The celiac community and most of the population is aware of how gluten affects the digestive system, causing damage in the intestinal wall as well as diarrhea, vomit and abdominal distention. However, there are patients without enteropathy that releave their symptoms when they follow a Gluten Free Diet (GFD). This is because gluten acts as a neurotoxin sometimes, affecting the nervous system and the brain. Indeed, it has been demonstrated that these neuropathies caused by gluten affect celiac patients as well as patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Extradigestive expressions of celiac disease are more frequent than the digestives symptoms. Therefore, we cannot forget the damaging effect that gluten causes in the rest of systems in our body, as it may develop osteoporosis, lymphomas or others neurological pathologies, which is the issue at hand.
Researches point to a direct relation between gluten and neurological diseases like ataxia, multiple sclerosis, polyneuritis, epilepsy, migraine and Tourette syndrome. But on the positive side, scientists have discovered that usually patients (celiacs or not) with brain damage caused by gluten, minimize their symptoms when following a strict gluten free diet for the whole life.
Ataxia is the most well-known disease among all the pathologies affecting the brain due to gluten. Cerebellar ataxia causes balance disorders because it affects the part in the brain responsible of coordinating the movements. If the doctor discovers there is celiac disease behind this problem, he would recommend eliminating the gluten from the diet, because this treatment can improve or even get rid of the symptoms. Multiple sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease which may causes permanent disability. It only treatment is with immunosuppressant drugs which doesn’t stop the disease progress, however, many patients get better when stop eating gluten.
Polyneuritis is a swelling of the nerves, mainly of the limbs. Feet, legs and hands stop working normally, loosing strength and sensitivity. Polyneuritis is common in the clinical profile of the celiac patient and we also know that it can affects patients suffering from gluten neuropathies. Epilepsy is also investigated, but in this case we are talking about a disorder caused by an increase of the electrical activity of neurons in certain points. Gluten can reach these affected points, so stop eating it reduce the frequency and intensity of the epileptic seizures. Migraine and Tourette syndrome are others of the pathologies related to the effects of gluten in the brain. In both cases it has been proved that the gluten-free diet has a positive effect on some of these people.
Benefits of following a gluten-free diet
Eliminating the gluten protein in the diet of the patients suffering from neurological diseases previously mentioned, is not the definitive solution to all the clinical cases, but it do help in many cases, according to the researches. Anyhow, patients must follow the diet strictly to see recovery in a 1 or 3 year period.
For the diagnosed celiac patients presenting any of the neurological symptoms caused by gluten, it is recommended a diet revision, since an infringement of the gluten-free diet may occur with small gluten intakes responsible of the brain damage. In case of the non-celiac patients, like those with epileptic disorders, it is recommended to try the gluten-free diet during a reasonable period of time, as it will not cause damage and may minimize their symptoms.