Coeliac Disease, gluten, brain health

Coeliac Disease: What you need to know Part 3 – Coeliac Disease and Your Brain!

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This is the third article in a series. Click here to read Part One, and here to read Part Two.

Coeliac disease and your brain.

Did you know that the brain and nervous system is significantly affected by gluten and CD? This follows on from the points I make in Part Two of this series, but I think it’s serious and so I want to address it separately.

There is a Professor of Neurology in Sheffield, UK, called Marios Hadjivassilou, who has been studying the effects of gluten on the brain for about 20 years. He has several startling things to say about it. Here are some quotes from papers he has published:

i. Gluten sensitivity can be principally a neurological illness.

ii. Patients with gluten ataxia have antibodies against Purkinje cells ( a specific type of neurological cell found in the cerebellum of the brain), and anti-gliadin antibodies cross react with Purkinje cells.

iii. Currently 10% of people with CD develop neurological dysfunction, but this figure is likely to be higher if these patients had neurological assessment.

iv. We must abandon historical misconceptions (that CD is a disease of the gut) and review current literature in an analytical way. It is time to move on from gut to brain.

v. Patients with neurological disease of unknown cause were found to have a much higher prevalence of circulating antigliadin antibodies (57% !!!) in their blood than either healthy control subjects (12%) or those with neurological disorders of known cause (5%).

vi. That gluten sensitivity is regarded as principally a disease of the gut is a historical misconception.

vii. Gluten sensitivity can be primarily and at times exclusively a neurological disease

There are several ways that gluten affects the brain in a negative way.

Gluten can ‘cross react’ directly with specific parts of the brain.

This means that some of the protein found in the brain and nerves ‘look’ enough like gluten to the immune system, that when you have a problem with gluten, your immune system can attack these parts of the brain, just like it does to the villi in the gut.

A study pubished last year (2014) found that 50% of people who had antibodies to wheat or gluten in their blood, also had antibodies to cerebellar tissue (part of the brain) and an enzyme called GAD65. GAD65 helps you to make a neurotransmitter (A neurotransmitter is a brain hormone – a chemical messenger) called GABA, and GABA has a calming effect on the brain and body. Low levels of GABA can give you the following list of symptoms:

i. Insomnia
ii. Depression
iii. Mood swings
iv. Excessive feelings of stress
v. Hypertension
vi. Motion sickness
vii. Carb cravings
viii. Poor memory
ix. Anxiety
Now this was a relatively small study of 400 people, but these findings are significant to me. (Link to the study here)

When you have significant inflammation in the body, this directly affects the blood flow to the brain because the blood vessels that transport oxygen and nutrients to the brain can become inflamed.

For your brain to work you have to be able to get healthy blood flow to the appropriate areas. If you only watered 80% of your lawn and the remaining small patch didn’t regularly get the water or nutrients it needed, it would look browner and less healthy than the rest, and the longer this continued, the worse it would look. Well the same basic principle applies to the brain, if it doesn’t get ‘fed’ because the vessels supplying the nutrients and oxygen aren’t working, then over time it is harder and harder to have good function.

Lack of nutrients makes it hard for your brain to be healthy too.

If you are deficient in the nutrients needed for optimal brain function because you are malabsorbing, or if you can’t carry oxygen to the brain because you are anaemic directly related to having coeliac disease, then this will have a big impact on brain function, including poor memory, fatigue, brain fog and lots of other worrying symptoms.

And that’s really just a brief taste of some of the ways that having Coeliac Disease, gluten-reactivity or an autoimmune disease can have a negative impact on your brain health and brain function.
Do you notice that gluten affects your brain?

Next up, I’ll be discussing new symptoms or new diagnoses that can occur after you start the gluten-free diet!! Stay tuned for Part Four in this series.

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Robyn is a Clinical Nutritionist with a specialised interest in the Functional Medicine approach to health. Robyn is very involved with the field of Coeliac Disease, Gluten-Reactive Disorders and Autoimmune Disease. Her passion for the healing power of food, has led her to work with complex cases, involving multiple diagnoses, and chronic health issues such as ME, auto-immune diseases and fibromyalgia. She also has a passion for working with the growing tide of chronic, lifestyle mediated illness; diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, and runs a lifestyle intervention clinic for these issues. Robyn works with patients to nutritionally support their bodies, so that they can heal. She has successfully helped many people around the world improve their health and increase their quality of life. Robyn sees clients in London, Tokyo and New York, and has a virtual practice that allows her to work with people all over the world.