On April 1st an influential government-appointed medical panel urged doctors to routinely screen all American teens for depression — stating that nearly 2 million teens (an estimated 6%) are affected by this debilitating condition.
“Most are undiagnosed and untreated”, said the panel, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which sets guidelines for doctors on a host of health issues. “Evidence shows that detailed but simple questionnaires can accurately diagnose depression in primary-care settings such as a pediatrician's office.”
Wow. Would you want your teenager, or yourself for that matter, to be diagnosed from a questionnaire? What if your child was in a bad mood that day? Would he or she then be labeled as depressed because of the way a few questions were answered?
Personally I would want an accurate lab test to determine why my body was malfunctioning.
Putting aside life circumstances such as a disruptive home life or loss of a loved one, let’s focus on some physical reasons a person can feel depressed.
Let me state clearly that after 20+ years in practice I do not support the “chemical imbalance” or “genetic – it’s in your family so you’re destined to be that way” theories. It has not proven out to have any validity in my experience nor in many of my peers.
After the digestive tract, gluten sensitivity affects the nervous system more than any other system in the body. The effect occurs from inflammation caused by gluten as well as malabsorption.
The immune system of a gluten sensitive individual reacts negatively to the protein gliadin. Due to the structural similarity between gliadin and other bodily proteins, a cross reaction can occur. In this cross reaction the immune system “confuses” one’s own body’s proteins with those of gliadin. This is called cellular mimicry and the result is inflammation due to the body attacking its own tissues.
When such inflammation occurs in the brain and nervous system, a variety of symptoms can occur, including depression. This condition is sometimes called “the brain on fire”.
In a fascinating study examining blood flow to the brain, 15 patients with untreated celiac disease were compared to 15 celiac patients maintaining a gluten-free diet for one year. The findings were these: in the untreated group, 73% had abnormalities in brain circulation by testing while only 7% in the gluten-free group showed any abnormalities. The patients with the brain circulation problems were frequently suffering from anxiety and depression as well.
Interestingly it’s been noted that patients with symptoms involving the nervous system suffer from digestive problems only 13% of the time. This is significant because mainstream medicine equates gluten sensitivity almost exclusively with celiac disease and digestive complaints. So do you think a depressed teen is going to be evaluated for gluten sensitivity especially when he has no digestive complaints?
Absolutely not. But it’s absolutely wrong that he isn’t screened.
Another component of depression and gluten sensitivity looks at malabsorption of protein due to damage of the small intestine caused by gluten. Specifically the amino acid tryptophan can be deficient. Tryptophan is a protein in the brain responsible for a feeling of well-being and relaxation. A deficiency can be correlated to feelings of depression and anxiety.
There is strong evidence to support the association between gluten and depression. While that may only be addressing 40% of the teens afflicted, it’s definitely a good start.
And for the other 60% I would suggest some lifestyle changes: a clean diet of healthy protein, fruits, vegetables and fat along with a stable sleep schedule and exercise would go a long way to improving hormonal balance. I would wager the typical American diet of soda, burgers, fries, pizza and artificial sweeteners could well be responsible for some of the mood changes we see in teenagers.
Many of the opponents of the mandatory screening for teens noted that a recent law was passed giving parity to mental and physical ailments through insurance. It was suggested that better insurance coverage for mental ailments could well be behind the sudden interest in mandatory screenings. I’ll leave you to your own evaluations in that department.
But do keep in mind that there’s a black box warning on antidepressants for children that the FDA mandated several years ago due to the increased number of suicides seen after children were put on these very dangerous drugs.
If you know anyone on these medications, encourage them to seek answers that address the root cause of the problem rather than just masking the symptoms.
I encourage you to spend a few minutes watching the youtube video on our home page here at glutendoctors.blogspot.com. The video is of a patient who had been depressed since age 16 and arrived into our clinic on 7 different psychotropic drugs after suffering for 30 years. He’s now successfully off all medications and has gotten his zest for life back.
Enjoy the video – it’s quite heartwarming!
To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen