Is gluten damaging your brain?
You may have heard about the damaging effects of gluten on your gut if you have coeliac disease or even an intolerance to gluten, but have you heard that it can also affect your brain and contribute to health conditions such as depression, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia and more?
Symptoms of gluten sensitivity
- You feel bloated after you eat grains
- Eating bread and grains makes you feel tired and you find it difficult to focus
- You have a reaction to grain products
- Avoiding bread and grains makes you feel better
What is gluten sensitivity?
An exaggerated immune response to gluten that leads to inflammation throughout the body and potentially to an autoimmune reactions, in which the immune system attacks and destroys body or brain tissue.
– Dr. Datis Kharrazian, author of Why isn’t my Brain Working?
Coeliac is an abnormal reaction of the immune system to gluten where the body attacks and destroys tissue (villi and microvilli) in the gut; an autoimmune reaction. Gluten sensitivity, or the more appropriate term gliadin, is also an abnormal reaction, but does not necessarily involve an autoimmune response.
Not only a gut issue?
From its discovery in 1950, coeliac disease has been associated with damage to the gut since the 1960’s. It was thought then, also by some still today, to be only an issue by those with genetic susceptibility (gene types HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8) and limited to damage of the gut, we now know that not to be true. There are two reasons:
- Some people who do not have these genotypes still have severe reactions to gluten
- Many people who are sensitive to gluten have a silent coeliac disease…their symptoms are not in their guts.
So in addition to a possible effect on your gut tissue, a gluten sensitivity may be causing an assault on your brain by your immune system. This leads to inflammation in the brain and increases the risk of autoimmunity to brain tissue.
What to test for to completely rule out a sensitivity to gluten
A complete ELISA gluten antibody screen should include the following:
- alpha gliadin
- omega gliadin
- gamma gliadin
- damidated gliadin
- wheat germ agglutinin (WGA)
- transglutaminase-2 (TG2)
- transglutaminase-2 (TG3)
- transglutaminase-2 (TG6)
Current blood testing for coeliac disease include only alpha gliadin, and they don’t specify on the results that it is only the alpha part of gliadin. If your test results have come back negative, but you have symptoms that you can’t clear up, get tested again.
Note: You need to be eating gluten when you get tested or you may get a false negative!
This won’t be the last time I’m posting about this topic as this subject is a hot topic. It may seem like a fad to go ‘gluten-free’, but when you have a serious health problem and you discover it’s linked to gluten you may experience some serious symptoms that hinder your ability to function.
Is gluten sensitivity on the rise?
The gluten grains we eat today are not the same as were eaten generations ago. Hybridisation and deamidation of grains may play a part.
Hybridisation is the process of combining different varieties of organisms to create a new version, which is considered ‘better’ in some way. This process may have made gluten more inflammatory to us.
Deamidation is a food processing tool to make gluten more water soluble, using acids or enzymes. This means it mixes more easily with other foods, but in the process has become more immune reactive.
What to look out for
Gluten sensitivity has been shown to be a trigger, contributing to movement disorders, muscle disorders, psychiatric disorders and more. If you have any of the following and you can’t find what is contributing to it, then you might want to consider looking into a gluten sensitivity. If you can’t afford a test right now, give up gluten 100% for a minimum of 3 weeks and see if it makes any difference.
- fuzzy headed, a feeling of hangover
- inability to concentrate
- multiple sclerosis
- restless leg syndrome
- hearing loss
- cognitive impairment
Foods to avoid
- oats (there are gluten-free oats available as gluten is not inherently in oats, but rather on crop rotation with wheat or processed in the same factory)
Foods that may cross-react with gluten (your immune system recognises them as gluten)
- some brands of instant coffee
- gluten-free oats (confusing, isn’t it?!)
- casein (milk protein)
Hidden sources of gluten
- clarifying agents in some wines
- food stabilisers
- modified food starch
- food emulsifiers
- artificial food colourings
- malt extract
Sources you may have forgotten about (and the producer might not have to add to the label)
- soy sauce (tamari is a wheat-free alternative)
- deli meats
- imitation crab meat
- processed condiments (ketchup, mustard, dressings)