Do you suffer from celiac disease or know someone who does?
If you do, there may be a lot more at stake than just the digestive troubles we commonly associate with this condition. According to health experts, consumption of gluten-containing grains may actually contribute to the development of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.
In support of this point of view, a new study shows that schizophrenia patients have significantly higher levels of antibodies related to celiac disease and gluten sensitivity in their blood compared with people without schizophrenia.
Celiac disease occurs when the immune system reacts to dietary gluten, a storage protein for wheat, barley and rye. It manifests as inflammation or irritation of the small intestine, which leads to problems with absorbing nutrients including vitamins and minerals. However, when gluten is removed from the diet, inflammation is reduced or goes away completely and the small intestine begins to heal again.
Interestingly, celiac disease and schizophrenia have approximately the same prevalence - but the prevalence of celiac disease is higher among schizophrenia patients for reasons that are not yet clear.
In this new study, researchers measured the prevalence of antibodies related to celiac disease and gluten sensitivity in individuals with schizophrenia as well as a comparison group. A total of 1401 schizophrenia patients who were part of the Clinical Antipsychotic Trials of Intervention Effectiveness study and 900 controls were included in this analysis.
The results of this study clearly show that a significantly higher proportion of schizophrenia patients have moderate to high levels of antibodies related to celiac disease and gluten sensitivity when compared with people in a control group without schizophrenia.
Believe it or not, it has been over 60 years since researchers first stumbled upon evidence that removal of dietary gluten leads to improved symptoms in neurological and psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia. Conversely, consumption of gluten-containing grains was seen to lead to a higher prevalence.
For instance, an epidemiological study published in 1966 looked at the possible relationship between schizophrenia and celiac disease. The study author looked at the number of women admitted to mental hospitals in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the US before and after World War II (WWII). These figures were then compared to volume of wheat and rye consumed during those two periods.
Stunningly, the percent change from prewar values to during WWII in the number of patients admitted to hospitals for the first time with schizophrenia in these five countries correlated significantly to the percent change in the amounts of wheat and wheat plus rye they had consumed.
In other words - as the consumption of gluten-containing grains decreased in these five countries, so did their rate of first-time admission to psychiatric institutions.
Given the enormous health risk, it’s perhaps advisable to get tested for celiac disease - even if you experience no obvious symptoms.