A person’s diet plays a very large role in both physical and cognitive function. Therefore, if a person has a particular nutritional sensitivity, it can impact a person’s daily performance without the person even realizing it. One of the most under diagnosed food sensitivities today is gluten, a protein specifically found in wheat, rye, and barley.
Different types of gluten sensitivities exist, including the most major intolerance celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder where the body creates an immune response to the ingestion of gluten, causing damage to the small intestine. This damage affects the villi lining the small intestine responsible for nutrient absorption. Celiac affects 1 in 100 people globally, however a projected two and a half million Americans are undiagnosed. If a person has someone in their immediate family with celiac, chances of this person also having celiac is one in ten. If left untreated, celiac can cause long-term health issues and conditions. These include anemia, infertility, osteoporosis, osteopenia, vitamin deficiencies, intestinal lymphomas, GI cancers, central and peripheral nervous system disorders, gall bladder malfunction, and various forms of neurological manifestations, such as ataxia, dementia, epileptic seizures, migraine, neuropathy, and more.
In addition, non-celiac gluten sensitivities exist as well with similar symptoms, but does not include intestinal damage. This is because gluten sensitivities are innate immune responses, a system all people have which fights invading organisms. However, the reaction does not attack self tissue, which is the case for autoimmune diseases, as the reaction is antigen specific. Those with gluten sensitivities often experience symptoms including what is known as brain fog (having trouble thinking clearly), dizziness, clumsiness, fatigue, memory problems, mood issues, trouble concentrating, migraines, inflammation, numb sensations in the legs and arms, constipation, and joint pain.
There are certain brain based conditions that have been known to benefit from a gluten-free diet.
- ADHD – People who have celiac disease are more likely to have ADHD, as this condition is heavily influenced by nutritional choices. Because gluten causes inflammation, this affects the brain as well, creating the brain fog and concentration issues. Many parents report improvement in their child with ADHD after beginning a gluten-free diet.
- Epilepsy – Studies have shown that those with gluten sensitivities are more likely to have seizures because of the inflammation in the brain gluten causes. Eliminating gluten from the diet of a person who has celiac or gluten sensitivities can help reduce seizures.
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)- People with MS have a greater likelihood of having gluten sensitivities than the general population. Moreover, because MS can be responsible for joint pain and swelling, avoiding gluten prevents further inflammation, as gluten causes it as well. MS can also cause thinking issues and gluten can create brain fog, worsening the existing symptom. Additional overlapping symptoms include dizziness, clumsiness, and numbness in the arms and legs.
- Tourette’s Syndrome – Gluten and Tourette’s has been directly and definitively linked, and is known to exacerbate symptoms of the Tourette’s. Those who have turned to a gluten free diet have reported a decrease in motor tics, increased speaking ability, increased awareness and ability to focus, decreased self-stimulation/self-injurious behavior, and improvements with social interactions, sleep, and immune function.
To be certain, visiting a doctor for an allergy test is highly recommended, especially if a person is experiencing any of the symptoms listed, as the ingestion of gluten for a person with some kind of sensitivity directly impacts day-to-day life.