Last Updated on December 14, 2021
When most people think of gluten sensitivity symptoms, their minds go straight to the digestive issues it can cause. While digestive issues can be the main problem for many people, anxiety, depression, and fatigue are also common ways gluten sensitivity can manifest itself. It can be difficult to figure out if these symptoms are caused by gluten sensitivity, or if they’re part of much larger physiological or psychological maladies. Here, we’ll explore what other issues might be causing these symptoms — and how to determine if gluten sensitivity really is the culprit.
What Exactly Is Gluten Sensitivity?
First, it is important to understand that there are at least five different types of gluten sensitivity. These include celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, dermatitis herpetiformis, gluten ataxia, and wheat allergy. The first two types are what most people mean when they say that they are gluten intolerant, while dermatitis herpetiformis is a skin rash that develops when a person eats gluten. Conversely, gluten ataxia is a serious disease that affects the nervous system, and you will likely already know if you have this. Finally, a wheat allergy is an allergic reaction to many parts of wheat, not just the gluten itself.
Celiac disease is the classic form of gluten sensitivity, and it can be identified easily with the appropriate tests. It is an autoimmune disorder that causes your own body to attack your small intestine if you eat gluten. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity has many of the same symptoms that true celiac disease has, but doctors are not entirely sure what causes it. Celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity have similar symptoms and both require the avoidance of gluten. However, with that in mind, we’ll only try to address non-gluten-related causes that might also be causing your fatigue, anxiety, or depression.
The first physical issue you will likely want to explore if you find yourself feeling lethargic, anxious, and depressed is thyroid disease. Your thyroid is a gland located in the front of your neck that releases hormones that control your metabolism. It is controlled by your pituitary gland, which itself is located right below your brain and secretes thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). This hormone tells your thyroid how much of its own hormones to release.
The good thing about thyroid disease is that it can be easily identified by a TSH blood test. This will let doctors know if your thyroid is underactive (hypothyroidism) or overactive (hyperthyroidism). Hypothyroidism slows your metabolism and leads directly to fatigue. Its associated symptoms also include depression and, for many people, anxiety. Surprisingly, hyperthyroidism can wind up causing these same symptoms, but for different reasons. Hyperthyroidism will at first make you feel like you have too much energy. This energy can be so great as to create anxiety, which causes sleeplessness. In turn, this can cause fatigue, which then itself can cause depression.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome is another physiological disease that might wind up causing fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Unlike thyroid disease, scientists are not entirely sure what causes this disease or how to best test for it. The major symptom here is a deep feeling of fatigue, which then can lead to both anxiety and depression as corollaries. Because it is so hard to identify and because it is less common, you may want to consider other diagnoses first before you pursue ways to deal with this disease. As always, consult with your doctor, as you don’t want to try to self-diagnose.
You may have noticed that even when there are physiological causes, fatigue, depression, and anxiety all frequently accompany one another. This is largely in part due to the effects that any one of these symptoms have upon the existence of the others. You may, for instance, have depression that is the cause of your fatigue. The fatigue and depression might make you less motivated to do things, so you may fall behind on your life tasks. Being behind on your work can then cause anxiety. Anxiety can augment fatigue and depression, and the cycle reinforces itself.
This cycle might start with either anxiety or depression, both of which might stem entirely from psychological causes. Of course, there is not a single blood test that can be used to determine if you have depression or anxiety, so you must take the time to visit a medical professional to help you determine if psychological causes are behind your symptoms. For this reason, when you schedule a meeting with your regular doctor, it is a good idea to also schedule one with a psychiatrist. This will help both doctors get a fuller understanding of what is causing these symptoms and how to treat them.
Given how common gluten sensitivity is and how common fatigue, depression, and anxiety also are in our work-obsessed culture, it can be hard to pin down the culprit that is behind your symptoms. It can’t hurt, of course, to simply use gluten-free recipes for a while. However, it’s always best to visit medical professionals to help you identify the issues you are experiencing and help you develop a comprehensive treatment plan that is right for you.