The Brain-Grain Connection

How Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity Can Harm Your Nervous System

Dr. Arjuna Veeravagu, ND RAc

Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disease that affects the digestive process of the small intestine in around 1% of the population.  When a person who has celiac consumes gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, the individual’s immune system responds by attacking the intestinal lining and interfering with the absorption of vital nutrients.  Symptoms typically include abdominal bloating or pain, chronic diarrhea and weight loss. The only current treatment for celiac disease is the lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet. Inadequate awareness of celiac disease has caused it to be the most under-diagnosed disease in North America today. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is an adverse immune reaction to gluten ingestion that does not damage the intestinal lining and is much more common than celiac disease.

Until recently the majority of research on celiac disease and gluten sensitivity has focused on the digestive symptoms associated with these conditions. New clinical research has shown that it may be the nervous system that is primarily impacted by many of those who react adversely to gluten. In fact, more than half of newly diagnosed celiac patients have some form of neurological illness. Imaging studies have found that almost 75% of untreated celiac patients show abnormal blood flow patterns to the brain.

It has been observed that many neurological issues may be in part or entirely triggered by gluten. Recent research has shown that more than half of patients with chronic neurological diseases of unknown origin have gluten sensitivity. Some of these gluten-induced conditions involving the nervous system include:

  • depression   · chronic fatigue   · memory loss   · schizophrenia   · brain fog
  • attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder   · learning disabilities
  • developmental delay   · chronic nerve pain   · impaired muscle coordination

Proper laboratory assessment is an important step in the diagnosis of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity in those experiencing chronic neurological symptoms. Blood, saliva and stool testing can be selected from based on each patient’s unique situation.   Genetic testing is also an option to determine one’s susceptibility to developing celiac disease or gluten sensitivity in the future.

 

References:

Ferguson, A. Celiac Disease, An Eminently Treatable Condition, May Be Underdiagnosed. Am J Gastro 1997;92(8).

Ford, R MD Full Of It – The Shocking Truth About Gluten. RRS Global, Christchurch, New Zealand 2006.

Hadjivassiliou, M MD Gluten Sensitivity As A Neurological Illness. JNNP 2002;72;560-563.

Hoggan R. Smarten up! How Gluten Grains Impede Learning and Behaviour. 2003

 

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