By Frann Leach
Depression is one of those things that people don't really talk about, and even when they do, it's often obvious they don't really understand it (even if they have experienced it themselves).
The misunderstanding arises because of a problem with the English language. We use metaphors and similes without even thinking about it, which then pass into the language and you end up with the same word having two different meanings. Depression is one example of this. People say they are "depressed" when they are feeling unhappy, but true clinical depression is not a short term mood swing.
Real depression does make you feel miserable, for sure, but unlike the cloud which descends on the average person, lifting just as quickly, clinical depression can hang around for months or even years, blackening one's outlook to such an extent that life itself seems not worth the effort.
Anyone who has experienced real depression, the clinical kind, will know that it's more than a temporary feeling of sadness. It's more like a tunnel with no end, or a deep pit with sides you can't scale. Sometimes, you can find a trigger that you think sent you down there, but frequently not. But at least now scientists have found a relationship between depression and serotonin levels in the brain, so we know that it's not "all in the mind" as they used to tell us. It also means that we can look into the chemical imbalances that may be causing the problem with a bit more chance of understanding them.
According to Dr. James Braly, "a[n] important dietary factor in depression may be the morphine-like substances which derive from the incomplete digests of proteins in cereal grains."
Incomplete digestion of protein in cereal grain occurs in people with gluten intolerance. The morphine-like substances he mentions, also called exorphins, can cause changes in the brain chemicals, including serotonin, leading to mood changes which can last as long as the cause (toxins produced by the poor digestion of grains) is present.
Many children diagnosed with coeliac disease (the most severe form of gluten intolerance) exhibit signs of depression and even psychotic behaviour in early childhood. In fact, this is one of the classic indicators of childhood coeliac disease. But it's not only coeliac sufferers that show evidence of a link between gluten and depression.
I have a friend who is schizophrenic. Many years ago, I found reference to a possible link between schizophrenia and gluten, so he went on a gluten free diet for a while to see if it would help. He told me that he felt much better (though the voices did not go away completely), and that he no longer felt depressed. This surprised me, as I had not heard of any connection between gluten and depression. But he certainly seemed a great deal more cheerful than he had before.
As you may know, I suffer from gluten intolerance myself, and since I went gluten free I have definitely been happier - but whether this was because I started losing weight without any effort, or for other reasons not connected with serotonin levels, I couldn't say. However, I do have a weakness for bacon rolls. Up here in Scotland, morning rolls are sold almost everywhere, and recently I gave in to my craving several times. Though I don't generally suffer from depression any more (in my younger days, I was afflicted with this condition for several years), I became depressed. Since I stopped eating bacon rolls, I have been back to normal again.
Now, obviously, these two stories are not proof of anything. You will find other anecdotes on the net about other people whose depression lifted when they cut out gluten, but again, these are not proof. But if you are "a depressive", like I once was (or if you know someone who has this debilitating illness), it is very much worth the effort of trying it out to see if it works for you. A few weeks without gluten, followed by a return to your normal pasta or bacon sandwich intake will show you definitively (within a couple of days) whether there is a connection or not. And if you do find that this is all or even just part of the problem, imagine how wonderful it will be to get your life back.
Now, a note for you, if you think all this talk about getting your life back sounds over-dramatic. If you don't suffer from depression and have never done so, it's hard to accept just how debilitating this "invisible" illness is, and how difficult life becomes. Depression is just so all-emcompassing. You feel as if nothing good could, or even should, ever happen to you again. It's not "self-indulgent wallowing", as they used to say in the 1950s. In the 21st century we realise that it is a disease, and one over which you feel you have no control. Finding a handle on it could just save someone's life.
Frann Leach lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. Sign up for her new Gluten Factsheet with a new gluten-safe recipe and article every week: