New Study Links Gluten Sensitivity to Brain Failure
Celiac disease, may in fact be the most common disease of mankind, affecting about 1% of humanity. It is generally described as being a chronic digestive disorder, caused by an increased sensitivity to gluten, a common protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Typically, medical texts describe various gastrointestinal manifestations of this disease including malnutrition, a distended abdomen, and the passage of stools having a high fat content.
New research on celiac disease indicates that it can have a profound effect on the nervous system. In fact a physician in Great Britain, Dr. Maios Hadjivassiliou, who is a recognized world authority on gluten sensitivity, reported in the journal, The Lancet, that gluten sensitivity can actually be at times exclusively a neurological disease. That means that people can be showing symptoms of gluten sensitivity by having issues with brain function without any gastrointestinal problems whatsoever.
Researchers in Israel have described neurological problems in 51 percent of children with gluten sensitivity. They also have described a link between gluten sensitivity and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Actually, the link between gluten sensitivity and problems with brain function, including learning disabilities, and even memory problems, is not that difficult to understand. Gluten sensitivity is caused by elevated levels of antibodies against a component of gluten called gliadin. This antibody (the antigliadin antibody) combines with gliadin when a person is exposed to any gluten-containing food like wheat, barley or rye.
When this happens, protein-specific genes are turned on in a special type of immune cell in the body. When these genes are turned on, inflammatory chemicals called cytokines are created. Cytokines, which are the chemical mediators of inflammation, are directly detrimental to brain function. In fact, elevated levels of cytokines are seen in such devastating conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and even autism. Essentially, the brain does not like inflammation and responds quite negatively to the presence of cytokines.
In a recent issue of Archives of Neurology (http://archneur.ama-assn.org), Mayo Clinic researchers reported a strong relationship between celiac disease and declining brain function. The authors described coincidental problems of both gastrointestinal as well as brain function in a surprisingly high number of individuals. Interestingly, in describing their patients they report,
cognitive impairment associated with celiac disease was never the initial clinical diagnosis. They further ask clinicians for
a reevaluation of the role of celiac disease in causing cognitive impairment [as it] has the potential of expanding the narrow spectrum of treatable dementia.
So the take home message, from a preventative perspective, is to ask your doctor to do a simple blood test for gluten sensitivity before you suspect you are one taco short of a combo platter.