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gluten sensitivity & neurological findings


Gluten Brain

Jose Antonio Alba – Lleida/España – Pixabay

“Both Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity may present with a variety of neurologic and psychiatric co-morbidities, however, extra-intestinal symptoms may be the prime presentation in those with Gluten Sensitivity. However, gluten sensitivity remains undertreated and underrecognized as a contributing factor to psychiatric and neurologic manifestiations.”  From the March 2012 issue of Psychiatric Quarterly (Neurologic and Psychiatric Manifestations of Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity).

“Symptoms of gluten sensitivity can be numerous and vary widely from individual to individual. With gluten ataxia, the focus of disease activity is in the brain, specifically the cerebellum, the center that controls coordination and complex movements like walking, speaking and swallowing.  Often, the peripheral nerves located outside the spinal cord are also involved, leading to chronic and progressive neuropathy, a disease affecting the nervous system that results in feelings of numbness, tingling or pain.  Symptoms of gluten sensitivity with neurologic manifestations are slurred speech, loss of coordination in upper and lower limbs, difficulty with normal walking, ocular problems, chronic headaches. It may affect the fingers and hands, the arms or legs, the body, speech or eye movements. In children and young adults, gluten ataxia can also cause developmental delay, diminished muscle tone, learning disorders and ADHD.”   From the winter 2007 edition of Living Without (All in Your Head – Untreated Gluten Sensitivity)

“The Mayo Clinic, Dr. Tom O’Bryan, and others have stated that celiac disease is primarily a neurological disease…. These effects include significant neurological and mental health disorders, learning disabilities, and problems with cognitive and motor skills.  More than 57 million Americans have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, an estimated one in four-to-five adults.  One food substance has increasingly been associated with neurological symptoms – Gluten: a protein found in the cereal grains wheat, rye, barley, and related species. Gluten sensitivity can lead to neurological and mental health effects in various ways, including: Triggering inflammatory autoimmune responses throughout the nervous system; Producing narcotizing effects on the brain; Inducing changes in brain perfusion, or blood flow”.  From Neurological Effects on the Gluten Free Choice website.

It was just one short year ago that I showed you how GLUTEN SENSITIVITY IS MOSTLY A NEUROLOGICAL PROBLEM.   This should interest you if you have ALZHEIMER’S, PARKINSON’S, NEUROPATHY, SEIZURE DISORDERS of all sorts, or any number of disorders of your brain and / or nervous system.  In fact, non-Celiac GLUTEN SENSITIVITY has been linked not only to a whole host of neurological problems, but to a whole host of ENDOCRINE PROBLEMS as well.  Today I want to take a few minutes and share some of this research with you — something that is imperative for you to understand since the majority of medical doctors still believe that non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity is mostly make-believe “hype” — something done solely for financial gain (HERE).

Much of this attitude has to do with the fact that while few doctors would argue that Celiac Disease (an AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE of the Small Intestine) exists, according to the last link in the previous paragraph, the majority of these same doctors would say that Celiac Disease is where the whole “Gluten Sensitivity” thing not only begins, but ends as well.  In other words, if you don’t have Celiac Disease, you can’t have a problem with Gluten, because there is no such thing as non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.  Truthfully, with internet medical research databases such as Pub Med available today, a person could not only debate this thought process with one hemisphere of their brain tied behind their back, but could literally write a book on the subject as well (actually, there are numerous books on this topic already out there).  Here are a few of the studies on the neurotoxicity of Gluten.

In the May 2002 issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, Dr. Marios Hadjivassiliou (a British Neurologist and Professor of Neurology at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals) wrote, “With clinical manifestations primarily confined to the gastrointestinal tract or attributable to malabsorption, it was logical to assume that the target organ and hence the key to the pathogenesis of this disease was the gut….    Patients with an enteropathy represent only a third of patients with neurological manifestations and gluten sensitivity.”  Stop.  Did you catch that?   Only a third of the patients with Gluten Sensitivity actually have enteropathy (PATHOLOGIES of the Gut, aka the digestive tract).  In other words, most people who are Gluten Sensitive have no Gut symptoms — or at least no overt Gut pathologies (positive intestinal biopsy).  This was not new information when it came out 12 years ago.

Three years earlier, a 1999 issue of the same journal published a study called Idiopathic Cerebellar Ataxia Associated with Celiac Disease: Lack of Distinctive Neurological Features.  The study, done at Italy’s Department of Neurological Sciences in Napoli, stated that, “Celiac disease is associated with ataxic syndromes without definite diagnosis, suggesting that it plays a part in the pathogenesis of some ataxic syndromes. The absence of distinctive neurological features in ataxic patients with celiac disease suggests that a search should be made for celiac disease markers in all ataxic patients without definite diagnosis.”  Ataxia?  What is ataxia?  Simply stated, ataxia is abnormal locomotion / movement, and it is being heavily linked to consuming wheat or Gluten.  This is why you can find internet headlines like, “Gluten Sensitivity Mimics ALS” or “Wheat Creates Parkinson’s-like Symptoms“.  Or you could simply Google “Gluten Ataxia” and read about AUTOIMMUNE attacks against the brain — most particularly the CEREBELLUM — the part of the brain that controls balance and coordinated movement.  

In still another study from 1999, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an article by Dr Conleth Feighery in their “Fortnightly Review” simply called Coeliac Disease.  In the article, he compared the amount of undiagnosed Celiac Disease to the amount of diagnosed Celiac Disease by using the analogy of an iceberg.  An iceberg only has about 10% of its mass visible above the water.  Dr. Feighery (an Immunologist at St. James Hospital in Dublin, Ireland) used an iceberg diagram to show that the same thing is true with Celiac Disease.  His article said that only about 12.5% (1 in 8) people with Celiac are ever diagnosed.  These findings were echoed in a 2006 issue of Gastroenterology by Fasano and Catassi, and then again in a 2006 issue of the medical journal Gut, when van Heel and West stated that, “The current ratio of clinically diagnosed to undetected cases is approximately 1 to 8“. 

The May 2004 edition of the Medical Journal of Australia went as far to call Ceoliac Disease “The Great Imitator“.  BMJ ran a different article by the same name in their March 2009 issue.  The first article had this to say on the topic, “Coeliac disease (CD) is caused by a complex immunological response provoked by grain protein in susceptible people.  Many patients with undiagnosed CD spend years seeking help for complaints such as chronic tiredness or mild abdominal symptoms.  The majority of people with CD are symptom-free adults; the remainder are prone to a bewildering variety of signs and symptoms, ranging from infertility to type 1 diabetes.“.  Some of the health problems that were specifically mentioned by name in Dr. John Duggan’s article (and backed up with references from the peer-reviewed literature) included rampant INFLAMMATION, Steatorrhoea / Diarrhea, Fatty Liver Disease, Hepatitis, Dermatitis Herpetiformis, Type I Diabetes (another Autoimmune Disease), various forms of Anemia (some of these also Autoimmune), IBS, various forms of inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Epilepsy (Seizures), GASTRITIS / REFLUX, NEUROPATHY, Ataxia, Myelopathy (MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS), DEPRESSION, various mental diseases, THYROID PROBLEMS, ARTHRITIS, PSORIASIS, various types of CANCER, Sjögren’s Syndrome, CARDIOMYOPATHY, and numerous others.  Listen to this little snippet from his paper.
However, the largest, possibly most important and least understood group of diseases that appear to have links with CD are those with a statistical association, such as epilepsy, the neuropathies and myelopathies, the ataxias, and male and female infertility.  With these conditions, the story is only beginning to unfold, and responses to diet are less evident.  Dr. Duggan — a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at the University of Newcastle, Australia  —– goes on to tell us who has the most problems with sensitivity to Gluten. “Those of northern European ancestry.”  By the way, did you notice that the Gluten-associated neurological problems mentioned by Dr. Duggan areless evidentto dietary responses (i.e., a Gluten-free diet) than the standard GI symptoms.  Stick around and I will show you not only why this is, but how to remedy most cases of it as well.
The second article, by medical professor Dr. Shirwan A. Mirza said this concerning the Gluten / Nervous System link, “We will do our patients and the health care system a great service if we put celiac disease on the top of the list of differential diagnoses of many clinical scenarios.  We all remember that in the medical school we used to call syphilis the great imitator of neurological disorders. I believe now celiac disease should assume that title. I am an endocrinologist and screen for celiac disease likely as frequently as any gastroenterologist.“.  Dr. Mirza goes on to talk about Gluten Sensitivity depleting Vitamin D, the fact that no women should undergo IVF FERTILITY TREATMENTS without being first checked for Gluten Sensitivity, as well as patients who struggle with perpetually high levels of TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) no matter how much thyroid medication they take.   But it doesn’t stop there.
Listen to what was written when I was in my sophomore year of high school.  The Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology published an article in their January 1982 issue called, “Psychiatric Disturbances in Adult Celiac Disease: Psychological Findings“.  Check out these shocking findings.  “Psychiatric illness has been observed to be a main cause of disability in undiagnosed adult Celiac Disease.  Our results suggest that depressive psycho-pathology is a feature of adult Celicac Disease.”  Gulp!  And remember the article on ADHD from just the other day (HERE)?  It seems that Gluten Sensitivity could be a factor in this problem as well.  According to the November 2006 issue of the Journal of Attention Disorders, a study on ADHD and Celiac Disease concluded that, “The results of this study suggest that CD should be included in the list of diseases associated with ADHD-like symptoms.” 

Here’s the thing folks.  I could go on and on and on.  The January 2006 issue of the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology stated that, “Our findings demonstrated an increased prevalence of thyroid disorders with CD.”  The Polish medical journal Przegl Lek published an article almost five years ago stating that, “Celiac disease is the status of the autoimmune answer provoked by gluten ingestion in genetically predisposed people.  Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can coexist with other diseases, such as diabetes mellitus type 1 (DMID) and thyroid gland diseases. The frequency of the incidence of celiac disease in DMID patients was 9.71%.”  So; almost 1 in 10 Type I (Autoimmune) Diabetics are Celiacs.  You should be starting to notice a trend.  The thing you absolutely must grasp about this post is that most of studies we have looked at today pertain to those with Celiac Disease.  We know two very important facts about full-blown Celiac Disease as compared to those who “only” have Gluten Sensitivity.

  • THERE IS AN INCREDIBLY LOW RATE OF DIAGNOSED CELIAC DIAGNOSIS:  We know that at best, only 1 in 8 Celiacs is ever diagnosed.  It seems like these numbers get worse in every succeeding study.  The rate for Celiac Disease most currently touted here in America is between 1 in 133 and 1 in 100.  This means that in the United States, at least 3 million people have Celiac Disease.  Again; you cannot forget that the vast majority of these individuals are never diagnosed (the “gold standard” for diagnosing Celiac Disease is intestinal biopsy).  


  • CELIAC DISEASE IS A TINY BLIP ON THE SCREEN OF GLUTEN SENSITIVITY:  The real kick in the teeth is that the vast majority of those who are sensitive to Gluten are not Celiacs.  How can this be?  As I stated earlier, Celiac Disease is a very specific Autoimmune Disease of the Small intestine.  There are thousands upon thousands of other bodily tissues (hormones, neurotransmitters, etc are also included here) that your own Immune System could decide to start making antibodies against as well.  The small intestine is only one of many, but is the only one that carries the label of “Celiac“.  This means that you can be every bit as sensitive to Gluten as someone who has Celiac Disease (or even more so), and not have a single one of the traditional GI symptoms so commonly associated with it (gas, bloating, IBS, etc, etc).  Again; this is because the majority (60 – 80%) of all symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity are neurological.  

As to how we got here?  For the most part, it’s part of the age-old story we’ve been following since the Tower of Babel.  Man thinks he can do better than God (HERE’S a great example of this phenomenon).  We have genetically tinkered with and hybridized our grains until they are genetically unrecognizable to our own bodies.  And what happens when our body fails to recognize a protein as “safe” or “natural”?   After determining it’s “foreign,” it mounts an Immune System response and attacks the devil out of it.  Relentlessly. Unmercifully.  The resulting INFLAMMATION drives a host of severe Endocrinological / Neurological health problems that we are finally starting to associate with Gluten.  For more information on this topic, just go HERE or HERE.  For information on going GLUTEN FREE, just click the link.  You’ll have to figure much of this on your own because your medical doctor is behind the eight ball on this topic (HERE).   But I will warn you beforehand…………


Make sure to follow my advice on going Gluten Free.  In other words, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.  To understand the difference, you must understand GLUTEN CROSS-REACTIVITY.  A 2007 issue of the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Immunology showed how many of the people who were sensitive to Gluten were also sensitive to milk.  They went on to say that only, “10 out of 20 celiac patients had partial remission on a Gluten-Free diet“.  Hmmm?  A 1998 article from the Journal of of Molecular Biology sums it up nicely.  “Cross-reactivity requires that the Ab combining site has shape complimentarity with both the linerar epitope and the peptide.”  In (sort of) plain English, this means that similarly shaped proteins will fit in the combining site — kind of like a skeleton key that can open many locks.  Unfortunately, some people’s bodies recognize a whole host of different foods as Gluten, and begins attacking them with Immune System responses.  If you do not cut these foods from your diet when you go “Gluten Free”, you are seriously jeopardizing the results of your diet.   In other words, you can go 100% Gluten Free —- and fail.   When you begin this endeavor, it is not really the sort of thing you want to do twice.  Do it correctly the first time!

Furthermore, Gluten Sensitivity tends to run in families.  This means that if you are Gluten Sensitive or have a family history of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, CHRONIC INFLAMMATORY DEGENERATIVE DISEASES of any kind, or any sort of neurological health issues, it would serve you well to educate your progeny about this matter.  It could be the difference between life and death.  And when you add to the mix, our national over-consumption of SUGAR & CARBS, unbridled ANTIBIOTIC USE, and POOR GUT HEALTH (including LEAKY GUT SYNDROME and DYSBIOSIS), you can begin to see the magnitude of this situation. 


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