A new study shows a significant portion of the US population not only reacts to gluten and dairy but also that this reaction causes the immune system to destroy brain and nervous tissue in a scenario called neurological autoimmunity (as evidenced by positive tissue antibodies). With the explosion of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, childhood development disorders, and other brain disorders happening today, these findings confirm what many clinicians have already seen in their practice: removing gluten and dairy from the diet has a profoundly positive impact on brain health in many people. The study was conducted by world-renowned immunologist Aristo Vojdani, PhD and I had the privilege of serving as a study co-author, working under his guidance and learning how to conduct immunological research in his Los Angeles laboratory.
First gluten-brain autoimmunity study to look at healthy subjects
This is one of the first studies to show a connection between gluten and neurological autoimmunity in a random population of healthy subjects. Previous studies only looked at those diagnosed with celiac disease, estimated to affect only 1 to 2 percent of the population. In this study we analyzed blood samples from 400 people with no known pathologies and yet still saw a significant correlation between gluten and neurological autoimmunity.
Mistaken identity, or molecular mimicry, behind brain attacks
This study also found the majority of neurological reactions to gluten and dairy were due to a case of mistaken identity called molecular mimicry. In this scenario, the immune system accidentally attacks and destroys brain and nerve tissue thinking it is attacking the gluten and dairy. These findings imply those with a gluten and dairy sensitivity have a much higher risk of developing neurological autoimmunity than previously suspected. Neurological autoimmunity can cause a diverse array of symptoms and disorders, which can be as mild as brain fog or as debilitating as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.
First study to evaluate entire gluten and dairy protein for immune reactivity
Another critical and distinguishing factor in this study is that we evaluated the entire wheat protein for immune reactivity, not just the alpha gliadin portion. Standard tests for gluten sensitivity only look at alpha gliadin, however it has been shown that people can react to a variety of different portions of gluten, including gamma gliadin, omega gliadin, glutenin, wheat germ agglutinin, and more (read my blog post on this subject to learn more). This means many people with a gluten sensitivity are misdiagnosed because they do not react to alpha gliadin but instead one of the other portions of gluten. The same goes for casein, the protein in dairy—people can react to other compounds in dairy. Fortunately, testing developed by the lead researcher, Aristo Vojdani, PhD, screens for immune reactions to this more diverse array of compounds in both gluten and dairy.
Brain symptoms caused by gluten and dairy
For the study we analyzed blood samples of 400 healthy blood donors (neurological autoimmunity can be silent or undiagnosed for years or decades) and published the results in the journal Nutrients.
The neurological tissues that appear to be the most affected in a cross-reaction with gluten and dairy are the cerebellum, the area at the back of the brain that controls motor movements, and the protective coating of nerves called myelin. Although cerebellar symptoms can be very diverse, some of the more common are worsening balance, vertigo, nausea, car sickness and sea sickness, and getting dizzy or nauseous looking at fast-moving images or objects. Studies show no food is a more powerful trigger of neurological damage than wheat. To read more about the effects of gluten on the brain, click here.
Good brain health depends on knowing whether you are gluten or dairy sensitive
This study shows how important it is to rule out gluten and dairy sensitivity in the face of brain or nerve impairment. Testing should be thorough and look at the different immune-reactive portions of both gluten and dairy. Even better is to find out whether you react to these foods before neurological symptoms present. You can have neurological inflammation and autoimmunity for years or decades before it becomes obvious. At that point, damage may be significant and permanent, although dietary intervention can still have a profound impact.
Also, many times symptoms of brain inflammation and brain autoimmunity are not apparent until you completely remove gluten and dairy (and possibly other foods) from your diet several weeks before reintroducing them in a challenge. You can learn more about a brain-healthy diet that addresses inflammation and autoimmunity by reading my blog post here.
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. Gluten is also hidden in many foods, such as condiments, meats, flavorings, and processed foods. Dairy includes milk and all milk products, including cheeses, yogurts, butter, sour cream, raw dairy, and sheep and goat dairy.
You can download the full paper at the following link: http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/1/15
Can you comment on kefir, especially home-made? While I haven’t eaten wheat/grains in years, I do consume half & half in coffee, and have started making and drinking kefir. My constipation has actually become almost non-existent since consuming raw potato starch in a drink with the kefir, some greens powder and psylium. How would I know if some of these cross-reactive foods are a problem?
It all depends on the individual. You could try the autoimmune diet and then reintroducing it or do the Cyrex Array 4 food sensitivity panel.
I live in Serbia and my doctor recommends eating 150 mg a day of foods with iodine like celery, beets, fish etc. for my Hashimoto’s. What is your recommendation regarding idodine containing foods/salts/water?
I really find your research live saving and motivating. I am looking forward to your new books and articles.
Also, I find Hashimoto’s Institute a great help and inspiration.
My best wishes,
You can read Dr. Kharrazian’s approach to iodine here: http://drknews.com/iodine-and-hashimotos/
Hello Dr. Kharrazian,
I had a brain injury many years ago. I also developed a gluten intolerance – for which I follow a strict diet. I am not sure if my mental and physical problems are gluten associated or brain injury associated. Should I get tested? How can I find out. I need to get better.
Hi Dr. Kharrazian,
I’m curious if you’ve studied PANS/PANDAS and children, and the effects a gluten/grain-free as well as dairy-free diet can have on this childhood neurological autoimmune disorder. My son is mostly gluten free, but he’s eight years old, and it’s hard to control what gets eaten outside of home. I’m also curious about a leaky gut and PANS/PANDAS connection.
Can you comment on the significance of high levels of quinolinic acid. Is there an association with autoimmunity and brain inflammation?
Does Dr K recommend using gluten free shampoo as well as removing it from diet? I am not celiac but gave up gluten after reading his book to address brain symptoms.
I would just like to hear your thoughts on treating LPR(laryngopharyngeal reflux)? Right now I am following the Fast Track Diet by Norm Robillard which seems to be helping. However, I would like to know if I can further help eliminate LPR by exercising my brain.
Your input would be greatly appreciated.
Is it possible to be immune-reactive to dairy with negative Cyrex array 4 test results?
My experience with dairy and gluten least been a bit strange – on the one hand I tend to notice positive effects mentally however this only tends to occur a couple of months after having gone without them.
Simultaneously I also tend to experience pain in my knee joints and gastrointestinal discomfort after eating them but this usually only occurs several days after reintroducing them back into my diet.
I tend to feel quite low and feel that I could be happier. This is related to my living circumstances work situation and procrastinating mainly because I feel that I lack focused attention especially in problem solving type activities…
I have psoriasis and always seem to be in two minds about whether or not just to let go of diets and be more spontaneous in how i live with regards to food or be more sensible as I do desire to be happier and function better in some form of self expression I can potentially share with others and derive meabing from… however I didn’t want that to be riding too much on what I ate.
I have never taken any tests because they are too expensive for me at this present time.
Any ideas appreciated
Somewhat delayed responses to gluten (and other items) are fairly common. A food reaction can be immediate, take hours, days, or longer. Some Celiac patients with gluten sensitivity can even experience long-lasting symptoms for months after ingestion.
If you feel bit better after consuming grains, it may be your brain wants those carbs, even while the gluten is causing harm. So, you could substitute the grain carbs with plantain, sweet potato, or squash. If you want to experiment with this, measure how many carbs seem to help you feel better (use this free app: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/), and then substitute the grains with that many carbs in other forms. I find that if I eat too few carbs, my brain gets dull and I lose focus. On the other hand, too many carbs can create imbalanced blood sugar, which can cause inflammation and brain fog. Everyone has their unique balance.
One thing you might try in the effort to dial in on the reactions is to track your food intake and your symptoms. A journal or Excel chard works nicely It is possible that in those days between ingesting a food and having joint pains (or other symptoms), you are consuming something else that is the offender, so with tracking you can figure it out. Be mindful of not consuming any items that may be suspect, during that time, and not introducing any other new items in those days.
In my opinion it would be worth it to continue pursuing a dietary protocol that supports reducing symptoms. Psoriasis isn’t a condition that will magically go away, and anything you can do to reduce it will help you to feel better physically and mentally, in pursuit of being happier and functioning better. It is tempting to just throw caution to the wind, because who wants to constantly be mindful of everything??? – but that will come back to bite you in the back end. Been there. Sometimes a little freewheeling in the kitchen is much needed soul food, but in the long run, I believe our health is worth the discipline on most days.
Regarding mood: Research is showing that our gut biome (the population of ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ bacteria that live in the intestinal tract) can affect our mental state dramatically. Hopefully at some point you can find a practitioner to help you determine if this is part of what’s going on with your low mood and lack of focus.
Good luck and keep us posted.
Hello Dr. K. Thank-you for looking at the profound affects nutrition has on the body. However, I am perplexed by the lack of distinction you make between raw milk and pasteurized milk in your studies. This would be like studying functioning automobiles on the road along with cars in junk yards. Raw milk has significantly higher enzymes, vitamins, and minerals–all affecting how it is processed in your system. So why the lack of distinction? My empirical data for this comment, btw, is my own body–I feel clear, happy, alert, and energized when drinking raw goat milk and depressed, agitated, and a little foggy on old-school cow’s milk, with an in-between response with pasteurized goat milk.
Thank you for your question. Dr. Kharrazian and Dr. Aristo Vojdani are engaged in research that looks into reactions to various forms of foods – cooked vs. raw, etc. This research will hopefully become available for public access in 2018. In the meantime, listen to your body. Even certain food allergy testing sometimes belies what the body tells us. Newer, improved testing is showing it’s important to take into consideration the state of the foods tested. Once the new research is released, it will be announced on Dr. Kharrazian’s website.
Hello….I am wondering since the culprit in dairy seems to be the casine…if eating ghee is ok since the casine is taken out in the process of making it.
There are other proteins in milk that have been tagged for cross-reactivity to brain tissue, so it would probably be a good idea to eliminate it totally if you are concerned with brain autoimmunity.
Regarding the casein: Ghee is made by filtering out the milk solids via a cloth or other filter, and it may or may not be totally clear of the casein, because it depends on how well it’s done.
If I was concerned with brain autoimmunity, I’d avoid dairy completely. No point in risking destruction of the brain.
As far as digestive reactivity, I hear of folks who feel they have reintroduced ghee successfully, but I don’t know if they are aware of the brain factor.
If you want to be sure, check out Cyrex’s immune reactivity panels.
My 11 year old grandson has digestive issues to gluten and corn, which he has eliminated fro his diet for 2 years now with good results. However, he has also has issues with dairy which increases impulsivity and behavior. Recently he had Ranch Flavored Sunflower Seeds. His mood and behavior immediately changed and last for 6-7 days before he became his normal self again. Can you provide information on studies supporting this response and more importantly if there is something he can do, other than avoid all dairy.
It’s great to hear you and your grandson are aware of his food sensitivities. We don’t have a list of research papers on hand, but if you go to Google Scholar search engine at https://scholar.google.com/scholar (it filters out all but the sci literature) and enter “dairy food reactivity child behavior” you will find some reading.
Try other word combinations and you will come up with plenty more resources.
Mood changes that are related to food sensitivities are a well-established phenomenon. Sadly, if your grandson is reactive to dairy, there’s not really a way to make it disappear. This can be hard for parents and kids, and means close monitoring of what he eats, but it seems worth the energy and time.
It may benefit you and his parents to read about the difference between true food allergy and food sensitivity. Learn as much as you can about food sensitivity and how to manage it. Hopefully he has a good functional medicine practitioner who can help monitor his gut health as he grows up – this is key for long-term health and hopefully avoiding or stalling autoimmune issues.
If you want to get him tested for food sensitivities, Cyrex Labs offers the most accurate panels; unlike other labs, they test for both the cooked and raw forms of foods, because some people react to just one form. Most labs only test for one form, missing a LOT of reactivity.
Also, Cyrex runs all tests twice and only reports the positives that show up both times, to avoid false positive.
Good luck, and he’s lucky to have you on his team!
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This study omits the most important factors are the test subjects consuming raw or pasteurized/homogenized dairy products? In these processes the natural enzymes are destroyed. This is why people who drink raw milk don’t have allergies and their immune system works well. Dr. Vinoski.
In lectures Dr. Kharrazian has mentioned that if you have a casein (milk protein) intolerance, eating dairy raw may or may not actually make a difference. Yes, the enzymes in raw milk can be helpful to some, but it’s not a guarantee of non-reactivity. Technically, pasteurizing could alter the proteins, but for someone with a casein intolerance they may still react to raw. The varying reactions to raw/cooked is why Cyrex Labs tests many foods in both the raw and cooked forms — see Array 10.
Cyrex Array 4 tests for the most common gluten cross-reactive foods which includes numerous dairy factors: cow’s milk, alpha-casein, beta-casein, whey protein, casomorphin, and milk butyrophilin: (https://www.joincyrex.com/the-cyrex-system/array-4-gluten-associated-cross-reactive-foods-foods-sensitivity). This cross-reactivity is a concern for many autoimmune patients.
For those reading who are not familiar with the semantics around food allergy and food reactivity, they are not the same thing: If you are looking at lab results, IgE antibodies are associated with true food allergy (typically quick and serious reactions, such as in peanut allergy) whereas and IgA, IgM, and IgG antibodies are associated with food reactivity (which can be immediate or delayed, and are generally not life-threatening). There is some info in this article, and there may be a new article going on the blog soon: (https://drknews.com/what-type-of-gluten-intolerance-do-you-have/).
How to obtain access to the testing that you speak of? (Canada)
This article is from 2013 so some of the test names may have changed, but the lab that does the testing is still going strong. Here is their public information website: https://www.joincyrex.com/. You would need to have your practitioner order via their account. They can contact Cyrex here: https://www.cyrexlabs.com/
The testing he uses is done by Cyrex Labs. Your practitioner can see about opening an account at their website here: cyrexlabs.com
If I wish to see if I am sensitive to gluten by eliminating the wheat, barley, rye, etc., would I be able to eat oats that are not specifically “gluten-free” or is the contamination of oats you speak of in your earlier response an all-or-nothing thing? Now that I think about it, does everything need to be specifically tested and marked “gluten-free” or is the amount you eat a factor as well? Thank you in advance!
If you are consuming any gluten then your results might be skewed. Consuming even just a bit of a gluten-containing food can absolutely feed the immune reaction. To test gluten reactivity with an elimination protocol, I would eliminate all oats, including ‘tested’ ones, to be sure. If for some reason you decide not to eliminate all oats, then at least eliminate any that are not *certified* GF. While oats as a plant do not contain gluten, there are two ways oats as a product can be contaminated with gluten:
1. Some oats are grown in fields next to fields where gluten-containing grains are grown. It is possible for “volunteer” plants to pop up in neighboring fields (seeds blown by wind, or carried by birds or other animals, etc.). When the crop is harvested, all the plants are taken up.
2. The more likely cross-contamination scenario is that many oats are processed in factories that also process gluten-containing grains.
In your shoes, if I was making the effort to do an elimination protocol, I’d go 100% clean.
Thank you for answering about gluten-free oats, etc. I don’t see a way to reply so I have another question, please.
If it’s still not OK to consume oats or even certified gluten-free oats, how do you make sure that you don’t get any gluten?
I also saw recently something that said a product had 10 ppm gluten as it’s testing for “gluten free.”
What is the standard that I would be looking for to be “clean” as you say?
Thank you again for answering, this stuff is confusing and I’m trying to improve and greatly appreciate your help!
The reason I suggested eliminating even certified GF oats to start is because if I was doing an elimination/provocation protocol to determine if I was reactive to gluten, I’d want to do have as clean a slate as possible so I get accurate results. But as I mentioned in my previous message, if you can’t give up the oats for that time, at least make sure to get a brand that is certified gluten-free.
Regarding the Federal guidelines are for ppm of gluten—frankly, knowing what gluten does to the brains and bodies of many with autoimmunity (and having experienced it myself), if a product does not say certified GF, I personally will not eat it. It’s just not worth it.
By 100% clean I simply meant only consuming products you know are gluten free (such as non-packaged foods like produce) that you know have no gluten, or packaged products that are certified GF.
But everyone has to come up with their own baseline and comfort level. The purpose of an elimination diet is to totally remove certain food proteins, first to see if you feel better, and then to reintroduce them to find out if you react. However Dr. Kharrazian recommends removing gluten (and typically dairy) permanently if you have autoimmunity, no reintroductions. But the other foods might be reintroduced over time depending on the individual.
[…] in wheat, cross-reacts with tissue in the brain. Many people with gluten sensitivity develop neurological disorders because when the immune system attacks ingested gluten it attacks the brain too, confusing it with […]
[…] one of the most common consequences of a gluten intolerance are symptoms that express themselves neurologically, and even these can […]