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How Gluten Affects Your Mood and What to Do About it

How Gluten Affects Your Mood and What to Do About it

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

<- Feel sluggish like this little muffin? The reason why may surprise you. 


Is there any difference between wheat and gluten?


Is there a difference if someone says they are wheat-free compared to gluten-free, or if a label says so? Yes. Gluten is a protein found in wheat. Gluten is what gives yeast it’s elasticity and is also found in barley, rye, malt, spelt, and some oats. These little gluten proteins can sneak their way into products you would think would be gluten-free, like tomato sauces, yogurts, etc.

I’m sure those who are gluten-free or celiac have come to learn (painfully) how sneaky gluten can be. Gluten comes from the root word, glue, and that’s what it does in your intestines, it acts like a glue. Constipation anyone? So someone could be allergic to wheat and not all gluten, but if they were allergic to gluten they would also be allergic to wheat. Have I confused you yet?


My personal story with gluten

I thought I could eat gluten just fine, no stomachache, I feel the same as when I eat other foods, just a little more full. I’ve even had myself tested (because I test everything to learn as much as I can about my body) and did not have any antibodies to gluten. This all sounded fantastic because I do love an occasional organic pizza.

I still wanted to experiment with it though, so I took it out of my diet for a week. I felt better, more regular bowels, clearer head, but I didn’t have much gluten to begin with so it was hard to tell.


What happened when I added gluten back in was what prompted me to write about it. I felt very anxious and moody about 30 minutes after eating; it was so clearly connected to the gluten I had just eaten.

I couldn’t believe it, all signs pointed to the fact that I could eat all the bread I wanted, and it took me taking it out for a week and then adding it back in to even notice the pain it was causing me.

Because it was more emotional and not so much physical (as someone with celiac would feel) it was that much harder to spot. This really drilled home my thinking that so often we think how we feel is just what is normal, when we could feel so much better.


Why does gluten make you feel moody/tired/pain?

I started to research the connection between wheat and mood. The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 diseases caused or exacerbated by eating gluten, including depression and anxiety. 99% of the people who have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease are never diagnosed. Well, now that made perfect sense to me, that 99% of people could go undiagnosed.

wheatI’ve heard many personal stories about people with gluten intolerance, even celiac, who were able to eat gluten in Europe with no issues at all. What!?  This obviously is not the case for everyone, but it brings up an important point. The difference is that the gluten here in the U.S. is hybridized, Franken-gluten, and in Europe it’s the real thing. Real, unaltered, wheat. Not wheat made in a lab that can resist Round-Up weed killer (see Monsanto), real wheat.

When we hybridize wheat, or in other words mate two kinds of wheat, new proteins are formed that were not present in either of the original wheat. We’ve hybridized wheat thousands of times resulting in thousands of new proteins our body doesn’t recognize. Want more information on this? Read Wheat Belly or Grain Brain

Our body does not know how to digest or absorb hybridized, Franken-gluten. There are links between brain function and mal-absorption of gluten, so the inability to absorb poor quality gluten would result in your body telling you, ‘hey, no thanks, I don’t like this!’ AKA moodiness, fatigue, pain. Our body trying to send us a signal. While my gluten experiment strongly affected my mood, there is a pizza place I treat myself to that does not affect me in the slightest and they serve high quality, fermented, unbleached dough from Italy. So for those who do not have celiac, you may want to look into the quality of gluten that you are eating.

The reasons for anxiety & depression symptoms in individuals with gluten sensitivities is two-fold: either the body’s immune system is attacking its tissues, causing inflammation, inflammation in the nervous system can cause these feelings, or the gluten protein is interfering with absorption. When gluten interferes with absorption, one specific protein that is deficient (because it is not being absorbed) is the amino acid tryptophan, which is responsible for feelings of relaxation. Hmm…

When gluten is not absorbed, other essential nutrients are not absorbed either. The other food we eat with it tends to get stuck in the ‘glue’ of the gluten and rot in our stomach, instead of our body absorbing and using it. Malabsorption results and our ability to reason is one of the first to suffer (think the feeling you’ve had after not eating for a while, or, ‘How dare you place that plate incorrectly in the dishwasher!!’ type thoughts).

Not sure if you are gluten intolerant? My favorite way to test is to take it out of your diet for 2 weeks and then add it back in and see how you feel. 

You may have a gluten sensitivity if you have these symptoms:

Migraines, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, inflammation in joints

Mood issues, anxiety, depression, mood swings, ADD

Digestive Issues

Fatigue after eating gluten

PMS, PCOS, infertility

Autoimmune disease: hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, etc.


Gluten-Free (Delicious) Alternatives







 Oats (if celiac make sure it says gluten-free on the label)

 Almond Flour 

Taking gluten out of your diet does not need to feel like you’re depriving yourself. These foods taste amazing, it just takes the effort to switch out what is in your pantry, and watch the difference in your body. I make buckwheat pancakes, eat buckwheat pasta and use almond flour for my favorite baked goods recipes. No deprivation here!


Fast Fact: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, malt, spelt, and some oats. The gluten protein sneaks it’s way into thousands of packaged products, like tomato sauce, yogurts, etc; look for barley or wheat on the label to sort these out! The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 diseases caused or exacerbated by eating gluten, including depression and anxiety. 99% of the people who have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease are never diagnosed. Our wheat in the U.S. is hybridized, and far from the real wheat we ate thousands of years ago. People with gluten sensitivities can feel anxiety and depression after eating gluten. 


Action: Check your products for the ingredients above to make sure your food is gluten free. If you aren’t sure how gluten affects you, try eliminating wheat for 2 weeks and then add it back in and see how you feel. There are many delicious gluten-free options to switch out and give your gut a breather from this glue-like substance. My favorites being buckwheat, rice, quinoa, millet, potato, oats & almond flour.


Love & brussels sprouts,



  1. Brenna, thank you! This is a great article. I have thought I was gluten intolerant, but after reading this I am sure! By the way, I enjoyed the pictures of Walter the Bulldog. I have a Walter of my own, he’s a Lab =)
    Thanks again for a great article!!

  2. Heather B. says:

    So glad you wrote this, Brenna. I’m excited to pass it along to friends, because your story plus the succint informational piece is such an accessible read. I never had an issue with bread, pasta, or the like. How I realized I was gluten intolerant: awful, terrible body odor within twenty minutes of eating something with gluten in it. I’ve only heard the teensiest bit about this being a symptom, but the correlation is clear and obvious. No other physical symptoms, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it also affected my mood. Gluten free for me!

  3. Kathryn says:

    I was recently put on a gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, no GMO diet. I’ve been gluten free for three days now and find myself extremely irratated. Any ideas?

    • Brenna says:

      Hi Kathyrn,

      Quitting gluten is a lot like quitting sugar. Getting rid of it will start to kill off the bad bacteria in your gut called candida. This is a very good thing! Sometimes that die-off can cause irritability and anxiety. I’d give it at least 5 days before you start to feel much better. 🙂 Hope that helps!

  4. melanie says:

    This is so true! I went gluten free for a couple months because of stomach issues. Constant bloating, pain, gas, and constipation. It helped so much. Recently i started eating gluten =( I guess because i was sick of not eating what everyone else could eat. Biggest mistake ever! First thing I noticed is how my mood has been. Im sad and just short tempered. Im just so moody and I can’t stand it on top of my stomach hurting again and I’m super tired all the time. Im so mad at myself and I hope it doesn’t take me long to start feeling good again. Back to gluten free. =) Listen to your bodies and don’t make the same mistake as me. Not worth it! =( Thanks Brenna…great article!

  5. Thank you so much for writing this article. I am a recently diagnosed coeliac and have suffered from depression for years and now understand a lot more about the connection.

  6. Petra says:

    I’m so glad I just came across your article. I had thought I was gluten intolerant for a while because when I eat something with it, it usually makes me tired and my brain fogs up. But people would say – oh it’s only in your head. And I always mentioned, that when I would go to Europe (where I’m from) I wouldn’t have these issues. I eliminated gluten (along with six other food groups) for 21 days and today was the first day after 24 days that I had a gluten by eating a piece of pizza – about 20 minutes after I felt I was less patient with my daughter again. I literally could feel a difference in my reaction. Never in my life would I have thought of being so irritable all the time (before cutting out gluten) would be related to gluten. I used to blame it on drinking coffee!!!! Thank you so much for writing this article – it certainly makes a lot of sense to me and clears up a whole lot of unanswered issues for me.

  7. Having reached the grand old age of 72, it has taken me a long time to discover that I have a gluten intolerance problem and I only discovered that by accident. Some years ago I started dieting to lose some excess weight that I was carrying and dropped biscuits, bread, pasta, cakes and pies from my diet. Steadily dropping a few pounds, I was rather pleased with my progress and then one day I ate a couple of sausage rolls and was stricken by acute fatigue immediately afterwards.

    It took a little time and experimentation to pinpoint periods of fatigue and irritability with wheat/gluten consumption. Like caffeine and alcohol, I find that wheat/gluten affects my emotional tolerance levels and problems may be magnified beyond their true significance.

    Interestingly, there is a group of Jewish thinkers who maintain that the biblical forbidden fruit was wheat and when you consider what follows in the story it would make a great deal of sense. Also, after being given the bread by Jesu, Judas reacted to a minor affront by his master
    ( haven’t you got something you should be doing? ) and went out and betrayed him.

    Not too long ago British commercial tv ran an advertisement for the “HOVIS” nothing added loaf. The ad depicted an argumentative, irritable, family around the tea table. Having changed from their regular (un named) loaf and commenced to eating the nothing added loaf, all became sweetness light. The ad didn’t run for long and was soon pulled. I think that the company was unwittingly depicting a family suffering from gluten intolerance.

    Please forgive an old man his ramblings but I do agree that a gluten free diet can make for a pleasant and easier life.

    Stay safe, stay well, and watch that diet. 🙂


  8. Hi there,
    I was wondering if you could shed skme insight…I have Hashimotos and went gluten free for 3 months. Not a spec of gluten (that i knew of). Then i had a foos sensitivity test done and it showed very low sensitivity to gluten. But when i introduced gluten again i feel super irritable and anxious. Could the test show low sensitivity to gluten only because i was gluten free for 3 mo and it wasnt ‘in my system’?

    • Brenna says:

      You nailed it! When the gluten is out of your system you will test as though you don’t have an allergy to it, because your body isn’t developing antibodies to it. If you feel sick after re-introducing, take it out for longer this time and try some gut healing protocols. Or just keep it out for good! 🙂

  9. I feel very much identified with this post. I think gluten does not like me. Do you know how can I have myself tested ? Do I have to visit a physician to request an allergen test?

  10. Dena Jacobs says:

    I understand how the gluiness of gluten would affect absorption of tryptophan. But how does gluten cause inflammation in the nervous system? Is the vagus nerve involved? I have similar reactions after surgery, I thought from anesthesia. Would you happen to know if there is gluten involved with medications/anesthesia? What are the protocols for healing this inflammation?

    • Brenna says:

      There can be trace amounts of gluten in medications, depending what it is of course. I am not sure about anesthesia. If you are sensitive to gluten then of course ask for details about what you are taking. A way to calm inflammation from gluten reactions is to drink bone broth, include turmeric in your diet, you can try the supplement L-glutamine, or collagen. There are tons of different ways, which affects your body best will have to be deduced from trial and error! The best way, of course, is to take whatever is inflaming your system out of your diet. Hope that helps. 🙂

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