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Gluten- Anxiety-Panic Attacks Resolve on a Gluten Free Diet

June 1, 2011

Posted by ME, written by Dr Vikki Petersen

Gluten Intolerant but in Denial?

Have you removed gluten from you diet successfully but you’re having trouble enlightening other family members or friends to the health risks associated with gluten intolerance?

If you find them turning a deaf ear on your helpful advice, take heart, you are not alone!

A reader sent in the comment below. While much of it contains wonderful information of how her health has dramatically improved on a gluten-free diet (something I never get tired of hearing!), other parts are particularly insightful and surprising.  See what you think.

Anxiety & Panic Attacks Resolve on a Gluten Free Diet

Here’s the comment: I’m a believer! “Thank You” so much for “getting the word out” and for these excellent articles on your blog.

 I have been GF [gluten free] since July (elimination diet) after suffering from GI issues/anxiety/panic attacks for years.

 We discovered that my brother is Celiac and that my (deceased) father was likely Celiac also. I suspect that my other siblings are also sensitive. I myself tested negative for Celiac (blood and biopsy). My GI Dr had a big ol’ smile on his face when he realized that “I get it”. (That I didn’t need to have a positive celiac Dx [diagnosis] to understand that gluten was hurting me.)

 It surprised me that by going GF my anxiety/panic attacks have gone away (no episodes in 6 months). This has been a “side effect” that I didn’t expect and I truly feel blessed. The panic episodes were crippling and I hope that they never come back. (fingers crossed)

 Surprisingly, when I “preach the truth” to others…they turn a deaf ear. They don’t want to give up their beer/pasta/bread. They make excuses for their suffering and their lifestyle choices. I guess a person has to WANT to change. (I personally found it very easy to give up gluten even while I continue to bake normally for my husband who is not restricted.)


A Negative Celiac Test Doesn’t Rule Out Gluten as a Problem

When someone has celiac disease in their family and they themselves get tested, a negative blood and biopsy result would often be cause for celebration. If a negative result encompassed both celiac and gluten sensitivity, such a celebration would be well justified.

But what if you were a “Tami”?  She suffered from digestive problems, anxiety and panic attacks.

Her tests were negative but thankfully she was smart enough to try a gluten-free diet anyway. And what did she discover? 

Low and behold not only did all her digestive complaints disappear but so did her neurological ones – anxiety and panic attacks.

We know that gluten intolerance manifests itself commonly through creating neurological symptoms.

Many researchers have stated that gluten intolerance is primarily a neurological condition. 

But Tami didn’t know that and she’s certainly not alone.  Due to her brother’s celiac diagnosis she likely went gluten-free hoping to see benefit in her digestive complaints, despite her negative tests.

They resolved, as well as her anxiety and panic attacks, the latter two she refers to as a blessed “side effect”.

Digestive Problems Aren’t the Only Reason to Try Gluten-free

It makes me wonder if Tami would have tried a gluten-free diet if she hadn’t had any digestive complaints.  What if she had gotten tested for celiac due to her brother’s diagnosis but only had her neurological symptoms?  Would she have tried it?

Perhaps not, and that would have been a terrible shame. She would have gone on suffering with her symptoms plus new ones would have developed with age, all because she was “convinced” by the lab tests that gluten couldn’t possibly be the problematic agent.

How much benefit could be derived if every person who had a family history of celiac disease or autoimmune disease was put on a one month gluten-free diet.

I think the numbers would be staggering.

Doctors Need to be Educated in the field of Gluten Intolerance

Tami goes on to describe her GI doctor’s delight that she “got it” and was willing to try a gluten-free diet despite her negative diagnosis.

While Tami describes herself as the one that understood this concept, I was more thrilled that her GI doctor did!

I am not trying to be at all rude, but the vast majority of GI doctors that our patients run into are of the opinion that a patient like Tami would have no reason to embark on a gluten-free diet considering her negative tests.

It would be more likely that Tami would be told that the reason behind her digestive complaints was “obviously not gluten” in light of the test results, while the neurological symptoms would not have even been discussed, other than perhaps a referral to a psychiatrist.

Tami lucked out with her GI doctor. I only profoundly wish that he wasn’t such a rare breed.

It’s fine, by the way, to educate your doctors.

We sent a patient to his primary practitioner in order to run a celiac and gluten sensitivity panel.  It was less expensive for our patient to go through his primary due to his insurance.

The doctor saw “no reason” to perform the celiac and gluten sensitivity panel as the patient had no digestive complaints, but fortunately was willing to go along with the patient.

When the gluten sensitivity test came out highly positive, his doctor confessed that he really didn’t know what it meant.

The patient explained it and gave him a copy of our book, “The Gluten Effect”.

This particular patient has been suffering from arthritis and generalized joint pain and he’s already seeing a difference on his gluten-free diet.

How Can You Convince Stubborn Friends & Family?

Lastly, and the reason behind the title of this post, Tami notes that “when I ‘preach the truth’ to others…they turn a deaf ear.”

“They don’t want to give up their beer/pasta/bread.”

“They make excuses for their suffering and their lifestyle choices. I guess a person has to WANT to change.”

That is very well said.  It’s interesting to hear the varied responses you receive from people when you broach eliminating a certain food in their diet. I did so just the other day at a party.

The responses varied from: “I’d eliminate something if it was very clear to me that it was making me sick”, to “I’d eliminate something if I knew it was going to kill me… immediately!”

The sad truth is that some people won’t go gluten-free even if they need to.


They simply won’t discipline themselves  to do what is required – they would rather feel ill.

One thing I have learned after 25 years of practice is that I can only advise, support and encourage – I can’t do it for them, as much as I often wish that I could.

Do you have someone in your circle whom you just “know” is gluten intolerant but they refuse to listen? 

Give them information in the form of books, blogs, videos, etc. But if despite education they’re obviously still not interested, let it go.

Ultimately it is their body and they have the final word.  It’s tough, I know, but you’re going to run into these people and try as you might they will not change.

Let’s Help Those Who Want Help

Where you can and should put your efforts is educating the countless numbers of people who are suffering from gluten intolerance and would love to change their diet if that would be helpful.

Tami finds it easy to stay away from gluten and so do I.  So too do most people for which the dietary change has made a huge difference in their health.

Plenty of individuals do want and need this help.  Let’s go and find them!

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen

Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center

Co-author of the bestselling “The Gluten Effect”

Other good Gluten reads:

Gluten-More People May Benefit From Going GF-HealthDayNews2011

Gluten-The Public Health Crisis No One Is Talking About-4.19.11 HuffPost Health

Gluten: What You Don’t Know Might Kill You-Mark Hyman M.D.

Gluten’s laws-Better Homes and Gardens July 2010

Gluten Sensitivity-The Wall Street Journal-March 15 2011