“Gluten-Free Diet Linked to Depression” is Another Gross Misrepresentation of Medical Research

“Gluten-free diet linked to increased depression and eating disorders” – the headline immediately caught my attention. As I read the first article, I was theorizing in my head about the chemical impact of gluten and carbohydrates in our brains and bodies, as well as the mental strain of adhering to a strict diet and the extra effort it requires. I thought a correlation between depression and a gluten-free lifestyle was possible, I thought about all my friends and family members living gluten-free, and I started digging for the actual research to investigate the experimental method used. What I found was that the alarming headline was taken from partial statements made by an experimenter, but the entire findings were not taken into account.

Unfortunately, this can be common in the news media and blogosphere where the focus is more on attention-grabbing sound bites rather than in-depth analysis and education. It is my sincere hope that everything I write (here and elsewhere) and everything you read at DietsInReview is researched and thought out, and we are not jumping to conclusions or publishing alarmist headlines simply because it is provocative.

In this case, the research found that those women with celiac disease (177 surveyed) who were most compliant with a gluten-free diet reported “increased vitality, lower stress, decreased depressive symptoms, and greater overall emotional health,” according to Josh Smyth of Penn State. This sounds like the opposite of the alarmist headline that grabbed my attention. The caveat is that those surveyed, even those managing celiac disease well through a gluten-free lifestyle, reported “higher rates of stress, depression, and a range of issues clustered around body dissatisfaction, weight and shape” compared to the general population.”

Considering that celiac disease can cause abdominal pain, decreased appetite, diarrhea, nausea, constipation, or vomiting when gluten is ingested, increased stress and body image issues makes sense.

If only one side of an argument or research finding is presented, I encourage you to look for at least one more source, or even better, try to dig up the original source. Psychological research understands that findings of correlation are not findings of causation, and there are always other factors that may be impacting your results.

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