Thursday, December 09, 2010

Gluten and how it may affect a developing Brain

A reader submitted a question that I wanted to answer here because it brings up two incredibly important issues. First is the question of gluten “challenges” and second is the effect gluten has on the brain.

Here is her question:
“I was diagnosed with Celiac Sprue at age 12 after having suffered my entire life. After that they had me do two challenges, one at age 13 and one at age 14. Both left me sick for months. I am a person that responds to eating gluten in both physical and mental ways. When I slip I get depressed, anxious, and have mood swings. My question is if eating gluten can affect the brain and actually cause lesions, what happens when a person has undiagnosed Celiac Sprue during the time that the brain is still maturing?”

You may think that because Catherine is likely an adult that her gluten “challenges” occurred more than 10+ years ago and such things wouldn’t happen today.  I wish that were true, and honestly little gets me more upset than hearing from someone that they were “made” to challenge gluten for several weeks in order to re-do a biopsy or other celiac testing procedure, only to get incredibly ill as a result.

As I’ve stated before I am not against celiac testing. But there are times when one needs to evaluate what is the greatest good. When a person has “suffered [her] entire life” prior to being diagnosed, only to remove gluten from her diet and feel vastly improved, what really is the point of doing a challenge?  And since the first challenge left her “sick for months”, what on earth could be the justification for doing another one?  It certainly wasn’t because her symptoms were subtle. She clearly states that she feels ill both physically and mentally when any gluten enters her diet.

Yet this happens often – too often.  I hear about it personally from our patients, not to mention those who write to me.  My biggest concern is that a gluten challenge will cause the body’s immune system to cross a threshold from which it cannot be brought back with the result being an autoimmune disease.  I have seen this all too often which is why you’ve heard me refer to gluten challenges and cheating as playing Russian roulette. It has been well established that untreated gluten intolerance shortens one’s life span.  It too has been well established that gluten is a frequent root cause of autoimmune disease.  I never see a good reason to do a gluten challenge in an individual who “knows” they are sensitive – it certainly violates the oath to “do no harm”.

Catherine goes on to ask a good question about how gluten may affect a developing brain. As I mentioned, the inflammatory and autoimmune effects of gluten upon the nervous system are well established.  The symptoms created are numerous and include depression, chronic headaches or migraines, ADD/ADHD, autism, developmental delay, poor memory, schizophrenia and more. The degree to which gluten affects the nervous system is likely dependent on several factors, specifically, the presence of a leaky gut, a genetic predisposition, the presence of gluten in the diet, and the health of the immune system.  Factors in utero are highly related to the health and diet of the mother, in addition to the genetics of both parents. All these variables likely go to answering the question of why some people seem to “come out of the womb” ill from gluten, while others can live many decades before it becomes a problem.

Dr David Perlmutter has and continues to do some excellent work in this area.  Just recently he was published on Huffington Post so you can read more there.

Is gluten, in its current state, truly good for anyone? With the recent research revealing that many develop celiac disease later in life, one really starts to wonder…

I hope this data is helpful.  If you'd like to improve your health, consider calling us for a free health analysis - call 408-733-0400.. We are a destination clinic and treat patients from across the country and internationally. You don't need to live local to us to receive help.

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!”


Megan @ MAID in Alaska said...

I really appreciate the information you post on your blog, & just wanted to say thank you! I have psoriatic arthritis & raynauds; my 5 year old was diagnosed with psoriasis at age 4 and my 2 year old is either gluten intolerant or celiac. We are a gluten free family (among other things) and the journey back to controlling our health has prompted me to work on a gluten free & allergy friendly cookbook. I wish others would see the health values in diet & becoming gluten free. It has made all the difference in controlling my diseases, let alone my children's. I'm hoping it helps protect them against other auto-immune disorders in the long run!

Anonymous said...

I have often wondered this very same question--I suspect I've had a problem with gluten at least from the time I was a young child (~5 years of age), and suffered lots of depression and anxiety in my growing-up years. I feel so much more calm and able to deal with life's ups and downs now that I'm gluten-free; I can't help but think the emotional roller coaster of my childhood was at least partly a chemical thing in my body.

tami said...

I'm a believer! "Thank You" so much for "getting the word out" and for these excellent articles on your blog.

I have been GF since July (elimination diet) after suffering from GI issues/anxiety/panic attacks for years.

We discovered that my brother is Celiac and that my (deceased) father was likely Celiac also. I suspect that my other siblings are also sensitive. I myself tested negative for Celiac (blood and biopsy). My GI Dr had a big ol' smile on his face when he realized that "I get it". (That I didn't need to have a positive Dx to understand that gluten was hurting me.)

It suprised me that by going GF my anxiety/panic attacks have gone away (no episodes in 6 months). This has been a "side effect" that I didn't expect and I truly feel blessed. The panic episodes where crippling and I hope that they never come back. (fingers crossed)

Surprisingly, when I "preach the truth" to others...they turn a deaf ear. They don't want to give up their beer/pasta/bread. They make excuses for their suffering and their lifestyle choices. I guess a person has to WANT to change. (I personaly found it very easy to give up gluten even while I continue to bake normally for my husband who is not restricted.)


Anonymous said...

WOW, I am so glad to finally find a place where Celiac is taken very seriously.
Thank you for this place to talk about the real issues with this disease.

Yes, we need more doctors who trust the patients report of symptoms and cessation of such when dietary changes are made.