Eat Well, Feel Well – The Effect of Gluten on the Brain

By: Rika Mansingh, Registered Dietician, B.Sc.Dietetics(UNP), PG.Dip.Diet(UKZN), DCEP(CA)

We have all come across the term “Gluten free” while grocery shopping or eating out – the occurrence is widespread.  So what is gluten and what is all the hype around going gluten free?

Gluten is an insoluble protein composite consisting of two proteins (glutenin and gliadin) and is found in certain grains particularly wheat, barley and rye.

It has been well documented for years that a gluten free diet has been recommended for people with wheat allergy and Celiacs disease (an inherited disease in which gluten consumption may cause inflammation of the lining of the small intestine, leading to gastrointestinal discomfort, nutrient malabsorption and bone loss).  New research is showing that a large population of people can now become sensitive to gluten without having Celiacs disease.  People with ‘Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity’ may also experience bloating, digestive disturbances, fatigue, headaches and joint pain after gluten is consumed.

We are all aware of the gastrointestinal side effects after eating gluten.  Recent research has now focused on the effects of gluten consumption on the brain.

Partially digested gluten forms proteins (called gliadorphins – also known as gluteomorphins), which react with opium receptors in the brain mimicking the effects of opiate drugs like morphine and heroin.  These compounds affect the temporal lobe area of the brain associated with speech and hearing comprehension.

After eating a heavy, gluten containing meal one would feel tired and lethargic, have headaches, reduced mental clarity and inability to focus.

What you eat and the ecosystem of your gut determines how your gut will function.  Bidirectional communication occurs via the gut and the brain (the gut brain axis) and signals from the gut to the brain can be inflammatory in nature.  Improperly digested gluten can trigger the immune system causing inflammation in the gut.  Inflammation in the gut is linked to inflammation in the brain, causing one to feel fatigued, cloudy and give symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as other behavioral and mental problems.

So what is the verdict? Gluten impacts our mind far more than previously thought.  When it comes to healthy eating; variety, moderation and balance is key but if you’re mindful about what you eat – your brain will thank you.  Dietary intervention from a Registered Dietitian can help you Eat Well to Feel Well.   To make an appointment with Rika Mansingh – Registered Dietitian, contact 778-2405951.  You can also email Rika on

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