Gluten and Schizophrenia

A growing body of research has linked gluten to schizophrenia. It seems that schizophrenia patients have a high proportion of antibodies related to gluten, and sometimes reducing gluten intake can also reduce schizophrenia symptoms. But that’s not the whole story. This article takes a close look at the situation.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity
In recent years, many people have begun to question the health benefits of gluten, a type of protein contained in wheat and wheat products. Although celiac disease, a sometimes severe illness caused by gluten intolerance, is fairly rare, some suggest that a large segment of the population may suffer from mild gluten sensitivity that can cause a wide range of health problems. Although the relationship between gluten and overall health is far from being well understood, more and more research is being conducted to determine the truth.
Gluten and Schizophrenia
One interesting relationship between gluten and health is a potential connection between gluten sensitivity and schizophrenia, a serious psychological disorder. Several studies have independently established this connection, but there is a lot about the connection that remains unknown. In 2006, a research team led by A.E. Kalaydjian conducted a review of existing studies. They found that, in several studies, eliminating gluten intake led to a dramatic improvement of schizophrenia symptoms, even resulting in full remission in some cases. Not all schizophrenia patients responded to the gluten-free diet, however, so the results are not entirely conclusive.
Recent Research
The 2006 study was the most prominent research related to gluten and schizophrenia since the 1980s. The new study sparked researchers’ interest in the issue, and more research on the issue is starting to appear. Studies in 2010 and 2011 showed that people with schizophrenia have more gluten-related antibodies than would be expected if there was no connection between the two. In other words, people with schizophrenia might be significantly more likely to have immune systems that react against the presence of gluten. At least one other study has failed to find a connection, though: in 2004, Peleg and colleagues studied 50 schizophrenia patients and found no evidence of gluten sensitivity.
Correlation does not Imply Causation
When correlations are found in scientific studies, it can be very tempting to jump to conclusions, but we should always remember the truism, 'Correlation does not imply causation'. In simpler terms, this means that the presence of a link between schizophrenia and gluten intolerance does not necessarily mean that one causes the other. Even if there is some kind of causal relationship involved, we can’t assume that we know what that relationship is until more research has been conducted.
Possible Explanations
Since correlation does not imply causation, there could be a number of different explanations for the now generally-accepted link between gluten intolerance and schizophrenia. The conclusion that eating gluten causes schizophrenia is only one of many possible explanations. It could simply be the case, instead, that people with gluten intolerance are more likely to develop schizophrenia because these two conditions tend to appear together genetically. However, it has been suggested that gluten could stimulate autoimmune responses, making people more likely to suffer from conditions that they’re genetically predisposed to. In other words, people with a genetic tendency for schizophrenia could be more likely to actually develop schizophrenia if their diets are high in gluten.
More Information Needed
In addition to potential problems and biases with research on this issue, it’s important to remember that there are many, many factors involved in any physical or psychological condition. We may never know for sure whether gluten directly causes schizophrenia, or why more schizophrenia patients seem to be gluten intolerant. One this is for sure, though: with the rapidly increasing public interest in the health effects of gluten, the studies discussed in this article won’t be the last word on the topic.
If you’re interested in gluten’s health effects, just remember not to believe everything you hear, and to get your information from reliable sources!