Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Gluten-free diet may alleviate depressive and behavioural symptoms in adolescents with coeliac disease: a prospective follow-up case-series study

Päivi A Pynnönen1*, Erkki T Isometsä2, Matti A Verkasalo1, Seppo A Kähkönen3, Ilkka Sipilä1, Erkki Savilahti1 and Veikko A Aalberg1

Author Affiliations

1 Hospital for Children and Adolescents, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland

2 Department of Mental Health and Alcohol Research, National Public Health Institute, Helsinki, Finland

3 BioMag Laboratory, Engineering Center, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Cognitive Brain Research Unit, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

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BMC Psychiatry 2005, 5:14  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-5-14

Published: 17 March 2005



Coeliac disease in adolescents has been associated with an increased prevalence of depressive and disruptive behavioural disorders, particularly in the phase before diet treatment. We studied the possible effects of a gluten-free diet on psychiatric symptoms, on hormonal status (prolactin, thyroidal function) and on large neutral amino acid serum concentrations in adolescents with coeliac disease commencing a gluten-free diet.


Nine adolescents with celiac 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.


Adolescent coeliac disease patients with depression 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. A significant decrease in psychiatric symptoms was found at 3 months on a gluten-free diet compared to patients' baseline condition, coinciding with significantly decreased coeliac disease activity and prolactin levels and with a significant increase in serum concentrations of CAAs.


Although our 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.