gluten damages brain No food is a more powerful trigger of neurological issues and autoimmunity than gluten, the protein found in wheat. The average American eats wheat at every meal and we’re seeing dramatic increases in gluten sensitivity today. Gluten is found in wheat, spelt, barley, rye, kamut, triticale, and malts. Oats are often contaminated with gluten because they are grown in rotation with wheat or processed in the same facilities as wheat.

Is the rise in gluten sensitivity real or imagined?

The numbers of gluten-free books, blogs, and online products has exploded. But is this just a health fad, or the result of more awareness and diagnoses? Or are we seeing an actual increase in gluten sensitivity and celiac disease today? Although awareness has grown, research shows the increase is not the result of increased detection clinically. Instead, one study showed the rates of gluten sensitivity have risen dramatically over the past 50 years, from one in 700 people to one in 100. If the study had looked not just at celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten, but also gluten sensitivity, an immune reaction to gluten, the numbers would have been much higher.

Gluten is different today thanks to hybridization and deamidation

The gluten you eat today is not the same gluten you ate as a child, or your parents or grandparents ate. Although not technically genetically modified, gluten has nevertheless been significantly hybridized and deamidated over the years, processes that have rendered it inflammatory to humans. Hybridization has created a “new wheat,” one that appears more prone to trigger immune reactions, especially in the brain and nervous system.

Deamidation, which is used extensively in the food processing industry, has also made gluten more immune reactive. Deamidation uses acids or enzymes to make gluten water soluble (it is normally only soluble in alcohol) so it mixes more easily with other foods. Although deamidation makes wheat easier to use, research has also been shown it creates a severe immune response in people.

The hybridization and deamidation of wheat appear to play a role not only in the sharp increases of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, but also in inflammation, degeneration, and even autoimmunity of the brain and nervous system.

Gluten intolerance and celiac disease primarily affects brain and nervous tissue

Many people do not think they have a gluten intolerance because they do not have digestive issues. However, research shows only a minority of people with a gluten intolerance have digestive issues. For most people the intolerance manifests in the skin, the joints, the thyroid, etc. In fact, the tissues most commonly affected by gluten are brain and nervous tissue. Studies have found associations between gluten sensitivity and disorders in every major part of the nervous system, including the brain, the spinal cord, and the nerves that extend into the arms and feet.

Unfortunately, despite the research, most doctors today do not understand gluten sensitivity or the effects of gluten on the brain. It is up to you to protect your brain health.

Standard gluten testing fails to diagnose many people

One reason doctors don’t understand gluten sensitivity is because conventional testing is substandard and fails to diagnose many people. Testing for a gluten sensitivity is much more complex than most people and the standard health care model realize. Most labs only test for antibodies to a portion of gluten called “alpha gliadin,” which, thanks to current research, we now know is extremely limited and produces many clinically negative results. There are many other portions of wheat to which people can have an immune reaction that impacts the health of the brain and nervous system.

You can react to more than one gliadin

Gluten is made of a sticky portion called “glutenin” and a protein portion called “gliadin.” Gliadin is further broken down into alpha, omega, and gamma gliadin. As I mentioned before, most labs only test for alpha gliadin antibodies, which is most commonly associated with celiac disease. Even worse, they do not report this limitation in test results. The reports usually state “gliadin” antibody, but do not specify it is alpha gliadin. The result often comes back negative, doctors tell patients they can eat gluten, and patient health further deteriorates. When the patient finally tests for the other branches of gluten, the results show severe gluten sensitivity. I have seen this happen many times.

You can react to glutenin in wheat

Glutenin, the sticky portion, makes up 47 percent of the total protein content of wheat and is responsible for the strength and elasticity of wheat dough. Most labs do not test for glutenin sensitivity because it was believed glutenin is not immune reactive. However, this has been disproven. Many people have severe reactions to glutenin but show normal results on the basic gliadin antibody test.

You can react to deamidated gluten

As I mentioned earlier, deamidation is used by the food processing industry to make wheat water soluble and deamidated gliadin has been shown to trigger a severe immune response in people. Many people will never test positive on a conventional gliadin antibody test, but will have profound immune reactions to deamidated gliadin. If you suffer from impaired brain function, testing for deamidated gluten is critical.

You can react to lectins in wheat

Many people react to the lectin portion of wheat. Lectins bind sugars and carbohydrates together. In wheat they are called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) and the highest concentration of WGA is found in whole wheat and sprouted wheat. WGA can pass through the blood-brain barrier and attach to the myelin sheath, the protective coating on nerves. This can inhibit nerve growth factor, a chemical critical for neuron growth and health. Many people never test positive for gluten antibodies but have a WGA sensitivity. For these people eating lectins may cause a severe inflammatory response and destroy neurons.

Your brain can produce gluten opioids

People may also react to gluten opioids, which is different than a reaction to gliadin, glutenin, or WGA. An immune response to opioids takes place in the nervous system and can be measured by antibodies to gluteomorphin and prodynorphin. Gluteomorphin is an opioid peptide formed during the digestion of gluten. Prodynorphin is an opioid that is the basic building block of endorphins. If a person has elevated antibodies to these compounds gluten may cause a neurological reaction. The most difficult thing about an opioid sensitivity is that going gluten-free can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, including depression, mood swings, or abnormal bowel activity. It is similar to withdrawal from opioid drugs such as heroin. If this occurs the person must hang in there for a couple of weeks on a strict gluten-free diet and deal with the withdrawal symptoms until they’ve kicked the gluten addiction.

People can have an autoimmune response to more than one transglutaminase enzyme

Positive transglutaminase antibodies indicate gluten triggers autoimmunity. The problem with labs today is they test only for antibodies to TG2, the intestinal transglutaminase, which indicates an autoimmune reaction in the gut. They also list the test results as “transglutaminase” and never specify it is only TG2. If you have neurological issues possibly stemming from gluten, you also need to evaluate TG6, which is is found in the nervous system and is associated with neurological destruction triggered by gluten.

(TG3 is found in the skin and is associated with skin outbreaks triggered by gluten, such as dermatitis herpetiformis.)

How to properly test for gluten sensitivity

I use a more comprehensive panel from Cyrex Labs for my patients that has revealed countless misdiagnosed issues of gluten sensitivity. It is called the Wheat/Gluten Proteome Sensitivity and Autoimmunity Panel.

If the test shows you are gluten sensitive you should avoid gluten at all costs. If you have positive reactions to any of the transglutaminases, it means you have an autoimmune reaction and should consider further screening for antibodies to neurological tissue if you suffer from brain decline.

When going gluten-free is not enough

Often going gluten free is not enough for many people and they must eliminate other foods to calm inflammation or the immune system’s attacks again brain and nervous tissue. These foods can include other grains, all forms of dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, yeast, sesame, and more. I run a food-sensitivity panel for my patients to determine which foods are triggering an immune reaction.

Following a strict anti-inflammatory diet can be difficult, but many people come to love it because they feel and function so much better.

9 Comments

  • Amanda Orsley November 15, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    I listened to you on the Autoimmune Summit. My dad has tremors, which a neurologist said it was ET not Parkinson. He has had heavy metal testing and is heavy with lead, aluminum and less mercury. He tried gluten free for maybe 2 months and didn’t see any results with tremors. About 3 months ago I started him on the pectin supplements for heavy metals with no change, if any getting wose, the since mid October he has been on oral chelation pills, again complainin he only feels he is worse. I just ordered the acetyl glutathione 300 MG dosage aND he has been on ALA, milk thistle, and a ton more detox supplements. I heard you say today that it could be worse to do chelation, but how will his tremors heal without getting them out? Could he just be missing glutathione to the puzzle, or could it get worse before better? We haven’t had much success with doctors who we thought were Functional Practicioners. BUT I only want him to be healed and I am listening to you experts always and reading, but today is the first time I heard don’t chelate. I would greatly appreciate your help with this. Thanks,
    Amanda Orsley

    • Brass Player January 7, 2016 at 7:47 pm

      Amanda, don’t know if you are still around or will ever read this, but look into the Andrew Cutler chelation protocol for mercury. The ALA he is taking could be making him much, much worse if it is picking up mercury one place and depositing it in another due to lack of knowledge about what ALA does.

  • Claire November 24, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Great information. Thank you. I did the Cyrex test and found I have 3 markers to gluten in the equivocal range: TG6, Gamma gliadin 15 and G+P.
    Is it still necessary I eliminate gluten completely?
    I’m looking forward to your new book on gluten so I can learn more but meanwhile would love to know more.
    Thanks

  • brenda December 17, 2014 at 3:26 am

    How can I find out info. on turmeric for pain management?

  • comunian October 28, 2015 at 11:42 am

    My daughter 17 years old has blackout/syncopes from 3 years. Nobody doctor or exam found the cause. Only when she stopped to eat gluten her syncopes were stopped. She is not celiac. I would like to know if you can help us. Have you heard about this symptom? I’m writing from Italy so I hope in your mail. Thank you

    • Susan (moderator) October 28, 2015 at 6:55 pm

      Comunian; So sorry, but Dr. Kharrazian is not taking on any new patients or adding names to a waitlist at this point in time. He would not be able to give you medical advice here on the blog.

      As far as a correlation between blackouts and gluten, we’ve heard of it in the functional neurology world. I don’t personally know the exact mechanism. One does not have to have Celiac disease to be gluten intolerant, and some people who are intolerant w/o Celiac do have neurological responses to gluten. Depending on the type of test she had done, it’s possible they missed non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or missed Celiac and she’s positive for a different transglutaminase enzyme or gene sequence. Once you find a practitioner, be sure to check on which test she had, and if it stands up to Functional Medicine gluten testing standards. Many traditional doctors are still doing older tests that don’t pick up all the possible variables.

      I’d recommend you seek a functional neurologist to help her. Below is a link to FN practitioners that lecture for Dr. K – they are well-versed in his protocols. All are in the U.S. but it’s possible a few would be willing to practice remotely. You’d have to contact them yourself to find out.
      http://thyroidbook.com/practitioner-locator/

    • JD February 28, 2016 at 7:45 pm

      @comunian: have the doctor check for orthostatic hypotension or POTS. One of the main symptoms is syncope. There is a high correlation between gluten sensitivity and these syndromes.

  • Lia March 31, 2016 at 12:39 am

    A really interesting article on this important topic! Do you have any supporting journal articles, studies and/or research to back up and provide further reading?

    • Elaine April 3, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      He has more than 1,000 peer-reviewed references in the back of his brain book you can refer to.

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