Gluten sensitivity and the brain

The parents of a 9-year-old girl called Karen brought their worries to Dr David Perlmutter, a certified neurologist, describing her symptoms as a difficulty in thinking and focussing. They stated that at times she seemed fine, whilst at other times her brain function was clearly different. Because of her problems her parents decided to home school her, and Karen was several grades behind the level normal for a nine year old. Karen was in good health, with no significant medical problems in the past or present, but what caught the doctor’s attention was the fact that her problems were not constant, suggesting that the key to her symptoms may have lain in her diet.

Subsequent blood tests showed that Karen had a profound sensitivity to gluten, and after being put on a gluten-free diet her problems disappeared, allowing her to regain her fallen grades in leaps and bounds.

The link between gluten and the brain is becoming better known, and Dr Maios Hadjivassiliou has written in a report published in The Lancet, that ‘gluten sensitivity can be primarily and at times, exclusively a neurological disease’, meaning that some people with gluten sensitivity can have issues with brain function without any gastrointestinal problems at all. Gluten sensitivity is caused by elevated levels of antibodies against a component of gluten called gliadin. When the antibodies combine with gliadin, specific genes in a specific type of immune cell in the body are turned on, and it is these immune cells which create the cytokines which have such a devastating impact on the brain. This is because the brain does not like inflammation and responds negatively to the presence of cytokines. Elevated cytokine levels are seen in people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, autism and multiple sclerosis.

One percent of Americans (3 million people) are gluten sensitive, and of that number, 230,000 are children. Despite being so widespread, gluten sensitivity is still relatively obscure.

Source: Huffington Post


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