Gluten and the Nervous System

This is something my colleagues and I have been familiar with for quite some time, but a new report published in the Lancet Neurology demonstrates further proof that an intolerance to gluten containing foods can cause much more than just digestive symptoms.

Sensitivities beyond celiac

“Celiac disease is only one
aspect of a range of possible manifestations of gluten sensitivity. In
some individuals, gluten sensitivity is shown to manifest solely with
neurological dysfunction,” the authors of the new report explain.

Neurological
disorders that might be tied to a gluten sensitivity include a lack of
muscle coordination leading to instability (ataxia), tingling and
numbness (neuropathies), and migraine-like headaches (encephalopathy).
The authors go on to say that the tests that help to establish a
diagnosis of celiac disease may not reliably show if a person has a
gluten sensitivity that affects only their nervous system. For this
reason, they suggest other tests that may help uncover a hidden gluten
sensitivity in people suffering from certain neurological disorders.

The
report’s authors recommend, “To improve diagnosis rates, the perception
of physicians that gluten sensitivity is solely a disease of the gut
must be changed.”

If you think you have a gluten sensitivity


Get medical support. Identifying and treating a gluten
sensitivity can help you avoid serious complications.

Be
proactive
. Ask your naturopathic doctor if he or she is familiar with the tests
that are useful for identifying different types of gluten sensitivities,
or if he or she can refer you to someone who is.

Pay
attention
. If you think your symptoms might be related to gluten,
consider a six-week gluten-free diet trial. If you’re going in for lab
work, though, eat your normal diet so your test will gauge your regular
reactions.

Living with a gluten sensitivity

Gluten
sensitivity is in the spotlight, so there’s never been an easier time to
go gluten-free. New food packaging requirements mandate that
gluten-free foods be accurately labeled, and gluten-free cookbooks
abound on bookstore shelves. Ask your grocer whether they can recommend
books, recipes, and other resources to help.

(Lancet Neurol
2010;9:318-30)