How Gluten Affects Me Mentally

The Witch

It was about six months after being diagnosed with celiac disease when I had my first major reaction. I was fixing gluten-free toast in my gluten-free toaster. I remembered getting a plate out, so when I saw crumbs on the plate I assured myself that I must have set the bread on the plate before putting it in the toaster.

witchThe symptoms hit several hours later as I was driving home from a soccer game. Even though it was morning I was suddenly very sleepy. Then my belly began to rumble. I dashed into the house and made a beeline for the bathroom. After that I slept and woke up feeling pretty normal, except for one thing. I was very irritable. Very, very, irritable. For the next week I yelled at my kids and was angry about everything. I hated it. One thought kept going through my mind, “I feel like I’ve turned into a witch!”

That series of symptoms, becoming very sleepy, the bathroom thing, and then longer lasting mental issues, became the pattern for many of my reactions to accidental ingestion of gluten. My mental reactions weren’t always the same, though.

The Salesman

salesmanI don’t remember how I got glutened this time, but I clearly remember how I reacted mentally. I was totally apathetic. I didn’t care about anything or anyone. I didn’t like or dislike. I didn’t love or hate. I could live or die. I wasn’t depressed; I just didn’t care.

I remember explaining my mental state to my husband one evening. It was the one symptom that worried us both. However, I awoke the next morning and informed him that my status had changed. I now cared about life very much, and I was mad about everything. Beware!

We had plans to do some furniture shopping that day, and we went ahead with it. My husband wasn’t about to leave me alone so we might as well go out and do something. The problem was salespeople. I had no tolerance for them. My husband did all the talking, but after our third stop, I was losing it. The salesman would not take a hint and leave us alone. He kept pestering. He kept talking. I finally told him to shut up. Well, not really to his face. I was standing back a bit, but he might have overheard me. He did leave us alone.

So why does gluten affect me and others this way?

The Doctor

I think I almost cried as I sat listening to someone who truly understood. He didn’t understand because of personal experience. He understood because of medical knowledge. He explained how and why I have mental reactions to gluten.

doctorDr. Allesio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research, spoke at a support group meeting. The room was packed, and we were all soaking in the information he was feeding us. In particular, his explanation of why celiacs have mental reactions to gluten stuck in my mind.

Intestinal permeability is part of the reaction that takes place when someone with celiac disease eats gluten. To put it simply, molecules that should be kept within the intestines are able to “leak” out into the bloodstream. Gluten is one of those molecules.

When gluten is carried by the blood to the brain, it causes problems. Dr. Fasano explained that the gluten molecule is similar to endorphins which, along with other things, give us a sense of well-being. The gluten molecules will dock where endorphins are supposed to dock. In effect, gluten blocks endorphins and the positive feelings they can give us.

Thankfully, I haven’t had a bad mental reaction in a long time, but it could happen again. I hope it doesn’t happen to you, but if it does, I hope it helps to have an explanation and to know you are not alone.

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  1. Jennifer Carden says

    Thanks for writing this…I have been suspicious for years that I have some gluten intolerance or something. I get foggy brain, indifference not to mention many other “side effects.” I should get tested so thanks for making me think that I may not be crazy!!

  2. Gina says

    I feel fortunate that I don’t always have an immediate and severe reaction to accidental ingestion of gluten. I definitely do have the longer-lasting mental reaction, however. I would qualify it as negativity, depression, and brain fog. I thought I was just imagining that it would take so long to clear my system – it’s kind of reassuring that other people have similar experiences. The medical explanation is fascinating! Thanks for a very informative post.

  3. Linda says

    A couple people have had trouble leaving a comment. I just tried to leave a comment on Gina’s blog and the word verification wouldn’t load. It must be a Blogger problem. I appreciate people giving me their comments via email and letting me know about the problem. Hopefully, it will be corrected soon.

  4. Jessie says

    Somehow I've missed this post Linda. I am thinking about putting up a "How I got diagnosed"

    This encourages me today as we've had gorgeous weather, my kids have been pretty happy and cooperative and yet I sit and feel no passion. That's NOT like me. :)

    I can't get motivated, I am in a fog of uninterest. And THAT's not like me either!

    It must be lingering from the Milky Way incident and I was giving myself a hard time because the stomach issue is over – shouldn't my symptoms be gone? Guess not. I'll give myself some slack!

    On comments, I always have to submit my comments twice on your blog (and others with blogger). So anyone else with this problem, just keep trying.

  5. Linda says

    Jessie ~ Definitely give yourself a break. Thanks for letting me know about the comments. Someone just told me the other day she was having problems. I think I might try something different soon.

  6. Renee says

    I came across this and had to read it. Thank you so much for sharing I've noticed this in myself and my son but didn't understand why gluten made us mean and hateful. I am crying now because I'm relieved to know why. I wish everyone around me understood it. I am a new grandmother and I always thought I would watch my grandson while his parents worked. I don't have the energy and never know when I am going to feel sick either from the celiac or the Gerd. I am still bloated most of the time. I feel scared that something else is wrong with me. The same way I felt before I was diagnosed. I knew something was wrong. I wish I could get myself to join a group or something. I no longer work I feel isolated much of the time. I have a lot of fear about going places and having the side effects that come along with this disease. I could go on an on but I won't. I really only meant to say Thank You! Many Blessing!

  7. Becca says

    Wonderful post! I have always wondered why eating gluten can cause mental symptoms. Like you, it is a hit or miss thing. But, when it hits me I am not one happy girl and swear I will never lay hands on gluten again!

  8. Lisa Whitaker says

    My daughter has mental and behavioral issues when she is given gluten. I would love something to print out to send into school. They often ignore my PLEASE DON'T FEED my CHILD request and give her cookies anyway. 3 days later and she is just a wreck and can't follow directions.

  9. Anonymous says

    Thanks for sharing such informations and nice recipes :)
    Actually I do stop eating gluten for two years and it is a kind of rebirth. I always had a lot of confusions and memory troubles before. My doctor advise me to go on diet to address diarrhea issues that was very annoying and it works but I never expected that it will resolve memory and attention trouble as it does. I get almost the same symptoms as you describe when accidentally ingest some gluten and its sometime hard to believe myself that all of this is not related to any suggestive or emotional state. Reading your post today helps me to understand that having courage as you have to share those kind of information is really something bigger than I though.
    This helps a lot of peoples to realize that they are not "nuts" after fighting for years against everybody says to them it's not for real… this is invaluable.

  10. Celeste Jean says

    My ADD symptoms are nothing like they were before going gluten free. "Leaky gut" also affects my son with autism, so we are both on special diets.

  11. mari says

    Now I know I am not going insane! The same thing happens to me when I eat gluten – I am an emotional mess. Incredible how human being have survived so long on wheat!

  12. Brenda Murray says

    I found out about two years ago that I had Celic disease. Only after I started having brain fog and felt very funny after I would eat something that had gluten in it. I also would breakout on my arms and legs. I itched until I thought I would go crazy. I finally went to a Dr. and cried for help. Blood work showed I was allergic to Wheat and gluten. I was referred to a Dr. by the local Health Food Store in my area. My regular MD Dr. was of no help at all. I’m so thankful for the information I can get on the Internet Web sites about this disease.

  13. Donna says

    thank you so much for telling me about your mental reaction to gluten. I have a 17 year old son who is gluten sensitive. He was so over the top in his reactions I was ready to take him to a witch doctor. I finally took him to a homeopathic doctor and we discovered the wheat gluten issue. My son was so anxious he would wake me up in the middle of the night with an anxiety. This went on for months. I spoke to his medical doctor, all he did was give him medication. He is still on the medication but now my son recognizes when he has had wheat and will be more careful about eating wheat. It is nice to know that there is an actual medical explanation for what he was going through.

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