John Libonati

Neurological Disorders, Gluten & Celiac Disease

by John Libonati on March 13th, 2008


The brain is a delicate organ, where billions of cells, electrical and chemical reactions have to interact correctly to function optimally.  When something unbalances brain chemistry, interrupts reactions or damages the cells, brain dysfunction results. Gluten does all these things – whether or not you have celiac disease.

Neurological disorders from gluten can arise in either, or both, of the following ways.  Gluten can penetrate the intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream, by its own mechanism, travel to the brain where it can damage or disrupt cells or cause inflammation.  This is the direct effect of gluten on the brain.  Gluten can also lead to malabsorption of nutrients in celiac disease.  In this case, the body does not absorb the nutrients it needs. Nutrients are chemicals. The brain, therefore, does not receive the chemicals it needs to function correctly and problems develop.

Nervous system disorders have been found in over 50% of newly diagnosed celiacs.  The list of nervous disorders is long: autism, gait ataxia, gluten ataxia, progressive myoclonic ataxia, chorea, tremors, brain atrophy, cerebral perfusion abnormalities, cortical calcifying angiomatosis (cerebral calcifications), dementia, headaches, epilepsy, chronic fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, multiple sclerosis, vasculitis of the central nervous system, chronic maladaptive anxiety, apathy, depression, inability to concentrate, insomnia, irritability, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, and peripheral neuropathy.  New disorders are being added as the link between

These nervous disorders can include either hard or soft disorders.

Examples of hard disorders would be epilepsy, ataxia (motor abnormalities), myoclonus, internuclear ophthalmoplegia, multifocal leukoencephlopathy, dementia and peripheral neuropathies.  Hard disorders, besides peripheral neuropathies, do not respond to gluten restriction – so identifying gluten sensitivity and/or celiac disease early is critical.

Soft disorders in celiac disease include a broad range of what are considered common neurological disorders.  Hypotonia (flaccid muscles in babies), developmental delay, learning disorders and ADHD, headaches and cerebellar ataxia are examples.  Importantly, there does not seem to be a difference in whether people with infantile-onset gastrointestinal symptoms, those with late onset symptoms or are asymptomatic (have no symptoms at all) develop soft disorders.

This means you may never experience a gastrointestinal symptom, yet still suffer from neurological disorder due to celiac disease.

Recovery from these neurological disorders usually depends on length of time gluten has been digested. The gluten-free diet can result in complete recovery, improvement or no recovery depending on the amount of damage incurred. This means the earlier gluten is removed from the diet, the greater the likelihood of successful recovery.

For these reasons, anyone with an unexplained neurological disorder that does or does not respond to traditional treatment should be screened for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

(This Health Alert was taken from information found in Issue #10 – “How Gluten Perturbs the Brain” of the Gluten Free Gazette.)

Celiac disease is a hereditary, auto-immune disorder estimated to affect 1% of the human population (3 million in the US). Less than 3 % are estimated to be medically diagnosed, but numbers are expected to rapidly increase as diagnosis improves. Celiac disease is caused by the ingestion of wheat, barley, rye and oats and treated by removing these items from the diet. Signs, symptoms, associated disorders and complications can affect any part of the body and removal of the offending foods can result in complete recovery.

Visit Glutenfreeworks.com for more information.


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7 Responses to “Neurological Disorders, Gluten & Celiac Disease”

  1. My 2 year old grandson was born with celiac took doctors over a year to diagnose it poor baby has diarrhea most of his young life he finally got releaved from it by not having gluten in his diet. The whole family now has turned to gluten free except gramps and grandma. I was diagnosed with a rear blood disease called. Hla b 27. It’s a form of aurtheritis. Not sure if this could be caused by gluten wish I new. If you Are celiac you have to be very careful as my grandson from cross food contamination .we can’t even kiss him without cross contamination have to constantly wash hands and face so he don’t get sick it’s hard for me because I love pizza and raised on all that gluten foods to switch over to gluten free when I’m at there house everything we eat is gluten free some is very good some not so good. It’s a trial and era process. Thanks for sharing your information on celiac disease

  2. robin flowers says:

    Is there any other treatment to expedite the neurological damage? We have been to Drs from NY Pres to Mayo in Jackson now in Dallas Tx, not one suggesting GF diet. Also is there a Dr near Dallas who could help. My son has been bed ridden for 3 years. Unforturatly I’m having same memory demitia problems too and have been for 20yrs. His has happen much more sudden. We just went Gluten free this year-I am seeing results in my pain and a trace in my thinking. Hoping to find more aggresive help.

  3. Levi says:

    Hi John,

    It’s so great to see that there has been research done to support the ways that gluten affects the brain and body on a neurologic level. I underwent years of medical testing and saw doctors ranging form local doctors, to renown researchers and even doctors at the Mayo Clinic until my gluten allergy was stumbled up and diagnosed. That incedentially lead to the repair of all my neurological symptoms. I ahd been experiencing constant tingling in my hands and feet (bilateral parasthesias) and completely lost mobility and function in my legs; doctors now attribute all of that to something similar to gluten ataxia. Thanks to the change in diet, I am now back to 100% function and no one could pay me to eat gluten!

    Thanks for bringing these possible symptoms to light, I can imagine that there are many more people out there who have suffered from these gluten-induced neurological complications like I have.

    Levi

  4. Jayne Aston says:

    My story is similar to some of these.
    You can read it here http://wp.me/PrAld-1e
    and feel free to use it.
    Aunt Jayne

  5. Gluten Free Works Blog » Can celiac disease be mistaken as autism? Here is one boy whose “autism” was cured. says:

    [...] of symptoms. Here are more articles on celiac disease and neurological disorders.   Neurological Disorders, Gluten & Celiac Disease Autism and the Gluten-Free/Casein Free Diet Dietary Intervention in Autism Can and Does Work [...]

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