Gluten can cause celiac disease, an autoimmune disease of the gut. Now we are surprised to learn that the same auto-antibodies produced to gluten can also cause diseases of the brain.
Cases are starting to accumulate. A patient with epilepsy and white spots of his MRI, improves once he stops eating gluten. A professor with dementia improves once he is taken off gluten.
Treating an autoimmune disease of the gut by avoiding gluten resolved what looked like a debilitating disorder of the brain.
Celiac disease has long been associated with symptoms outside the gut. For example, blistering rashes, burning nerve pain and loss of muscle control called ataxia.
The Mayo Clinic has a center of research on neurological autoimmunity, patients with autoimmune epilepsy, dementia and other autoimmune diseases are cured with immunotherapy including steroids, immune suppression or plasmapheresis, a procedure that removes antibodies from the blood.
Journalist Susannah Cahalan whose memoir “Brain On Fire” describes her bout with autoimmune encephalitis. Her sudden descent into madness resembled a psychotic break. But in 2009, Ms Cahalan became the 217th patient to get the diagnosis of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. She was treated for her autoimmune disease and recovered.
Around 10% of celiac patients have neurological symptoms ranging from headache, nerve pain, ataxia to dementia, psychosis and pseudo-autism.
Researchers at Columbia University have found that antibodies produced that react with gliadin ( a gluten protein) cross over into the brain and react with proteins in neurons in the brain.
Removing the gluten and reducing the antibodies resolves the neurological problems.
So thinking of the link between gluten and brain disease can prove valuable in treating the brain disease in patients.