More Evidence That Gluten Harms The Brain
Medical researchers continue to uncover alarming evidence that gluten can harm the brain. They’ll get no argument from me. I know firsthand how gluten can make you hallucinate and lose touch with your memory. But, in the latest discovery, researchers find that babies born to mothers who are gluten sensitive have twice the risk for developing schizophrenia 25 years later.
Not Just Digestion
Problems deriving from the gluten in wheat, barley and rye were once thought to be mostly digestive issues. No more. Increasingly, gluten is found to cause brain and nerve problems. Oftentimes, people who suffer these neurological injuries don’t report any stomach or intestinal symptoms.
In a study looking at a connection between gluten and mental illness, scientists examined birth records and blood samples from more than 700 children born in Sweden between 1975 and 1985. More than 200 of the children eventually developed psychoses like schizophrenia and delusional disorders. They found that the mothers who had gluten sensitivities were much more likely to give birth to children who later suffered from schizophrenia. While the researchers are not sure what links a mother’s gluten sensitivity to a child’s later illness, they believe their research points an important way to improving long-term health.
“Our research not only underscores the importance of maternal nutrition during pregnancy and its lifelong effects on the offspring, but also suggests one potential cheap and easy way to reduce risk if we were to find further proof that gluten sensitivity exacerbates or drives up schizophrenia risk,” says study lead investigator Håkan Karlsson, M.D., Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
Now when these researchers discuss delusional disorders linked to gluten, it reminds me of the strange experiences I used to have before I began my gluten-free diet in 2007. Back then, bedtime had become a delusional funhouse. Floating faces in the dark, distorted alternative universes, strange visions — my brain would be hard at work providing a side show that had me convinced I was dreaming before I was even asleep.
After I gave up gluten, my evening visions petered out. Occasionally, when I relapse and experience an unusual vision in that twilight zone between being awake and asleep, I suspect it is connected to the inadvertent consumption of a food contaminated with gluten.
My mental difficulties with gluten are hardly unique. Other brain and neurological problems that may be linked to gluten include:
- Dementia: When researchers at the Mayo Clinic fed a gluten-free diet to people with celiac who were suffering from memory and cognitive problems, they found significant improvement in some of the patients.
- Migraine: Researchers have reported that a migraine headache can be the first sign of celiac disease.
- Nerve damage: Studies show that up to half of all people with celiac disease (intestinal damage from gluten) suffer from peripheral neuropathy — deterioration of the nerves in the hand and feet that can cause numbness, pain, burning and tingling.
- Difficulty in walking: Known as gait ataxia, difficulty in walking caused by gluten can be a serious issue. It can interfere with your sense of balance and make you unable to stand on one foot.
- Epilepsy: Epilepsy, especially in children, is frequently linked to celiac disease.
- Autism: Research at Penn State shows that when parents of autistic children eliminate gluten and casein from children’s diets, their behaviors and physical problems often improve.Intolerable Proteins
Despite the dangers gluten presents to large numbers of people, gluten permeates much of our food supply. If you read food labels, you’ll discover sources of gluten like wheat, barley, rye and malt (made from barley) are added to a surprising number of foods. Added to that, many foods that should be gluten-free are frequently contaminated with gluten.
So going on a gluten-free diet can be quite a challenge. But if you need to eat gluten-free to save your brain, the task is obviously well worth the effort. I know that for me, the alternative is unthinkable.