According to new research conducted in Helsinki, Finland, gluten-free diet may help alleviate depressive and behavioural symptoms in adolescents with coeliac disease.
Coeliac disease in adolescents has been associated with an increased prevalence of depressive and disruptive behavioural disorders, particularly in the phase before diet treatment.
For the study, 9 adolescents with coeliac disease, aged 12 to 16 years, were assessed using the semi-structured K-SADS-Present and Lifetime Diagnostic interview and several symptom scales. Seven of them were followed at 1 to 2, 3, and 6 months on a gluten-free diet.
It was observed that the majority of adolescents with coeliac disease had depressive and behavioural symptoms before their diagnosis, and that coeliac disease patients with depression (all girls) had significantly lower pre-diet tryptophan/ competing amino-acid (CAA) ratios and free tryptophan concentrations and significantly higher biopsy morning prolactin levels compared to those without depression.
Adolescents with coeliac disease showed improvement in psychiatric symptoms 3 months after starting a gluten-free diet, and this improvement coincided with a significant decrease in coeliac disease activity and in prolactin levels, and with a significant increase in serum concentrations of L-tyrosine and other CAAs.
Although the results of the amino acid analysis and prolactin levels in adolescents are only preliminary, they give support to previous findings on patients with coeliac disease, suggesting that serotonergic dysfunction due to impaired availability of tryptophan may play a role in vulnerability to depressive and behavioural disorders also among adolescents with untreated coeliac disease.
The authors assert that since diet treatment may alleviate psychiatric symptoms, and earlier diagnosis may have beneficial effects on psychological and even on neurobiological vulnerability to depression, the possibility of psychiatric complications of coeliac disease needs to be taken into account in differential diagnosis of depressive and behavioural disorders.