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Indirect effects of living with a life-long condition

The gluten-free diet is an effective coeliac disease treatment for most people, eliminating symptoms, and allowing the small bowel to heal. Nonetheless, navigating the day-to-day challenges of coeliac disease can be difficult. Having to closely read labels, avoid cross-contamination, and explaining your condition to others can make one’s diagnosis feel like a burden. The research to date tells us that the gluten-free diet improves symptoms and allows the small bowel to heal, but that quality of life issues can persist, even among those that strictly follow the diet.

Auckland University Health Science student, Jenny Tien recently completed a literature review during her internship with Coeliac NZ on the indirect effects of living with a life-long autoimmune disease in youth (aged 18-24 years). Her findings and links to published literature on the topic are particularly relevant as we recognise Mental Health Awareness Week.

The associations between coeliac disease and mental health can be associated from physical discomfort when one has the condition. Having coeliac disease has been found to increase the risk of developing mood disorders and depression. Stomach pains, weight loss, fatigue are all common symptoms from having the condition and this can lead to poorer moods throughout the day and which makes sense when you consider - that if your body is not in discomfort, then your mind often is as well.

The association between mental health and difficulty adapting to living with a diet restriction and concern with quality of life were especially applicable to coeliac youth regarding

  • Barriers to eating out and socialising
  • Moving away from home, which elicited anxiety
  • Body image
  • Youth participation and anxiety
  • Age of diagnosis and adapting to change
  • Acceptance of change
  • Depression and behavioral issues
  • Broader health related quality of health concerns

Acceptance of the disease is also a factor that comes into play, when it comes to experiencing these indirect effects that youth may be more susceptible to.

For further reading on the topic, you may find these journal articles and peer-reviewed literature of interest.

  1. Lehman, S. (2018). Vigilant adherence to celiac diet linked with lower quality of life. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-celiac-stress/vigilant-adherence-to-celiac-diet-linked-with-lower-quality-of-life-idUSKCN1FX30S
  2. Celiac Disease Foundation. (2020). Mental Health. Retrieved from https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/related-conditions/mental-health/
  3. Anderson, J. (2020). Depression more common in teens with celiac disease. Very well health. Retrieved from https://www.verywellhealth.com/depression-behavior-issues-in-celiac-teens-563017

If you know someone who suffers from coeliac disease, who might be struggling with the treatment take some time to check on them and ask whether they are experiencing any challenges - as a conversation can make the world of a difference!

You can also seek help via Depression Helpline 0800 111 757 Anxiety Line 0800 ANXIETY (2694 38) or online

nt to help our Coeliac NZ Youth?

If you feel strongly about these topics or are interested in volunteering please apply to join Coeliac NZ by contacting admin@coeliac.org.nz

Some benefits of joining our volunteering programme:

  • Connect to other coeliac youth
  • Help others in need
  • Serve the coeliac community
  • Great volunteering experience
  • Increases self-confidence of the volunteer
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