Research shows most cases of gluten sensitivity manifest in the brain — not the gut. Gluten’s impact on the brain is so well established that some researchers refer to gluten sensitivity as a neurological disease.
Gluten is one of the most immune reactive foods — no other food is more of a trigger for neurological dysfunction and neurological autoimmunity than gluten.
This stems in part from the intimate relationship between the gut and the brain. The foods we eat and our gut health have a profound impact on brain health.
For instance, studies show immune cells in the gastrointestinal tract called enteric glial cells trigger the brain’s immune cells, or astroglial cells.
This means gut inflammation and food sensitivities can cause brain inflammation and trigger brain autoimmunity, accelerating brain degeneration and causing a wide range of symptoms, depending on the person.
Symptoms can include:
- Brain fog
- Memory loss
- Anxiety disorders
- Cognitive decline
- Poor focus and concentration
- Neuromotor issues
- Psychiatric disorders
- Early hearing loss
- Dementia, and so on.
Various reactions to gluten
Most neurological literature shows that gluten sensitivity can be primarily — and at times exclusively — a neurological disease.
You don’t have to have celiac disease for this to be the case as it also holds true for gluten sensitivity (when the immune system produces antibodies to gluten). Although celiac disease can also present solely as neurological symptoms.
Research shows that two thirds of people who produce antibodies to gluten manifest their symptoms neurologically. These individuals may not have any gastrointestinal complaints at all.
When either celiac disease or gluten sensitivity causes brain symptoms, a strict gluten-free diet can bring about a profound reversal of symptoms.
You may also need to remove dairy from the diet as it cross reacts with gluten, meaning the immune system mistakes dairy for gluten.
Most doctors overlook the impact of gluten on the brain
Published research and laboratory investigations have found that gastrointestinal inflammation from gluten sensitivity can lead to white matter lesions in the brain. White matter lesions are areas of damage seen on MRIs in neurodegenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Even inflammatory bowel disease has been shown to cause white matter lesions due to the gut-brain relationship, or gut-brain axis.
Even though research has established a link between gluten and neurological diseases, most doctors overlook this mechanism in clinical scenarios.
Neurologists typically don’t look at gastrointestinal mechanisms — they don’t do gastrointestinal or food protein sensitivity testing, and they don’t evaluate for celiac disease. Those matters are left to the gastroenterologist.
However, because most people with neurological problems don’t have gut complaints, they typically don’t land in the office of a gastroenterologist.
Also, the standard health care model typically only considers celiac disease and not gluten sensitivity.
Standard gluten sensitivity testing misses most diagnoses
Standard testing for gluten sensitivity falls short. That’s because it only tests for alpha-gliadin, when people can have an immune reaction to many different compounds in wheat. To truly screen for a gluten sensitivity, you need to test for immune antibodies to all of these compounds.
To learn more, read my article, What type of gluten intolerance do you have?
How gluten cross-reactivity can damage the brain
Cross-reactivity, also known as molecular mimicry, is one of the scariest ways gluten impacts the brain. This occurs when the immune system mistakes brain tissue for gluten and attacks and destroys the tissue. It does this because both gluten and brain tissue have proteins made up from identical amino acid sequences.
The part of the brain called the cerebellum is extremely sensitive to gluten. When people have antibodies to gluten, those antibodies can also bind to cerebellar tissue, signaling the immune system to attack, destroy, and remove the tissue.
This is called cerebellar ataxia and can lead to poor balance, increased anxiety, sound and light sensitivity, being easily overwhelmed, and other symptoms.
Learn more in my online courses
If these symptoms apply to you, a strict gluten-free diet can have profound results. You may also need to eliminate foods that cross react with gluten, such as dairy and some or all grains.
To watch the one-hour webinar talk and Q&A on this topic, please visit this link.
To learn more about these concepts and how to manage your condition, I recommend two online courses: