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Gluten is a Neuro Toxin Regardless of Your Sensitivity

Exploring Gluten

Gluten, found in wheat, rye, and barley, isn’t just about food. Its impact goes beyond mere dietary concerns, with various disorders linked to its consumption. An estimated 5% of people globally might be affected by gluten-related issues. [1] These include celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, dermatitis herpetiformis, wheat allergy, and gluten ataxia.

When you are gluten intolerant, consuming gluten can lead to discomfort – think bloating, gas, and fatigue. In this article, we’ll explore Gluten as a neurotoxin regardless of your gluten sensitivity status.

What is Gluten Sensitivity? – A Comprehensive Overview

Gluten sensitivity – aka non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) – is a complex and increasingly recognized condition affecting many individuals worldwide. It is distinct from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten consumption, and wheat allergy, an immune response to certain proteins found in wheat.

Common gluten sensitivity symptoms include gastrointestinal distress (such as bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea), fatigue, headaches, joint pain, and mood disturbances. These symptoms typically occur within hours or days of gluten ingestion and can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life.

What is Gluten?

Gluten – a protein present in grains like barley, rye, and wheat– is often debated and misunderstood. However, it isn’t a solo player. It’s a cluster of proteins known as prolamins. These proteins reside in wheat, rye, barley, and a blend called triticale. In wheat, the main prolamins are gliadin and glutenin. [2]

These proteins don’t break down completely during digestion. Enzymes from the pancreas, stomach, and intestinal lining can’t fully dismantle them. This happens because these proteins boast proline, an amino acid that resists digestion.

The incompletely digested proteins transform into smaller fragments referred to as peptides. These peptides cross the intestinal barrier, entering the body. In certain individuals, they trigger inflammation, affecting various body parts.

It’s worth noting that gluten’s resistance to digestion isn’t limited to those with celiac disease; it’s a shared trait. Early research pinpointed gluten as the culprit behind non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This condition emerged with symptoms like leaky and inflamed intestines, separate from celiac disease.

The Link Between Gluten and Neurotoxicity

Understanding how gluten interacts with your nervous system is crucial to know its impact as a neurotoxin. This connection is more than just food-related – it’s about how gluten might influence your brain and nerves.

Gluten-related neurological disorders (GRND) form a spectrum of neurological manifestations triggered by gluten consumption. While the basic mechanisms remain unclear, recent research highlights the potential neurotoxicity of gluten.

Understanding Neurotoxicity and Neurotoxins

Neurotoxicity refers to the harm caused to the nervous system, encompassing the brain and nerves, by neurotoxins. Gluten acts as a possible neurotoxin, a substance that can harm the nervous system and disrupt the normal functioning of nerve cells.

The Role of Gluten in Brain Inflammation

Research suggests that gluten might be more than just a digestive issue. Brain inflammation – caused by gluten – can result in a phenomenon known as “brain fog.” Unlike other body parts, the brain lacks pain receptors, explaining the dulled sensation experienced. The pressure from brain inflammation against the skull might contribute to conditions like dementia and other brain disorders.

Dr. Rodney Ford, an experienced Australian pediatric gastroenterologist, has conducted research that links a range of illnesses to wheat and other grains. [3] Despite facing skepticism from colleagues and the media, Dr. Ford remains dedicated to raising awareness about the effects of gluten. His findings indicate that gluten isn’t just a dietary concern – it could actually contribute to brain and nerve diseases.

Impact of Gluten as a Neurotoxin on Central Inflammation

When we consider gluten, we often consider its association with digestive issues. However, recent research suggests that the impact of gluten goes beyond our gut – it extends to our brain’s health and inflammation.

Gluten and Hypothalamic Inflammation

Studies involving mice have revealed intriguing insights into the relationship between gluten and inflammation in the brain. [4] In these studies, gluten was added to both low-fat and high-fat diets. The results were thought-provoking: mice on the high-fat diet with added gluten showed increased body mass and adiposity compared to those without gluten. More importantly, gluten triggered a noticeable increase in microglia and astrocytes – types of brain cells – in a region called the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus. [5] This region plays a pivotal role in regulating our metabolism.

Types of Gluten-Related Conditions

When it comes to the impact of gluten on our health, there’s more than meets the eye. There are five common types of gluten-related conditions:

1.   Celiac Disease

Celiac disease stands as one of the most recognized gluten-related conditions. It’s an autoimmune disorder where the immune system reacts adversely to gluten proteins. Consuming gluten triggers damage in the small intestine, resulting in symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating.

Prolonged exposure to gluten can lead to serious consequences such as bone density loss, weight loss, anemia, seizures, and muscle weakness. The prevalence varies across countries, affecting around 1-2% of the U.S. population. [7]

2.   Wheat Allergy

Distinct from celiac disease, a wheat allergy involves an allergic reaction to some proteins present in wheat. Wheat allergy can manifest in severe symptoms, even life-threatening anaphylaxis. [8]

Unlike celiac disease, wheat allergy involves immediate immune responses mediated by IgE antibodies, triggering the release of inflammatory substances like histamine. This response can occur not only through consumption but also through inhalation of wheat particles. Wheat allergy is more common in children but can affect adults as well.

3.   Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS)

For some, reactions to gluten occur despite lacking celiac disease or wheat allergy. This condition, known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), might impact up to 13% of the population. [9] Symptoms include G.I. issues like bloating and diarrhea and non-GI symptoms like anxiety, headaches, and fatigue.

NCGS has links with immune responses and is more prevalent in individuals with autoimmune diseases. Though its exact cause is debated, avoiding gluten through a gluten-free diet is recommended.

4.   Dermatitis Herpetiformis (D.H.)

D.H. is a unique gluten-related condition characterized by a persistent itchy skin rash with blisters and bumps. It’s an autoimmune response triggered by gluten consumption. While individuals with celiac disease might also have D.H., the reverse is not always true.

5.   Gluten Ataxia

Gluten ataxia targets the cerebellum, a part of the brain responsible for coordination and balance. This condition can lead to walking, limb coordination, eye movements, and speech difficulties. It’s worth noting that even without a family history of ataxia, gluten ataxia can occur, making up a significant portion of cases.

Other Gluten-Related Neurological Symptoms and Conditions

The impact of gluten on the neurological system extends beyond the surface. Both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity present various symptoms, ranging from brain fog and headaches to tingling in extremities. However, Gluten is linked to causing some other neurological symptoms and conditions: 

Epilepsy, Depression, and Anxiety

Epilepsy, characterized by irregular brain neuron activity resulting in seizures, intersects with celiac disease, occasionally revealing an infrequent combination of epilepsy and occipital calcifications.

Simultaneously, depression and anxiety find an enigmatic affinity with gluten-related conditions. Research highlights elevated rates of these mental challenges among individuals with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, though the intricate connections remain largely uncharted.

Migraines and Vertigo

Migraines are known for afflicting those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. And vertigo, a sensation of instability and spinning, potentially links to Meniere’s disease in the orbit of celiac disease.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy, a sensation of tingling often experienced by individuals with gluten sensitivity, originates from nerve damage in the extremities.

Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder

The intricate interplay of gluten extends to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Indicators emerge, suggesting higher occurrences of bipolar disorder among those with celiac or gluten sensitivity. The intriguing link between antibodies and manic episodes adds depth to the enigmatic fusion of gluten and the mind.

Autoimmune Brain Damage

When gluten prompts the body to target its own tissues, a trio of gluten-induced autoimmune conditions emerge: celiac disease (intestinal damage), dermatitis herpetiformis (skin damage), and gluten ataxia (brain damage). Within gluten ataxia, the immune system zeroes in on the cerebellum, the brain’s coordination center. While it remains a rare condition, its impact reverberates – mirroring symptoms in a broader sphere of those with celiac or gluten sensitivity.

The Bottom Line

Gluten, a protein present in rye, barley, and wheat, has emerged as a potential neurotoxin for neurological effects that extend beyond sensitivity concerns. Recent scientific investigations have shed light on its capacity to initiate inflammation within the brain, consequently giving rise to symptoms such as the commonly experienced brain fog.

Reference

  1. Elli, L., Branchi, F., Tomba, C., Villalta, D., Norsa, L., Ferretti, F., Roncoroni, L., & Bardella, M. T. (2015, June 21). Diagnosis of gluten related disorders: Celiac disease, wheat allergy and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. World journal of gastroenterology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4476872/
  2. Niland, B., & Cash, B. D. (2018, February). Health benefits and adverse effects of a gluten-free diet in non-celiac disease patients. Gastroenterology & hepatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5866307/
  3. Andrea, A. (2013, November 7). Gluten is a neurotoxin. Smart About Sugar. https://smartaboutsugar.co.uk/gluten-neurotoxin/
  4. Rizwan, M. Z. (2023). Dietary wheat gluten induces astro‐ and … – Wiley Online Library. Wiley onlinelibrary. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jne.13326
  5. Author, A. (2023, August 8). Wheat gluten spurs brain inflammation. Neuroscience News. https://neurosciencenews.com/gluten-neuroinflammation-23773/
  6. Author, A. (2021, July 13). Gluten: A benefit or harm to the body?. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/gluten/
  7. Parzanese, I., Qehajaj, D., Patrinicola, F., Aralica, M., Chiriva-Internati, M., Stifter, S., Elli, L., & Grizzi, F. (2017, May 15). Celiac disease: From pathophysiology to treatment. World journal of gastrointestinal pathophysiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5437500/
  8. Balakireva, A. V., & Zamyatnin, A. A. (2016, October 18). Properties of gluten intolerance: Gluten structure, evolution, pathogenicity and detoxification capabilities. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5084031/
  9. Roszkowska, A., Pawlicka, M., Mroczek, A., Bałabuszek, K., & Nieradko-Iwanicka, B. (2019, May 28). Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: A review. Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6630947/