facebook pixel Skip to main content

Celiac disease is often described as an inflammatory gastrointestinal condition caused by a reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat and other related grains, that can lead to diarrhea, malabsorption and weight loss. While true, celiac disease is also a systemic inflammatory condition, affecting numerous organ systems in the body, including the brain. And for unknown reasons, celiac disease is on the rise.

The worldwide incidence of celiac disease is estimated to be around 1.4% of the world’s population (Singh 2018). And the latest research shows that the incidence of celiac disease is increasing. In fact, the incidence has risen by 7.5% per year for the last few decades (King 2020). The condition is also significantly underdiagnosed, with estimates suggesting 83% of cases have not been identified in the United States (Rubio-Tapia 2012).

Celiac Disease Affects the Brain

As a gastrointestinal diagnosis, celiac disease is commonly missed. Yet even more concerning, the impact of celiac disease on mental health has been virtually ignored. Research has shown that celiac disease affects the brain, potentially contributing to depression, anxiety, eating disorders and schizophrenia among other mental health conditions (Sharma 2021, Arigo 2012, Wijarnpreecha 2018).

These effects are likely due to inflammation, altered neurochemistry and poor nutrient absorption leading to numerous nutrient deficiencies from the gastrointestinal damage associated with the condition (Makhlouf 2018).

For example, deficiencies of B vitamins, including vitamin B12 have been documented. This, in turn, can lead to elevated homocysteine, a toxic amino acid known to cause neurological damage. In addition, deficiencies in vitamin D and vitamin E have also been found. Vitamin D has well known roles in brain health and neurological function (Mpandzou 2016).

Peptides derived from gluten, some of which have opiate activity, also have direct neurotoxic effects on brain cells in celiac disease (Gerace 2017). Autoimmune effects on the central nervous system are also not uncommon. In celiac patients with neurological manifestations, almost 20% were found to have autoimmune antibodies known to interact with the brain, likely causing neurological damage and dysfunction (McKeon 2014).

How does Celiac Disease impact mood and wellness?
Learn more about Celiac and mental health here.

Ready to address inflammation, toxins and nutritional imbalances with your patients? Enroll in our certified Fellowship in Functional & Integrative Psychiatry!

Learn more about our 12-month Fellowship


Arigo D, Anskis AM, Smyth JM. Psychiatric comorbidities in women with celiac disease. Chronic Illn. 2012;8(1):45-55. doi:10.1177/1742395311417639
Gerace E, Resta F, Landucci E, et al. The gliadin peptide 31-43 exacerbates kainate neurotoxicity in epilepsy models. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):15146. Published 2017 Nov 9. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-14845-4
King JA, Jeong J, Underwood FE, et al. Incidence of Celiac Disease Is Increasing Over Time: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2020;115(4):507-525. doi:10.14309/ajg.0000000000000523
Makhlouf S, Messelmani M, Zaouali J, Mrissa R. Cognitive impairment in celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity: review of literature on the main cognitive impairments, the imaging and the effect of gluten free diet. Acta Neurol Belg. 2018;118(1):21-27. doi:10.1007/s13760-017-0870-z
McKeon A, Lennon VA, Pittock SJ, Kryzer TJ, Murray J. The neurologic significance of celiac disease biomarkers. Neurology. 2014;83(20):1789-1796. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000000970
Mpandzou G, Aït Ben Haddou E, Regragui W, Benomar A, Yahyaoui M. Vitamin D deficiency and its role in neurological conditions: A review. Rev Neurol (Paris). 2016;172(2):109-122. doi:10.1016/j.neurol.2015.11.005
Rubio-Tapia A, Ludvigsson JF, Brantner TL, Murray JA, Everhart JE. The prevalence of celiac disease in the United States. Am J Gastroenterol. 2012;107(10):1538-1545. doi:10.1038/ajg.2012.219
Sharma N, Singh K, Senapati S. Celiac disease poses significant risk in developing depression, anxiety, headache, epilepsy, panic disorder, dysthymia: A meta-analysis. Indian J Gastroenterol. 2021;40(5):453-462. doi:10.1007/s12664-021-01215-2
Singh P, Arora A, Strand TA, et al. Global Prevalence of Celiac Disease: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018;16(6):823-836.e2. doi:10.1016/j.cgh.2017.06.037
Wijarnpreecha K, Jaruvongvanich V, Cheungpasitporn W, Ungprasert P. Association between celiac disease and schizophrenia: a meta-analysis. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018;30(4):442-446. doi:10.1097/MEG.0000000000001048