In a recent New York Times article, “Your Brain, Your Disease, Your Self,” authors Nina Strohminger and Shaun Nichols state that the most powerful predictor of identity change is disruption to the moral faculty. This was stated in the context of analyzing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. But what about other diseases, namely, celiac disease? Can consuming gluten change the identity of someone with celiac disease in the same way that neurodegenerative diseases seem to change the identity of those who suffer from them?
1) The Gut and the Brain
Ninety percent of the body’s serotonin, which is responsible for mood elevation, and 50 percent of the body’s dopamine, which is important for motivation and attention, lies in the gut. If my digestive tract is damaged and off-kilter due to undiagnosed (and untreated) celiac disease, my levels of serotonin and dopamine are off, which directly affect my mood. This established link is the first step in examining the relationship between celiac disease and identity.
2) The Gut, the Brain, and Morals
Exploring further the link between the gut and the brain, if undiagnosed celiac disease can affect my brain in the way described above, could it also affect my brain in other ways? For example, could undiagnosed celiac disease affect my moral faculty? For the purpose of this argument, I will assume that the moral faculty originates in the brain. (I assume this based on the idea in “Your Brain, Your Disease, Your Self” that the neurodegenerative disease frontotemporal dementia muddles the moral compass.)
3) The Gut, the Brain, Morals, and Identity
If my moral faculty is affected by undiagnosed celiac disease, and disruption to the moral faculty is the most powerful predictor of identity change, then could undiagnosed celiac disease alter my identity the same way that Alzheimer’s alters the identity of those with the disease? If I had the ability to research these connections further, I would set out to confirm that undiagnosed celiac disease could affect identity. Without the ability to research further, however, I can only use logic and observation to make an educated guess.
While the disruption of the moral faculty in those with frontotemporal dementia may manifest in antisocial outbursts, pathological lying, and apathy, the disruption of the moral faculty in those with celiac disease may manifest in other ways. Apathy could indeed be one of those ways, as apathy is related to (though different from) depression, and depression is a symptom of celiac disease.
If what you eat affects your brain, and your brain is the garden of your morals, and your morals are central to your identity, I suppose you really are what you eat.
Originally published on The Huffington Post.