There has been much increased awareness of the problems associated with wheat allergies. Celiac disease. Allergy to wheat. Gluten sensitivity. Whatever you call it, it’s here to stay. But exactly how far do the negative health effects run? And can wheat allergy affect the brain?
Let’s start with the basics. Traditionally, celiac disease was a condition where an allergy to the gluten containing grains (most commonly wheat, barley and rye, but also in trace amounts in oats) sets up an autoimmune reaction that destroys the villa of the small intestine. You may have heard that the total surface area of the small intestine is close to that of a tennis court because all of the villi increase the surface area. Consider this shrinking to the size of a ping pong table and you get the idea. Nutrient malabsorption results and all kinds of bad things follow.
That was then…this is now…
Over time, we have come to understand that the scenario described above is the far end of a spectrum that starts with slight sensitivity that can only be picked up via stool sampling at specific labs (like www.enterolab.com). The real problem is that the inflammation set up by exposure to a common allergen such as gluten wreaks subtle havoc that compounds over the course of years and decades. Celiac disease has been linked to:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Very strong association with all thyroid problems
- Osteoporosis, osteopenia and overall poor bone health
Before you begin to think this is new news, you need to understand that this was on the radar screen over a decade ago, if not longer. Strong concerns were noted with celiac disease in toddlers.
But can something occurring in the gut actually affect something as far away as the brain?
The answer is a clear yes. Almost 20 years ago researchers where calling for evaluation of gluten sensitivity in any undiagnosed neurological disorder. This particular study demonstrates very strong links between epilepsy and celiac disease. Those with the far spectrum of celiac disease (villus atrophy) had a 40% increased risk of developing epilepsy.
Two very important factors come to mind.
First, this is the far spectrum showing a 40% increase, but what about the entire range of the spectrum? What if we looked in reverse to see how many epileptics had sensitivity to gluten? We may be surprised at what we would find.
Second, the ketogenic diet has been shown to be an incredibly powerful therapy for seizure control for epileptics. Interestingly, researchers are not really sure how the diet works to control seizures, although some have speculated that the fat intake is key. But, on the ketogenic diet most grains are eliminated or cut back on severely. Could gluten really be the key? Based on this study, it may very well be the link researchers have been looking for on the reason why the ketogenic diet works.