Gluten may affect any part of the body in persons who are sensitive to it. It is able to cause ill-effects in any organ or function of the human body. Whilst the effect of gluten on the digestive system is becoming more widely known, it is only recently that research has been exploring the involvement of the brain and the nervous system in cases of gluten intolerance.
It has been shown that a range of neurological symptoms are prevalent in a large percentage of those who are adversely affected by the consumption of gluten. These symptoms include headaches, depression and social phobias. Bipolar conditions may also be related to damage caused by gluten.
Immune System Involvement
Antibody reactivity to nerve antigens was shown in nearly half of patients with gluten sensitivity, though symptoms resulting from these antibodies were not always present. This finding may therefore support a theory that gluten has a stronger role in the development of auto-immune diseases, rather than merely being a symptomatic link between them. Does gluten damage the immune system in susceptible patients, causing an auto-immune response that manifests itself differently between different individuals?
Nerve involvement was noted in about one quarter of patients, showing as carpal tunnel syndrome, epilepsy or other seizure-related disorders. The cause of these illnesses is frequently given as ‘unknown’ and the sufferer is then, in some instances, placed on life-long medication. Further research needs to be carried out to support these findings and to determine if gluten could be causing these conditions.
Importantly, symptoms may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and not be seen as related to an intolerance to gluten. Fatigue, general malaise and achiness may be attributed to other conditions, or worse still, ignored by health professionals as malingering.
In order to remove gluten from the diet, and therefore to seek a cure or betterment of symptoms, it is necessary to remember that gluten is present in all grains! It is becoming more well known that wheat, barley and rye need to be avoided, however other grains may also cause problems, such as rice, millet and corn. Further study is required to ascertain the level of effect they may have. Also, a sufferer needs to be aware of where cross-contamination may occcur, for example, in the processing of other foods.
It is recommended that all grains be eliminated, at least initially, to attempt to bring about a significant reduction in symptoms.