Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Is Gluten Shrinking your Brain?



A recent study revealed that patients with celiac disease who also had neurological problems such as balance disturbance, headaches, or sensory loss were more likely to have abnormalities in the white matter of their brain. [Note: sensory loss includes numbness, tingling or any loss of sensation.]

What is the white matter? It makes up about half of the brain and seems to be involved in connectivity, or uniting various regions of the brain into networks that then are involved in performing mental functions. It basically provides a relay and coordination function. Researchers suspect this function based on evidence that when damage occurs to the white matter the result is a disturbance in normal mental function. White matter affects how the brain learns, even into adulthood.

The grey matter of the brain is made up of nerve cells. The grey matter includes the parts of the brain involved in muscle control plus sensory perception such as seeing, hearing, memory, emotions and speech.

Obviously, anything acting to damage these important parts of the brain should be identified promptly, in order to prevent any long term damage.

The researchers presented their findings in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry on August 20, 2012 in an article entitled, ‘Should we be 'nervous' about coeliac disease? Brain abnormalities in patients with coeliac disease referred for neurological opinion’.  One of the authors, Dr Hadjivassiliou from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, is renowned for his work in the area of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
The goal of the research was to determine the extent of brain abnormalities in celiac patients.

While it’s certainly not news that gluten can cause brain and nervous system symptoms, the extent to which this study showed significant damage to the white matter of the brain is certainly worth sharing with the general public who suffer from these symptoms and the neurologists to whom they visit to seek advice.

The study consisted of 33 diagnosed celiac patients, whose condition was confirmed by biopsy. The patients had been referred to neurologists due to primary complaints of balance disturbance, headaches or sensory loss. Each patient was compared to a control group and differences in brain volume and chemistry were evaluated. The average age of the patients was 44 years old – not an elderly population.

The study revealed that celiac patients had diminished cerebellum volume (the part of the brain that coordinates and regulates muscle activity) plus multiple regions also showed decreased grey matter density.

Thirty six percent of patients showed white matter abnormalities, quite unexpected for their age group. The highest incidence of these abnormalities was found in the headache group. They demonstrated twice the number of white matter abnormalities on MRI as compared to the other two subgroups.

Celiac patients suffering from balance disturbance were discovered to have half as many white matter abnormalities as the headache group, while patients with sensory loss revealed about a sixth of the white matter abnormalities of the headache group patients. But all groups were markedly more affected than the control group that was free of celiac disease.  
And in my opinion, one that is also supported by other research, neurological symptoms do not solely occur in the celiac. Those suffering with gluten sensitivity often have more neurological symptoms than the classic celiac patient. Does this mean their brain function is equally affected? I wouldn’t be surprised based on my clinical experience, but we don’t yet have research findings to support this. 

Many patients know their personal association with nervous system malfunction and gluten. If they ingest it by accident or on purpose, the headache, brain fog, loss of balance, etc is a well known repercussion. But did anyone for an instant consider they could be creating permanent brain damage? That they could be compromising the size and function of their brain? Not likely. But this study reveals that such an outcome is indeed possible.

What should be our take-away from this study?
1.       If you or anyone you know suffers from headaches, imbalance problems, sensory problems or any sort of nervous system imbalance, including seizures and depression, a thorough work-up for gluten sensitivity is an excellent idea.
2.       If you are currently the patient of a neurologist, please share this information with them. Whether gluten intolerance is germane to your condition or not, increasing the awareness of your neurologist on this topic will likely benefit many of his or her patients who are gluten intolerant and are unaware of it.
3.       Share this with your family doctor. If you think of the sheer number of people who complain of headaches and the likelihood that a percentage of them are gluten intolerant and causing brain damage, you would be doing a humanitarian service to enlighten your doctor to something that he or she has likely not considered.

I hope this was helpful. Early brain degeneration is a scary prospect. Anything that can be done to avoid perception and acuity loss is well worth it, especially when the solution is as simple as changing your diet.

Please contact me with any questions you may have. If you or someone you care about is suffering from any nervous system problems, consider calling us for a free health analysis – 408-733-0400 - we are here to help!

If you don’t live locally to HealthNOW, that isn’t a problem. Our destination clinic sees patients from across the country and internationally.


To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen D.C, C.C.N


Reference:


Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 2012 Dec;83(12):1216-21. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2012-303281. Epub 2012 Aug 20.
Should we be 'nervous' about coeliac disease? Brain abnormalities in patients with coeliac disease referred for neurological opinion.

1 comment:

Cristina said...

yes, I have white brain abnormalities and this article is very important. Thanks