A personal and scientific exploration of gluten psychosis on stage and on screen
Writer and performer Christopher Green makes serious and seriously trashy theatre and broadcasts. He was diagnosed, at the same time as his father, as a celiac four years ago. At that time it was incidentally suggested to him that his history of depression, suicidality, periods of psychosis, and other manifestations of mental illness, might be connected to gluten poisoning. This link had never been mentioned before. Since then a couple of incidents of gluten contamination have created an immediate bout of severe depression, and intrusive overwhelming suicidal thoughts. Easier to deal with, now the cause is clear, but still hard to manage.
There have been scientific studies made into this area, and the evidence is inconclusive. But it keeps being raised. Research has been going on for over sixty years. In the 1960s F C Dohan published an article on Wheat Consumption and Hospital Admissions for Schizophrenia during World War II. There have been a lot more studies more recently as more and more of us are feeling the effects of gluten. There’s an explosion in depression and mental illness in Western Society. It feels like there’s something going on here. Christopher’s guts and brain tell him there’s definitely something going on here.
But this is a big missing story in our society. Why is the message not filtering through to those that urgently need this information? Those that believe they are experiencing major existentialist angst when in reality they are over-ordering croissants.
It’s time to talk to the experts, and get them to look in detail at this under-examined question. Can an artist help them reach a consensus? Or least agree what the next big study needs to look at?
This film is a quirky artist-led exploration of the subject, using the personal as the starting point for collaborations with scientists into the latest thinking about the mechanics of what is happening in all our bodies, as food becomes ever more mass produced, and the range of variety of grains ever diminishing in our diet. It takes a rigorous approach to the scientific data but also takes flights of fancy. How would our society have been different if this link was understood earlier? How many great intense artists could have been prevented from harming themselves but not amazing works of art. Should Van Gogh just laid off the baguettes? For example the throwaway line in Virginia Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own where she thinks about inspiration whilst “crumbling my bread and drinking my coffee”. Yes, they were both probably Bipolar. But might they have been Celiac too? Both conditions are inherited.
This also uses dramatised sections featuring returning characters that presents the issues with a lightness of touch. A couple deal with one of them, who is celiac, having a bout of gluten poisoning, for the first time alongside their new partner. The ability to understand that their thoughts are not their own, they are brought about by dysfunction in the gut, not irrational brain processing, personalises the science for the audience.
And why does this matter? Well scientists agree there are lot of people suffering intense mental distress that could easily be solved with a change in diet. There are many suicides that could be prevented. Everyone can benefit from hearing that mental illness has a physical not an emotional cause – it can happen to anyone for a huge range of reasons – that we are all much more alike than we are different. And maybe it’s just not true. Maybe there are a lot of people on gluten-free diets that don’t need to be. Celiacs do, for sure. But is gluten interolence even a thing? Does it make us mad from time to time? Is this whole thing just a giant excuse for Christopher’s bad behaviour?
Oh – this has got brain scans, everyone likes a brain scan. Oh yeah and there’s jokes too.