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The Gluten – Brain Connection: How Gluten-Reactivity Destroys the Brain

Most people, when they hear or read about gluten, think that gluten reactivity (sensitivity) only pertains to those folks who suffer from Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease whereby the immune system is triggered to attack and destroy the lining of the intestines. This could not be further from the truth.

Statistically speaking, it is estimated that only 10-20% of people that are gluten reactive have celiac disease. The scarier reality is that it is estimated that approximately 80% of the population is gluten-reactive (while only 3 % have celiac).

What could gluten reactivity be doing to your body if it’s not affecting your gut? It could be responsible for anything from headaches to weight gain, joint pain to memory loss, even heart disease and diabetes. Or worse…

Gluten reactivity (sensitivity) contributes to many brain degenerative disorders and diseases, from mild depression to autism to schizophrenia and all the way up to progressive degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, Parkinson’s, as well as other neural autoimmune diseases. In fact, it is likely that gluten reactivity is at the heart of most cases of auto-immunity, anything from psoriasis to rheumatoid arthritis to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Autism and Gluten – Gluten-reactivity has been found to be a significant issue in children with autism.1,2Rising at a rate of 15% per year, this disease is ravaging our pediatric population. It is a multifactorial disease with several contributing factors, gluten reactivity being one of them. Research shows that autistic children have a higher predilection or celiac disease and/or gluten reactivity, as well as other common cross-reactive proteins found in dairy.3,4,5 In the case of the autistic child, they may be, due to the mother’s autoimmunity, autoimmune to their own brain tissue and the autoimmune attack on the brain may be triggered by exposure to gluten. This is because the proteins in the brain that become attacked are similar in structure to gluten and digested gluten bi-products. Every time the child eats gluten, his/her immune system may be triggered to attack not only the gluten, but also their own brain tissue.

ADD/ADHD – These are the most common behavioral disorders in children. Many doctors and researchers are finding that placing these children on a gluten-free diet benefits the child significantly.6,7 The elimination of gluten, dairy and food additives and preservatives may be challenging, but well worth it if the child is able to function normally.

Mild Depression to Schizophrenia–Many cases of celiac disease do not present with gut symptoms. In many cases, the disease manifests as depression, bipolar disorder, or even schizophrenia. One study revealed that schizophrenics have a higher rate of gluten-reactivity than non-schizophrenics.8Another study showed that eliminated gluten caused schizophrenia in patients to abate, while the return of gluten to the diet caused the schizophrenia to flare-up.9Gluten reactivity has been described by some scientists as a systemic autoimmune disease with diverse manifestations whereby many individuals manifest solely with neurological symptoms.14 If you’re feeling down, suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or any depression, it is recommended that you remove gluten entirely from your diet.

Gluten Ataxia – One of the most common effects on the nervous system in gluten-reactivity is known as cerebellar ataxia. The cerebellum is the small primitive part of the brain that maintains balance, posture and position in space. Ataxia can be defined as a ‘sudden, uncoordinated muscle movement due to disease or injury to the cerebellum of the brain’.Gait can be affected as well as speech. People may stagger around, stumble and trip easily, have slurred speech or unusual face and eye movement. If the ataxia is a result of gluten-reactivity, it is likely that the immune response to gluten has also triggered a similar immune response to a protein in the cerebellum that is similar in structure to gluten. You attack the gluten and you attack your brain! This is progressive and irreversible, BUT improvement is often seen when gluten is completely eliminated from the diet. The message here is that if gluten is causing your brain degeneration, then continuing to expose yourself to it will lead to further and further permanent degeneration.

 Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Parkinson’s – Researchers have discovered that gluten-reactivity is a likely contribute to the onset and progression of brain degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.10,11 The mechanism is similar in some cases to gluten ataxia, but different areas of the brains and different proteins come under attack by the immune system in the brain. Cumulative exposure to gluten over a lifetime, if one is reactive, can lead to triggering the immune system in the brain to attack brain tissue, leading to progressively worsening degeneration.

As with most things, prevention is the key. When it comes to the brain, it is critical. Once brain degeneration is set in motion, particularly if it’s related to your immune system attacking it, it is difficult to stop, usually irreversible, so the best option is to prevent it in the first place.

So, if you’ve been noticing that you’ve been forgetting where you last put your car keys, or you’ve been forgetting names of people and places, then consider cutting out gluten to save your brain from further destruction. If you’ve been down and blue, or simply can’t seem to concentrate as easily as you once could – go gluten-free.

It is not that difficult. For more information on how to easily transition to a gluten-free diet or more information on topics such as diabetes, thyroid conditions , weight loss, buying organic foods, lowering cholesterol naturally and more please contact us.

We have a Wellness Center located in Annapolis, Maryland:

Living Health Chiropractic and Functional Medicine
1833 A Forest Dr.
Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 216-9180


Our newly released book also educates and guides you to a gluten-free lifestyle:
Lose the Gluten, Lose your Gut. Ditch the Grain, Save your Brain
Purchase this book with The Skinny Docs

For more information on health related topics, visit us at

1 Vojdani, A. et al.Immune response to dietary proteins, gliadin and cerebellar peptides in children with autism.Nutri Neuroscience, 2004; 7(3):151-161.
2 Vojdani, A. et al. Infections, toxic chemicals and dietary peptides binding to lymphocyte receptors and tissue enzymes are major instigators of autoimmunity in autism. Intl J ImmunopatholPharmacol, 2003; 16(3):189-199.
3 Marti LF.Effectiveness of nutritional interventions on the functioning of children with ADHD.BolAsoc Med P R. 2010, Oct-Dec; 102(4):31-42.
4 Reichelt KL, KnivsbergAM. The possibility and probability of a gut-to-brain connection in autism. Ann Clin Psychiatry. 2009 Oct-Dec;21(4):205-11.
5 Elder JH. The gluten-free, casein-free diet in autism: an overview with clinical implications. NutrClinPract. 2008 Dec -2009 Jan;23(6):583-8.
6 Lakhan SE, Vieira KF.Nutritional therapies for mental disorders.Nutr J. 2008 Jan 21;7:2.
7 Plesser LM, et al. Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behavior of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomized controlled trial. Lancet. Feb 2011;377(9764): 494-503.
8 Dickerson F. et al.Markers of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease in recent-onset psychosis and multi-episode schizophrenia.Biol Psychiatry. 2010 Jul 1;68(1):100-4.
9 Dickerson F. et al. Markers of gluten sensitivity in acute mania: a longitudinal study. Psychiatry Res.2012 Mar 2, (Epub ahead of print).
10 Manek S, Lew MF.Gait and Balance Dysfunction in Adults.Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2003 Mar;5(2):177-185.
11 Lurie Y, et al. Celiac disease diagnosed in the elderly. J ClinGastroenterol. 2008 Jan;42(1):59-61.

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