Eating Wheat Can Cause Depression

As yummy as it looks, bread and other wheat-containing foods can be brain allergens for depressives.

“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” — Thomas Edison

For depression levels: All

A couple of weeks ago, I took myself out to dinner at a local home-cooking franchise. I was really hungry and looking forward to the pot roast they had on special.

I did not take into consideration all the flour they add to the pot roast to bind the broth and make the dish appear more appetizing. I also forgot about the gravy that comes automatically with the mashed potatoes. Being a pot roast lover and a mashed potato addict, I inhaled them both.

Within 15 minutes of having begun my meal, I was hit with a wave of brain fog so severe that I literally could not form sentences. Fatigue washed over me, and I could barely keep my eyes open. It was only about 6:00 in the evening; it had not been a particularly arduous day and there was no reason for me to feel so tired. The waitress came and asked me if I needed anything else. It took an immense effort to even look at her and say, “No, thanks.” I felt drugged, or drunk. I managed to pay for the meal and left.

It was no coincidence that over the next couple of weeks I experienced a severe depressive episode. The pot roast and gravy-laden mashed potatoes were not the only culprits; I had been indulging in sweets, Mexican food wrapped in flour tortillas, and even sandwiches. I had also dropped off on my exercise plan.

I’ve known for many years that wheat is contraindicated for people with clinical depression. The essential reference book Prescription for Nutritional Healing, the first book I consulted after my diagnosis in 2001, states, “Omit wheat products from the diet. Wheat gluten has been linked to depressive disorders” (p. 317 in 3rd ed.). Julia Ross, M.A., author of The Mood Cure, describes the link between wheat consumption and depression:

“Dozens of studies confirm that depression is a common symptom of gluten intolerance, one that usually disappears when wheat and the similar grains are withdrawn. People with gluten intolerance have low levels of the . . . brain chemical serotonin, and gluten has been implicated in mental illness since at least 1979, which is when I first noticed psychiatric journals reporting tremendous improvement in the symptoms of patients with depression and manic-depression . . . who had been experimentally taken off gluten-containing foods.” (p. 126)

And Dr. Jeffrey Morrison, in his ground-breaking book Cleanse Your Body, Clear Your Mind, shares with readers how he actually eliminated all symptoms of schizophrenia from one of his patients, a man who had received that horrendous mental illness as his official psychiatric diagnosis, by removing all gluten-containing products from his diet.

Knowing something and actually acting on it, however, are two different things, particularly when the substance at stake is both highly addictive and near and dear to our hearts. Wheat contains gluten, as do barley and rye; oats can also contain gluten because they are typically processed in manufacturing plants that process wheat. Gluten has been described as a “brain allergen” and an opiate (Ross, p. 126). Eating gluten actually causes us to feel comforted, at least temporarily: We feel a drug-like high whenever we eat bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, pizza, and other wheat-containing foods.

"Amber waves of grain" = wheat!

In addition to being a potent addictive substance, wheat is woven tightly into the fabric of American culture. Think about the patriotic song, “America the Beautiful”: The second line is, “For amber waves of grain.” I don’t think they’re talking about rice! According to the National Association of Wheat Growers, three-quarters of all U.S. grain products are made from wheat flour. And what can you count on being served at every special occasion, from birthdays to Thanksgiving, from baby showers to the Fourth of July picnic? Breads and baked goods. Can you imagine your birthday without a birthday cake or the holidays without pumpkin pie? And how about eliminating sandwiches from your lunch menu?

Most people can’t. That’s why it’s so hard to say “no” to eating wheat. Everyone else is eating it; why can’t we eat it, too? Eating the same things most people eat makes us feel like we’re part of the tribe, like we belong. When we have to stick to a “special” diet, it exacerbates that feeling of being somehow different and oddball that we already experience due to having depression.

I’ve been using my own body and brain as an experiential food lab for many years. Time and time again, eating wheat has produced adverse affects for me, emotionally and cognitively. It has taken me this long to convince myself that I need to stay away from the stuff–permanently. I finally get it that eating wheat means giving up functionality and quality of life. It’s simply not worth it.

If you’ve been suffering from depression for a long time and have had less-than-stellar results from taking antidepressants, try eliminating wheat from your diet, even if it’s just for a short time. You should feel better in as little as a week, which might be enough of an incentive to continue avoiding wheat and even to seek out gluten-free alternatives. Changing your diet so drastically takes courage and fortitude, and practice, practice, practice. However, it’s a major step toward getting your life back. You’ll be amazed at the results!

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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Filed under Nutrition, Provisions for the Journey

9 responses to “Eating Wheat Can Cause Depression

  1. I have had the same results with wheat and gluten! Thanks for this article – I’ve been passing it along to others.

    • Few people realize just how insidious wheat and gluten are in our food supply, and how adversely they affect our health. The wheat supply in the U.S. has been drastically altered due to hybridization; it no longer resembles the wild grain that our ancestors used to eat. As an intermediate step, folks who want to try eliminating wheat from their diets could use spelt, instead; that is the forerunner to modern wheat and has much less gluten in it. Thanks for your support!

  2. fran k

    There is a lot of literature about the effects of food on mental health. I was reading in this article that the simple supplement tryptophan made a impact on depression suffers.

    • Yes, there is a tremendous link between food, nutrients, and food allergies and our mental health. Most people aren’t aware that there is actually a definite link between food allergies and depression. Even people who are not “officially” depressed can find their brains affected by the foods they eat, or by a lack of appropriate nutrients. Tryptophan is an amino acid that tends to be more useful for depressives with serotonin deficiencies, while tyrosine tends to help depressives who exhibit dopamine deficiencies (see The Mood Cure by Julia Ross, M.A., for more on this distinction). Thanks for your comment! Hope you are well.

  3. I had to refresh the page times to view this page for some reason, however, the information here was worth the wait.

  4. Hello, I stumbled on this site from stumbleupon. It is not blog post I would normally read, but I liked your spin on it. Thanks for creating something worth reading!

  5. Nice subject great exececution on your site

  6. Nia

    Taking gluten out of my diet was the first nail in the coffin of my god-awful depression. More like 25 nails. The last ones went in over the next 2 years, as I stopped dairy and started supplementing with the nutrients that hadn’t been absorbed all those years.

    • Nia, Thanks for the feedback about gluten. If doctors would tell their patients with depression to take gluten/wheat out of their diets, then I suspect in many cases antidepressants would not be necessary. (But then the pharma industry wouldn’t be happy, now, would they??) Best wishes in your healing!

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