Gluten-free diet linked to increased depression and eating disorders

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Having to follow a restrictive diet that limits the consumption of foods like bread and pasta has been shown to cause depression, disordered eating and impaired quality of life in women suffering from celiac disease, says a new report that delves into the psychiatric impacts of leading a gluten-free lifestyle.

In a study published in the December issue of Chronic Illness, researchers from Penn State University, Syracuse University and Drexel University analyzed the online answers of 177 American women who suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye-based products.

Symptoms of the illness include abdominal pain, constipation, decreased appetite, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

In their study, researchers found that women who adhered to strict gluten-free diets also reported higher rates of stress, depression, and body image issues compared to the general population.

Where their study falls short, researchers say, is understanding what comes first: disordered eating or depression.

Not only does celiac disease impose a slew of dietary restrictions, the illness also increases "psychosocial distress," said study co-author Josh Smyth of Penn State.

"Going out to eat with friends or to a holiday potluck is a much different experience for these people because they have to be vigilant and monitor their diets," he said in a statement. "They may feel that they are a burden on a host or hostess. In many cases the only treatment option they are given is to manage their diets.”

The results of their study could also have implications for other dietary illnesses and conditions like food allergies, diabetes and Crohn’s disease.

Meanwhile, another study published this summer demonstrated an increased risk of celiac disease among women with unexplained fertility issues.