Celiac disease is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. It's an autoimmune disorder caused by a reaction to gluten, and it causes many different symptoms that can be distressing and potentially dangerous.
Many people suffer from undiagnosed celiac disease, and one of the symptoms of this type of disease is anxiety. Below, we'll examine the relationship between anxiety and celiac, and what you can do about it.
Anxiety From Celiac
Anxiety is a condition that rarely has a single cause - even when you have celiac disease. Learn more about how to cure your anxiety by taking my free anxiety test.
Never Self-Diagnose Celiac Disease
It's important to remember that celiac disease is actually quite rare. Unfortunately, modern marketing tools and news reports make it seem common. Celiac affects fewer than 1% of the population (some put that number at only .1%, though that seems to be on the low side). It's not a common condition, and not everyone with celiac gets anxiety, making it even rarer.
Yet many people self-diagnose celiac disease and believe it's the cause of their anxiety. This is because they can share similar symptoms, and those with anxiety may be more prone to believing that their anxiety has to be caused by other issues unrelated to anxiety. Talk to your doctor and take my anxiety test to see if you're likely to have anxiety.
Remember, even cutting out gluten and seeing an improvement in the way you feel doesn't mean that you have celiac. First, some people have a wheat allergy, which is similar but otherwise unrelated. Second, gluten is found in a lot of foods that make you feel "full" and "stuffed." When you cut out gluten, chances are you're also eating healthier, which in turn is going to make you feel better. The overall feeling for those that self-diagnose is often basically placebo, not necessarily due to cutting out gluten.
You May Just Have Anxiety
So then why do people self-diagnose so easily? Because anxiety can also cause many of the same symptoms that people deal with when they have celiac. Anxiety causes:
- Bowel issues and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Fatigue and issues with concentration and energy.
- Tingling and numbness in the hands and feet (with panic disorder).
- Unexplained gas and general discomfort.
- Neurological issues and brain fog.
Celiac can lead to anemia, which may also have similar symptoms. Many people find out about celiac's symptoms when they are researching their anxiety symptoms and believe that it must be celiac disease. So make sure that you talk to your doctor and avoid self-diagnosis. The two are very different conditions, and there are tests for celiac that can let you know if you have it once and for all.
How Celiac Causes Anxiety
But if you have celiac, you may be at risk for developing anxiety. Celiac can actually cause anxiety as a symptom, and what makes celiac disease interesting is that it's not clear why this anxiety occurs. Most likely it has to do with the way that celiac affects nutrition. It's possible that vital nutrients that control anxiety are unable to reach the brain, thus causing the development of anxiety symptoms.
There are also other reasons that anxiety may occur. These include:
- Fatigue and Other Symptoms The same symptoms that resemble anxiety may cause anxiety. Experiencing mental fatigue can be very stressful, and prolonged stress may develop into anxiety symptoms. Gastrointestinal symptoms can also cause severe stress and anxiety. Dealing with any long term physical health issues may result in the development of anxiety.
- Sleep Loss Celiac disease also causes sleep issues. Sleep is one of the most important tools for controlling anxiety. In fact, sleep debt can lead to severe anxiety symptoms if you are unable to make up your sleep.
- Second Brain - It's possible that something that affects the intestines is simply directly causing anxiety as well. Both share similar neurotransmitters and connections. Researchers are still trying their best to figure out what the link is, but there is a strong link between the intestines and the brain, which is why some researchers call the gut the "second brain."
Remember, even when you have celiacs, not all anxiety is going to be caused directly by celiac disease. Living with any health problem can cause anxiety simply because people can experience fear over that health issue. That's why they should be treated as separate conditions, even if celiac is causing your anxiety.
How to Overcome Celiac Disease Anxiety
If you have celiac disease, sticking to the plan set forth by your doctor is the best way to treat it. A gluten free diet will drastically reduce your symptoms, and as long as you can avoid gluten, you should be able to avoid anxiety.
But don't forget that if anxiety doesn't seem to go away, it may be because you're suffering from an anxiety disorder, and that means that you have to treat the anxiety specifically.
I've helped many people with celiac's anxiety overcome their symptoms starting with my free 7 minute anxiety test. Take the test now to get treatment recommendations and your complete anxiety profile.
Huser, Winfried, et al. Anxiety and depression in adult patients with celiac disease on a gluten-free diet. World journal of gastroenterology: WJG 16.22 (2010): 2780.
Addolorato, G. Anxiety but not depression decreases in coeliac patients after one-year gluten-free diet: a longitudinal study. Scandinavian journal of gastroenterology 36.5 (2001): 502-506.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 22, 2017.