Thoughts

Is there a link between gluten and anxiety?

It might sound a bit Gwyneth at GOOP – but is there a link between gluten and anxiety? After six months without gluten, I’m convinced.  

How I discovered a link between gluten and anxiety

Sometimes, when you go looking for answers, you find out something you didn’t necessarily want to know.

Don’t worry – I haven’t been snooping through my boyfriend’s phone. What I have been searching for is the cause of some on-going health problems I’ve had for a few years now. Sore joints, swollen ankles, lethargy – even stuffed sinuses and dodgy tonsils. I’ve been to see a GP about all of these things in isolation over the years, only to be brushed off. But this year, I got my answer: I’m gluten intolerant. A sufferer of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), to be precise.

Hello gluten sensitivity, goodbye bread, beers and pie 

As you can imagine, this was sad news for me to receive. No more crisp pints and delicious pies. And don’t get me started on bread; I can actually take or leave a cake, but I fucking love baguettes. I’d choose a hot, fresh French baguette, dripping in butter, over a fancy meal on six days out of seven. So this whole ‘gluten intolerance’ thing is a real shame for me and my penchant for beige foodstuffs.

Fortunately, being gluten free in London isn’t hard: I can easily get hold of a gluten free focaccia smothered in Italian cheese, or a few pints of Daura (probably the best gluten free beer) should I need to. I also live in Islington, land of the yummy mummy, so my gluten free bakery options are on point (hit up Beyond Bread next time you’re on Upper Street, my fellow Londoners).

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Gluten free cinnamon swirls from Beyond Bread: a yes from me.

And of course, it’s all worth it, because my symptoms have disappeared. I’m no longer cripplingly tired all the time (just some of the time) and I can actually see the bones in my feet properly, after a lifetime of assuming that I did, in fact, just have cankles.

But something else has happened, too. Something I definitely wasn’t expecting. The physical symptoms of my anxiety – an unsettled heartbeat, a low-level feeling of dread, a churny stomach, a strange veil-like feeling of being not quite present in the world – have all… basically disappeared.

Is there a link between gluten and anxiety? 

Now, I’ve heard of there being a link between coeliac and anxiety before, but this was more from people becoming (understandably) incredibly anxious about eating gluten and then promptly shitting it out/being violently ill. But that isn’t the case with me – while having sore joints and feeling unreasonably tired is quite annoying, I’m hardly fearful of it.

Is it psychosomatic? Am I just imagining it? That’s what everyone asks me – it’s probably what I’d ask myself, so I do understand. But I know myself, my body and my state of mind pretty bloody well. After all these years of tinkering with my self-care, I’m like some sort of weird, expert mechanic who can spot and fine tune a problem in my own brain. And my anxiety has definitely improved substantially since I said sayonara to sandwiches, sausage rolls and sweet, sweet pastry.

But what’s science got to say about gluten and anxiety? 

I’m a prolific Googler, so I did what I always do, and starting tapping away. Does gluten cause anxiety? Is there a link between gluten and anxiety? Can bread make me sad? And so on. It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t alone. Turns out there’s a whole host of people who have noticed a substantial mood and anxiety improvement after going gluten free.

Meanwhile, ‘attempts to characterise NCGS have shown that these systemic manifestations (tiredness, headache, fibromyalgia-like joint or muscle pain, leg or arm numbness, ‘foggy mind,’ dermatitis or skin rash, depression, anxiety, and anaemia) may be common’. Obviously, this is by no means a full scientific endorsement. There isn’t enough proof or research. So I’m by no means suggesting that cutting out gluten is a cure for anxiety.

But I can’t be the only one. I’m not exaggerating when I say I haven’t had a single proper anxiety episode since I stopped eating gluten – and I can’t help but wonder how many people could benefit from this discovery.

It’s all very interesting and I’ll definitely be looking into further. Because who knows – maybe I’m just having a freakishly calm year, and I’ll wake up for a slice of gluten free toast one day with the same old crushing existential despair I always had. But so far, giving up the gluten has been revolutionary for my physical and mental health. Even if I do miss baguettes.

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