I think this is the area where we are going to see the most breakthroughs in medicine as it relates to celiac disease, gluten and our brains. I experience severe neurological symptoms when I accidentally ingest gluten as do many customers and one of my close friends. Recently, after a severe glutening and neurological complications as part of her response, my friend saw her gastro; who sent her to a neurologist. The neurologist confirmed the complications from gluten exposure after her ran tests and ruled out MS. So, it is great to see this being acknowledged by neurologists.
Allergic Living recently did an article; about the scientific proof and the devastating effects that gluten can have on your Brain. Dr. Marios Hadjivassiliou was the first to study this! He said that the patients had “significantly less” brain density. The study showed that there were changes to the cerebellum (balance center) and to the thalamus which conveys sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex, and to areas of the brain associated with depression. For some it is just the inability to think clearly or being diagnosed with ADHD or Autism, when actually it could be Celiac Disease.
“We have to think of the bowel, not as where the disease occurs, but as an innocent bystander where the gluten crosses to do its damage,” Hadjivassiliou says. “It’s imperative that we change the mindset about celiac disease and brain dysfunction.”
10-30% of those with Celiac Disease have some form of neurological complications. It can be headaches, the inability to walk in a straight line, fumbled speech, walking into things, being off balance. The doctor even advocates for questions about headache and loss of balance to be asked when they go over a celiac symptom checklist! Those with bowel complaints are easy to diagnose, but many don’t have bowel complaints because their only symptoms are neurological! Unfortunately for those without bowel issues; by the time they get to their neurologist it is too late because the nervous system does not regenerate like the intestines do.
When this is the case, the gluten free diet will only halt the damage in it’s tracks but not reverse the damage. This motor control condition is called Gluten Ataxia; where grey matter accumulates on the brain and can shrink areas of the brain! The gluten free diet can halt additional damage, but it does not mean they will be able to walk again.
“With grey matter damage, you may have balance issues, problems speaking or sensory symptoms. With white matter damage, you may suffer headaches as intense as migraines, have tingling sensations in your arms and legs, experience extreme fatigue or suffer from insomnia.”
While most mild cases won’t show up on brain scans, Hadjivassiliou’s research shows that repeated incidents of getting “glutened” or “cheating” on the diet can lead to more serious, long-term brain effects.
Dr Dan Leffler of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston is studying this too and said:
“This is an issue that is very real and very common and the big problem is misdiagnosis because it just doesn’t get enough attention.”
Gluten actually causes increased intestinal permeability by inducing a compound called zonulin to be released. Zonulin causes tight junctions to not be so tight…thus increased intestinal permeability. The large gluten molecule is able to molecularly interact with our body and cause our body to increase zonulin production…zonulin then causes increased permeability…and then this large gluten molecule is able to get into our body. The gluten molecule is too large to normally enter our body therefore when it does gain access to our body through our small intestine, our immune system perceives it as a threat and for some people it starts the cascade of a chronic disease.
So how does this all come together???? Thanks to Dr Alessio Fasano at the Center for Celiac Research, we know that gluten causes increased intestinal permiability (little holes in the walls of the intestine) which causes a compound “Zonulin” to be released which allows the gluten molecule to get into our bloodstream thru the little holes in our intestines. Once it gets there our immune system sees it as a “threat” and for some it causes a whole list of chronic diseases. Also, zonulin causes cellular reactions throughout the body, not just within the gut. For some people this will never happen, for others it will!
Check out my blog under “brain” for past articles from newsletters where I wrote about this as well!