Friday, September 17, 2010

Questions re: Gluten, Glutamate and Neurological Disease

I received very good questions from readers of the recent blog post entitled: "Gluten, Glutamate and Neurological Disease", two of which follow. 
“Do you think that patients with neurological issues are sensitive to gluten in amounts well below the proposed standard of 20ppm?” “Also that it takes longer to recover from mistakes when the reaction is neurological.”

“I have also been prescribed a product with glutamate in it by a Naturopathic doctor. I have taken glutamine in the past to heal the gut, but this formula is to induce a sense of calm. Now I am wondering if it is safe...”

Glutamine is often used by health practitioners for its ability to help heal the lining of the gut.  It was found in cancer patients that the use of glutamine could assist in healing and reduce nausea and vomiting associated with the disease.  Those who were in hospital receiving IV therapy due to malnutrition were similarly found to benefit from glutamine as a healing source.

We too have used glutamine for patients who seemed to require some assistance in healing the lining of their gut.  How do I feel about that approach now?  We have discussed it here at the clinic and have made the decision to avoid the use of glutamine in any patient with a personal or family history of any neurological symptoms or diseases. There are other substances that can be used to assist healing and we therefore have decided to move more towards those applications and away from prescribing glutamine in light of this recent data.

Glutamate is a neurotransmitter in the brain – it is excitatory and is the most common one in the human body. Just to comment on the supplement mentioned above, glutamate would not be used for calming, that would be the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA has an inhibitory effect, exactly opposite to that of glutamate.  The formula that the reader refers to states that it contains both GABA for its calming influence and glutamate for its excitatory effects and it strives to balance them towards the outcome of creating a calming effect. But it isn’t the glutamate that would provide that outcome, quite the opposite.

Glutamine and glutamate freely transform into one another as the body goes through various biological processes.  They are very commonly found in the human body and I am not suggesting that we can in any way eliminate either one, nor would we want to.  What I am saying is that recent research finds that the activation or stimulation of the brain’s immune system can lead to highly deleterious effects on the body’s nervous system including stroke, seizures, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. And glutamate as well as gluten (that metabolizes into glutamine) can be a source of irritation.

In a fascinating lack of differentiation, the immune system of the brain and nervous system can be whipped into action by several different sources that yet all create the same destructive effect.  In other words, a gluten sensitive person can have initiated an immune response through gluten ingestion, but later the presence of glutamate in food or infections or pesticides or any toxin can ramp up the initial irritation to the point where broad scale damage occurs.

Such damage is extreme and one wonders if the body can heal from it.  Depending on its severity I believe the answer to be yes.  The human body is rather amazing that way.  However nerves heal slowly.  If you’ve ever cut yourself anywhere perhaps you’ve noticed that it takes some time for full “feeling” to be restored to the damaged area.  That is due to the slow healing of nerves.

We therefore want to ensure that we are avoiding any sources of stress to our nervous system.  As the first reader commented above, being extra cautious in consuming gluten-free foods would be a very good idea.  If your body is undergoing neurological stress and you are walking a tightrope between the progression vs. reversion of a neurological disease, I think erring on the side of extra caution is well worth your while.

In summary, what we are really trying to achieve is an intact healthy gut (not leaky) and an immune system that’s strong and protected.  We reviewed nutritional and dietary strategies to help achieve that in the prior post so I won’t repeat them here. Suffice to say that with any neurological problems a full scale clean-up away from gluten, glutamate, infections and toxins could very well create a huge positive impact.

I hope this helps to clarify things.  Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Visit us at If you have questions or need any help, I’m here for you! Call 408-733-0400.

I look forward to hearing from you.

To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN, CFMP

IFM Certified Practitioner

Founder of Root Cause Medical Clinic
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”

Author of the eBook: “Gluten Intolerance – What You Don’t Know May Be Killing You!”


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the follow up on this. I looked at the supplements I am taking and *three* of them contain glutamine. I also am gluten intolerant. This is a concerning combination for me. I will be following up with my ND.
Thank you!

Kristi C.

The HealthNOW Doctors said...

Hello Kristi,

Remember that glutamine won't bother everyone and for those who tolerate it well it can be quite helpful in healing their intestine.

But for those who don't seem to tolerate it, have a history of neurological disease, or consume a glutamine supplement that doesn't seem to be having any positive effect, I wouldn't recommend continuing.

I hope that clears up any questions.

To your good health,
Dr Vikki

Jennifer said...


I found your site through a friend and I'm very impressed. My question is, if one is very sensitive to gluten (and MSG), and has some neuro/auto-immune history in the family, should one also be careful about dietary sources of glutamine? Or is supplemental glutamine the main concern?

Thank you.

The HealthNOW Doctors said...

Hello Jennifer,

It is really the presence of free glutamate that seems to be the potential problem. Glutamate itself is an extremely common amino acid and avoiding it would be near impossible. Fortunately it is not necessary.

However, the combination of being gluten sensitive, MSG sensitive and having a family and/or personal history of neurological disease, would make one a good candidate to be avoiding free glutamate.

While it isn't found on any labels it will be found in many highly processed foods (especially those high in protein) and foods that are cooked for an extensive period of time. It is the processing and extensive cooking that releases the bound glutamate into the free form. Avoiding fast food and highly processed foods should be a successful formula for avoiding free glutamate.

These truly are not foods that should be in a healthy diet anyway.

I hope this helps!

To your good health,
Dr Vikki

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