This is your Brain. This is your Brain on Gluten.

We don’t fully understand the immune system.  We recognize, realize, and know that it is a defensive system; it sees a threat and attacks.  It senses a virus and alarms sound, “Intruder! Intruder!”

It raises body temperature to make the environment unlivable for viruses and bacteria.  It releases histamine, fighter cells, white blood cells and so many others in effort to regulate the body system and maintain homeostasis.

What happens when the immune system stops seeing invaders and begins to see itself as the invader?  This is the simplified version of what happens in the celiac.  Gluten comes in, spurs a response, immune cells go crazy and attack the person with celiac rather than the gluten.  The average person consumes 10 to 50 grams of gluten per day.  The FDA label guidelines for gluten free products is a gluten allowance of less than 20 ppm.  A celiac reacts to less than 20 ppm – what is happening in the undiagnosed celiac?

A case study was published in 1998 in the European Journal of Pediatrics describing a 15 year old boy.  This boy presented with epilepsy and cerebral calcifications (in layspeak, that’s solidified spots on the brain).  He was referred for further treatment due to assumed systemic lupus erythematosus. His antigliadin levels and anti-endomysium antibody tests were elevated.  An upper endoscopy was checked and showed chronic inflammation.  He was sent home with a gluten containing diet.  His antibody levels continued to increase and after another 15 months went by, he was sent for another endoscopy.  This time showing findings consistent with celiac disease.  He was started on supplements and on a gluten free diet.  Two years later, he was still showing folate malabsorption and only minimal changes to his epilepsy and calcifications.  For this kiddo, the long term and chronic folate deficiency and absorption issues led to epilepsy and cerebral calcifications.  The article doesn’t mention if those items improve.

According to the Official Journal of Japanese Society of Neuropathology, up to 8% of patients with gluten sensitivity will develop neurologic symptoms.

What’s a neurologic symptom?

  • Ataxia
  • Dementia
  • Seizures
  • Peripheral Neuropathy

More research articles link depression, migraines, dizziness/lightheaded, difficulty with movements.

My own symptoms include the celiac “brain fog” – even when I’m exposed.  I start to answer questions funny, I feel “weird” and unlike myself.  I walk into the walls and lose my depth perception.  I will feel “airy” or almost “out of body” sometimes.  It’s improved dramatically since I’ve been on a gluten free diet but if I’m exposed… I struggle.

We understand so little about celiac disease.  We understand so little about the immune system and why we are developing allergies, developing such crazy auto-immune diseases. They say celiac disease is found in 1% of the population.  I wonder if we’re getting it wrong and it’s more.

Is it the Hygiene Hypothesis to blame?   How many of you, out there in internet land, experience neurologic symptoms?  Is the 8% number accurate?

More Resources:

Wikipedia on Celiac Disease

Gluten Dude & the Fog Of Celiac Disease

WebMD & Celiac Fog

New York Times on Celiac & Neurological Symptoms

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