first check up hi I am your doctor appointment. She grilled me on the mental health of my family which my siblings both have been treated for depression, as me about my mental health. When I said I am mostly happy and eager to go out and socialize, not really showing any signs of an issue, she stated” what’s wrong with you?” in a serious voice. That made me think time to find a new doctor . I think your right, some doctors think this is easy, let not get to the root but keep the money coming with happy pills, but sometimes the effects are not happy.

  3. JJ

    This is a bit of an update, as I commented on “About the Aughtor” a couple of weeks ago. At the time I was going through horrific anxiety and depression that I can only link to wheat withdrawal. 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 stomachaches 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!

  4. Phillis

    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!!!

    • Hi, Phillis–

      We need to hear more about families like yours who have truly suffered from consuming this corrupt grain. Although you and I cannot prove cause-effect without on-again, off-again consumption or celiac markers (or other markers), the specific conditions afflicting your family sound like a textbook case of what intolerance in its varied forms, without a doubt.

      I’d like to post your comment as a continuation of the discussion on depression.

      • Phillis

        Thanks Dr. Davis. As I said I wish that I had had this information years ago. The funny thing is that during one of my mother’s many hospitalizations for her stomach issues one of the doctors asked us if she had ever been diagnosed with “leaky gut”. At the time I had never heard of that and neither had my brother and his wife who are both in the medical field. It wasn’t until a couple years after that I found out what that meant. We had told the doctor who asked at the time that we didn’t know but they apparently never pursued it or even bothered to check to see if she had any type of gluten intolerance even tho she was screened through a whole battery of tests and colonoscopies. She spent the majority of her life with chronic constipation with a dependence on laxatives and always the pain of both her gut and her RA. Feel free to use this information if it will help anyone else with these types of ongoing issues. I know that my mom would be pleased. Also, keep up the great work. I’m hoping that this information will be getting to more and more people as time goes on.

  5. All depression isn’t caused by wheat addiction, but a wheat addiction can certainly keep you in a depressed state.

    I reached goal weight three years ago after doing a strict low cal diet and have been following a primal lifestyle to maintain it. This 44 yr old, 125 lb mom of 7 was proud to show off her wheat free belly at one point. Then emotional stress got the best of me during the past few months and I turned to baked goods for comfort. I thought I was past all this, but never say never. The good part, I know how to fix it. I’m on my third day back to a primal lifestyle. I’m feeling much better emotionally and ready to get rid of these 20 pounds I gained from eating my way out stress and depression.

  6. Shannon

    I have totally noticed a link between the two. I have felt so much better since going wheat free. Soooo much more energy and feeling so much happier and my thinking is so much more clearer too….

  7. Me

    Although, I enjoy your post and think some of your points are valid you are quite ignorant when it comes to psychological disease and treatment. You obviously have no idea what occurs in the brain and nervous system of people who suffer from these diseases. Antidepressants are not nasty, they are beneficial drugs that increase quality of life for people who need them. Who cares that we survived for thousands of years without meds….this is because no one was diagnosed and the meds did not exist. You think people with psychological problems would not have wanted psychoactive meds to help them…that would be crazy.

    I am very happy about the lifestyle change that has seemed to make you feel better all around. No matter how you get there, that is where we all want to be. Judging people with a psychigical disease for needing medication is unfair.

    • Debbie B in MD

      I don’t think that anyone is judging. Many have benefitted from a wheat free lifestyle. Have you tried it? I hope that you will and will experience relief. No, wheat is not the cause of all depression, but if its elimination can help improve symptoms, it certainly seems worth it to me. Best of luck to you.

      • NancyB

        I don’t think anyone is judging either. Wouldn’t you rather have a possible solution to reducing your medication or to someday in the future eliminate it all together? If it was remotely possible I’d look into it.

  8. PJ

    Back when I would eat wheat occasionally, I would have periods that I would just sit in my recliner, exhausted, unmotivated and depressed, wondering why in the world I was feeling that way. I would think “How can I go on feeling like this for the rest of my life?! What the hell is going on?!” Yet, there were periods that I felt great; alert, energetic and clear headed. I gave up wheat as an experiment for weight loss over a year ago and WILL NEVER GO BACK. Now I know it was the wheat that was causing many more symtoms than I could believe could be related. Even still, I’ll stop and think “Wow, (this or that) hasn’t happened in ages!” The first symptom that went away was the depression.

    But it was so confusing at the time. The effects of wheat wouldn’t hit me for a day or two after I ate it, so I couldn’t correlate eating wheat with how I felt. Didn’t even dawn on me because, after all, it was a “whole healthy grain” and I used to feel a little guilty that I wasn’t eating more of it because I have spent most of the last 40 years eating low carb. I can’t even imagine how I would have felt eating my “six servings” a day!

    I no longer wake up and wonder if this is going to be a good day or am I going to feel like crap. I feel good everyday.

    • NancyB

      Yes PJ – the effects don’t hit me for a day or two when I backslide so I get confused about it too. There is no doubt in my mind it’s the wheat going through my system.

  9. NancyB

    I have noticed that I always feel pretty happy since I eliminated wheat from my diet. And no PMS of the mental (and physical nature)! Such a blessing!

      • Debbie B in MD

        My daughter has actually been surprised the last 2 months when she started. Her pain during has reduced to jsut a few hours rather than quite intense for at least one, an often 2, days since going grain free. Gluten free wasn’t enough for her, but we are thankful for the improvement.

  10. Carole Penner

    I took a break from wheat a few years ago and felt great. Unfortunately, my love of crusty bread, pasta and sweets won out! But I recently read the review for Wheat Belly, and decided it was time to take this seriously.
    My concerns have been for the inflammatory nature of wheat, and since having total knee replacement in April 2011, I have been struggling with the pain of healing. I’m hoping that by eliminating one of the causes of inflammation, I might help the healing process along. Of course, a loss of a few pounds would be welcomed as well!

  11. Jenn

    Hi Dr. Davis,

    I’ve got a question or two regarding my potentially celiac daughter, who’s 2.5 yrs old. Any insight or thoughts you have are appreciated.

    2 weeks ago, I took my 2.5 yr old into a Naturopath because she’s failing to thrive. She’s a vibrant girl with a huge personality. However, she’s been so sick since about 9 weeks old. Finally, after many many sick weeks and months of repeated respiratory infections and a Cystic Fibrosis test, (which came back negative), we determined that she was indeed allergic to milk. We eliminated dairy, with the exception of yogurt and cheese and she’s no longer sick all the time. However, she still isn’t thriving. In fact, her 6 month old brother, out weighs her. She has dark circles under eyes, red eyes, wispy hair, no energy, restless sleep, abnormal tempe r tantrums and emotional meltdowns (yes, even for a two year old) and her bowel movements were irregular, wicked stench, loose and undigested. Over the last month she’s deteriorated even more; she has very little interest in toys, books and activities. She literally lays on the floor all day long. Our ND suggested taking her off wheat for 30 days. We did, and within 48 hours I saw a change; Her cheeks were fatter, her appetite tripled. Within 6 days, the dark circles were nearly gone, red eyes gone, sleep was sound. I took her off gluten at that point, after noticing how she reacted to spelt pancakes. We are now at 14 days; I’m nearly done Wheat Belly, and her bowel movement tonight was NORMAL! However, she’s still incredibly tired… which I’m attributing to her body finally being able to use the nutrients and let her grow? I am convinced that she’s either got some sort of intolerance if not a straight up Celiac. My question, thanks for bearing with me, is about testing for Celiac. Because she’s so young, I really don’t want to subject her to stressful testing if unnecessary. I’ve heard from many that the biopsy is the only way to get a definitive diagnosis. However, your book says, as I interpret, that a blood test may be more effective because it will determine intolerance- which is just as dangerous. Based on her history, and her reaction to being gluten free how would you proceed for testing?
    Again, I thank you in advance for a reply. Your book has been a real eye opener and life changer for me and my family. My husband and I are gluten free now as well… what a difference:) Thank you!

  12. Kaylana Miller

    Hi Dr. Davis,
    I am rather new to the information that you have presented here on this site.
    Have you researched the link between wheat consumption and estrogen dominance?
    An article that I recently read showed how rats on a high-fiber diet had a lower levels of estrogen excreted, thus it was recycling back into the body.
    With all the xenoestrogens out there, we certainly don’t need the consumption of wheat to add to the problem!
    Another article published in 1960 showed how the oils from processed grains increased the uterine weight – in other words had a estrogenic effect. And the cereal from wheat bran almost tripled the uterine weight. Amazing!
    Many of the reliefs from a wheat free diet are very close to those who recover from estrogen dominance. The two are obviously related. And as is well documented, estrogen and insulin work together. Wheat seems to join the discussion.
    Please feel free to contact me if you’d like further information regarding the research articles.
    Best wishes in your endeavors!

    • Hi, Kaylana–

      Yes, there is undoubtedly a connection between wheat consumption, visceral fat accumulation, and estrogen excess in both males and females.

      You’ve suggested a new thought to me in your notion that many wheat withdrawal symptoms might be ascribable to reductions in estrogen. Very interesting idea!

      • Kaylana Miller

        Just doing a little more digging.
        I found an article from 2010 linking gliadin allergy to schizophrenia.
        “Evidence for gliadin antibodies as causative agents in schizophrenia”
        Also, on a patent application (most likely for a drug company, published Nov. 2011) was a report of how treatment with gliadin caused PBMCs to increase their expression of IL-6, IL-8, MIP-1α, and Gro-α.
        IL-6 stimulates Th17 cells (T lymphocytes) which are connected to chronic inflammation versus T-regulatory cells are inhibited (which are necessary to maintain a pregnancy and other vital roles).
        Please read “The Complex Role of Estrogens on Inflammation” for more information.
        There is undoubtedly a connection and I am finding all this research enlightening as I am dealing with the autoimmune disease of psoriasis.
        (Incidentally, I’m trying a progesterone therapy combined with various dietary changes to help eliminate the excess estrogen. Wheat is going on the list of foods to avoid.)
        Thank you!

        • Hi, Kaylana–

          You are encountering precisely what I found: There is an incredible wealth of clinical studies that should have consigned wheat products to the garbage bin long ago, yet we still have “official” advice to eat more “healthy whole grains,” surely the worst dietary advice ever conceived—that flies in the face of the data!

  13. Penny

    Why do I feel like crying? I have been off wheat for 3 weeks now. I don’t have cravings, but I seem to be getting more and more depressed. Am I missing some nutrient? I have been taking vitamins almost every morning – calcium, B-50, a multi, and estroven. Am I doing something I shouldn’t? Please help. I am literally wiping tears from my eyes.

    • Dr. Davis

      Hi, Penny–

      Given your supplementation, the only deficiencies that might add to depression are vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. I have all my patients supplement 6000 units per day in gelcap form to start, then dose adjusted to obtain a 25-hydroxy vitamin D level of 60-70 ng/ml (BIG effect on mood). I also have them supplement 1800-3000 mg EPA + DHA from fish oil, which also has effects on the brain, mentation, and mood.

      Some people also respond to wheat-freedom and low-carb with low mood. You might consider lightening up on your carbohydrate restriction and taper it gradually over weeks to smooth the transition.

  14. Renee

    I have been wheat free for 1 yr, was on that road for many years. I feel sooo much better when I am wheat free. However, after 6 months of being strict, I still found myself sometimes very overwhelmed and depressed, especially when dealing with my son. Well-butrin plus a completely wheat free life allows me to manage the stress and depression. That said, I am wondering if my son’s almost manic like state is related to wheat. I don’t feed them much wheat but haven’t fully restricted them like I have myself. Suicide, depression, anger, stomach cancer all run in my family. I am about to buckle down and see if a wheat free diet alone will eliminate my sons depression, or at least, severe manic swings. It may make a big difference, but he may find the need to either use additional medication or vitamin supplementation. Will pediatricians test for wheat allergy and vitamin deficiency?

    • Dr. Davis

      There is nothing to lose by conducting your own elimination efforts, Renee.

      A pediatrician can indeed conduct such tests. Problem: the tests are so limited and fail the identify the majority of intolerances, allergic and otherwise. You can still, for instance, have debilitating or even fatal reactions to wheat with “normal” blood tests.