When discussing celiac disease and the damage gluten inflicts upon the body, most people tend to think of intestinal discomfort, injury to the intestinal lining and digestive issues. Most do not consider an inability to focus, inattentiveness or even seizures as manifestations of gluten in the body of a person who suffers from celiac disease. However, scientists have begun making connections between specific types of damage to the brain and this autoimmune illness. In fact, in some cases brain scans of various celiac patients have revealed damage to the cerebellum. Additionally, one Australian study explores damage to the brain’s white matter, which may cause sufferers to experience headaches as intense as migraines, cognition impairment, extreme fatigue or insomnia. Another study compiled empirical data to demonstrate that “brain fog” as a result of ingesting gluten is real.
How Gluten Can Affect Cognition
Studies identify the protein that is responsible for celiac disease, antigliadin antibodies, as the same protein that negatively affects the brain by causing lesions on white matter. These studies suggest that antigliadin antibodies are not just found in the gut, as previously believed, but are in fact found systemically. Thus inflammation can be found in the gut and in the brain. In other words, if a person who suffers from celiac disease eats gluten, the resulting antigliadin antibodies may affect the digestive tract, the brain or both.
If inflammation caused by the antigliadin antibodies causes lesions on the white matter of the brain, cognition issues could result, including loss of short term memory, confusion, inattention, difficulty in word-finding, headache or even seizures. Symptoms of cognition issues, or “brain fog,” generally appear anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours after eating gluten.
But if you have celiac disease, is exposure to any gluten something to be afraid of? Not necessarily. Scientists believe short-term exposure to gluten does not tend to cause major harm or show damage on scans. However, repeated exposure to gluten, most likely through “cheating” on dietary restrictions, might cause damage in the long term. It is in these cases of repeated long-term exposure that damage to the cerebellum tends to show up on scans.
Regaining Your Brain Power
In the event you or your little one has experienced cognition issues as a result of gluten exposure, whether accidental or through lax dietary practices, the damage may be possible to reverse. Studies have shown that adhering to a gluten-free diet improves cognitive performance and illustrates intestinal healing as well.
If you suffer from celiac disease, eating a strict gluten-free diet can prevent intestinal and white matter brain damage. It can also potentially reverse any damage done in the event of accidental gluten exposure.
Although the research in this area is promising, it is still in its infancy. And even though scientists first linked certain neurological issues to celiac disease in 2002, most studies to date have been conducted on a small scale. As such, more studies on a larger scale are needed in order to replicate and confirm the results.
So the next time your little one seems to be ignoring you or not paying attention, check to see what he or she ate; the culprit may be accidental ingestion of gluten.