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The Gluten Syndrome

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





About: Matthew Hogg ("Maff")
Diagnosed with M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome aged only 11 years old and subsequently associated illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Despite his own struggles he has constantly sought to educate and support others suffering from such "invisible illnesses" through his website, The Environmental Illness Resource. He fully recovered from MCS using his own approach and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutritional Health.