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The Gluten Syndrome

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While adding the latest research abstracts to the site the other day I came across a very interesting paper regarding the effects gluten can have on the brain and nervous system.

As you are no doubt ware, gluten is a protein found in grains including wheat, rye and barley, which is the trigger for the damage to the tissues of the small intestine in those with celiac disease. In this condition the immune system produces antibodies that attack the gluten consumed in the diet as well as the body's own tissues. As such celiac disease is classed as an autoimmune disease - the body attacks itself (in this case triggered by gluten).

Those with celiac disease frequently suffer from mood disorders and neurological symptoms such as epilepsy, ataxia (coordination problems), and peripheral neuropathy, which results in symptoms including temporary numbness, tingling, and pricking sensations, sensitivity to touch, or muscle weakness in the limbs and extremities.

What interested me about the paper I came across is that its author suggests gluten sensitivity, without the damage to the small intestine seen in celiac disease, can also result in these neurological problems. It is proposed that this occurs due to a number of different mechanisms; the author states "Gluten can cause neurological harm through a combination of cross reacting antibodies, immune complex disease and direct toxicity." It is suggested that this these mechanisms result in numerous symptoms and neurological disorders including ataxia, developmental delay, learning disorders, depression, migraine, and headache.

Indeed, gluten has long been suspected of contributing to the symptoms of autism because when gluten is not fully digested, substances related to opiates (e.g. morphine, heroin etc) are produced, which may cause substantial dysfunction of the brain and nervous system.

The neurological symptoms associated with celiac disease are often considered to be a result of the damage to the small intestinal tissues, since there is constant two-way communication be gut and brain. The author of this paper suggests that since the neurological symptoms can be present without the intestinal damage, gluten must be directly causing these symptoms. The author calls gluten sensitivity and associated neurological symptoms "The Gluten Syndrome."

I was interested in all this because although I don't have overt celiac disease I do experience a lot of problems with gluten grains. After consuming gluten I quickly experience symptoms suggesting neurological dysfunction. These symptoms include disorientation, confusion, brain fog, lack of focus and concentration, and headache. I have also tested positive for IgA anti-gliadin antibodies, indicating my immune system is reacting against gluten and gluten sensitivity is present. Gliadin is the most problematic fraction of wheat gluten.

Do you experience neurological symptoms after eating foods containing gluten? Please share your experiences with us by posting a comment below.


Further reading:

The Gluten Syndrome: A Neurological Disease (the research paper)

Gluten-free and Casein-free Diet

Celiac Disease


The Gluten SyndromeDynamic Neural Retraining Program (DNRS)


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People in this conversation

  • Hi Bonnie,

    Many of us here, including myself, can certainly sympathise with you having been passed from doctor to doctor and gone through a barrage of tests - and still having no answers!

    The researcher that I based this blog on suggests that there is a spectrum of gluten sensitivity with celiac disease at one end and mild gluten sensitivity at the other. Those with celiac disease must avoid ANY gluten at all or damage to the lining of their small intestine can occur and symptoms return. However, if this researcher is correct it's possible those with only mild gluten sensitivity may be able to tolerate small amounts. It is best to listen to your own body however, if you feel ill after a soup thickened with flour you will certainly react to pasta if wheat/gluten is the problem! I know it will be hard staying on a GFD being a vegetarian and allergic to soy, but won't it be worth it if it if means your symptoms are under control! Good luck :)

    Comment last edited on about 8 years ago by Maff
  • Hi Denise,

    Yes, there is a strong connection between celiac disease and autoimmune thyroiditis - which results in hypothyroidism. The person you mention may well have had hypothyroidism that was the result of celiac disease which then cleared up when she went on a gluten-free diet to treat this.

    If you suspect celiac disease might be the underlying cause of your thyroid problems I'd recommend you have the tests which I mentioned to Alea above. If you want to try the gluten-free diet (the only treatment for celiac disease) have a look at the links in the original blog post as these detail which foods are to be avoided and some useful alternatives.

    Comment last edited on about 8 years ago by Maff
  • Is there a link between this and thyroid disorders and what food should you stay clear of? I do know someone who thought they had Hypothyrodism and found out later that she had Celics after changing her diet she very soon noticed some amazing results.

  • Hi Alea,

    No problem, that's what I'm here for :)

    Celiac disease certainly isn't the only gastrointestinal condition that can run in families, IBS seems to as well, for example. However, given the fact so many of your family members are affected and seem to do well when avoiding gluten I'd recommend you get properly tested for celiac disease so you know for sure. If your results are positive then perhaps that will convince your mum and sister to get tested as well.

    Good luck!

    Comment last edited on about 8 years ago by Maff
  • Hi Alea,

    Thanks for posting your experiences with a gluten-free diet. It sounds like many of us, you have really benefitted from it. Does anyone else in your family have celiac disease? It is considered hereditary so people who have the disease tend to have close relatives with the condition. You could always have a blood test done which would give a good indication, they are very cheap nowadays. The ones to go for are either anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTGA) or anti-endomysial antibodies (EMA).

    Great news that you have been doing so well on Martin Pall's protocol for MCS as well. Many visitors with MCS are reporting great results - which isn't surprising if you have read any of Dr. Pall's work. For those who haven't I'd recommend starting here: Multiple Chemical Sensitivity - The End of Controversy

    Alea, whether you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity if you stay away from those nasty cupcakes you should start to feel better again without any lasting effects as your immune and nervous systems regain their balance. I hope you feel better soon and thanks again for sharing :)

    Comment last edited on about 8 years ago by Maff
  • I was diagnosed with IBS around 1995. In 2005 I went to see an Integrative Dr and he told me that I was misdiagnosed that I was sensitive to gluten, and he put me on a gluten free diet. I really don't know if I have celiac disease because I didn't do any test. but I am still on the gluten free diet, since then all my digestive problems are gone. I do the diet very strictly but once in a while (every 2 or 3 moths) I eat something with gluten and experience neurological symptoms, like last friday, I ate a cupcake! OMG! It was terrible, I was with migraine/headache, nausea, dizziness, confusion for 3 days.... I regret it so badly! I was doing so good on Dr Martin Pall's protocol (I have MCS) until the cupcake!!

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