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.
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