The Gluten Link in Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy describes a range of disorders characterized by nerve damage to one or more nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. Often the cause of the neuropathy is unknown, though autoimmune diseases and vitamin deficiencies are some of the potential causes. Gluten neuropathy is when the autoimmune response is the root cause of the nerve damage.
Peripheral neuropathy is common among patients with autoimmune disorders, so it is not uncommon for those with celiac disease to experience some signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. In fact, a 2003 study found that 5% of patients with peripheral neuropathy have celiac disease. The most common symptoms for celiacs to experience are severe burning, stinging and electric shock-type pains. However they found that an adherence to a gluten-free diet lessens or eliminates almost all patients’ symptoms. In fact, a study published in Muscle & Nerve journal in December 2006 found that participants with neuropathy who followed a gluten-free diet showed significant improvement in symptoms after one year while the control group reported worsening of symptoms.
Symptoms of neuropathy often begin gradually and are localized to a specific part of the body but eventually spread throughout the body and increase in awareness. The severity of the symptoms over time varies from patient to patient. Weakness or paralysis may occur if the motor nerves are affected. Bowel or bladder problems, reduced sweating, light headedness, fainting and impotence might occur if certain nerve groups have been damaged. The most common symptoms are pain, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, burning, loss of feeling, tightness in the extremities, sharp, jabbing or electric-like pain, extreme sensitivity to touch and lack of coordination.
To help diagnose peripheral neuropathy, your doctor will take a full medical history and perform a physical and neurological exam. Some blood tests may be ordered—B-12 vitamins, thyroid function, urinalysis, and possibly electromyography (EMG), usually a nerve conduction study will be ordered to see how your nerves are carrying signals.
Along these same lines, gluten ataxia occurs in approximately 10 percent of people with celiac disease and result in the development of neurological symptoms characterized by jerky movements and an awkward gait. Gluten ataxia specifically describes a neurologic condition caused by a gluten sensitivity that leads to a wide range of symptoms including, difficultly concentrating, loss of balance, frequent falls, visual disturbances, trouble walking, tremors and trouble judging distances.

The problem is that it becomes a vicious cycle in that when people with a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, eat foods with the gluten protein it can then trigger an autoimmune reaction.  The body then attacks the gluten with antibodies in the same way that antibodies attack viruses. This damages the intestines which inhibits the absorption of nutrients, often leading to nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin deficiencies could be to blame for gluten ataxia. However, another explanation could be that something in the brain is similar enough to gluten that the antibodies released to attack gluten also attack the brain itself.

The exact cause for gluten ataxia is unknown, but what is clear is that eating gluten makes it worse. A study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry in 2003 found that participants with ataxia who followed a gluten-free diet demonstrated improvement in ataxia symptoms compared to the control group, and had significantly fewer antigliadin or anti-gluten antibodies after one year.

Some people are literally stumbling through life thinking they are a klutz when really gluten is to blame. Before gastrointestinal symptoms like upset stomach appear, neurological damage may already be done.  But, what is clear about both these neurological disorders is that gluten makes them worse and NO gluten makes them better. It is not just ‘stomach aches’ that we are dealing with here, we are dealing with serious neurological damage that could be affecting your everyday life. So get tested! I have 95 readers to this day on my blogsite. That is not counting all my wonderful readers and supporters who send my emails off to ‘people they know.’ Well, 1 in 133 people are celiacs. That one person could be you. But don’t forget, you need to be EATING GLUTEN, to be tested! So binge on that last loaf of sourdough bread or that last box of cookies and then go get tested.

I sometimes struggle to find a quick and easy and healthy snack in the afternoon. This snack is a standby for me. I started eating it about 15 years ago when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter and I needed something sweet and salty at the same time. Yesterday, Charli had it for the first time! I know it sounds weird, but don’t knock it until you try it.

3 O’Clock Popcorn Delight
6 cups air popped popcorn
¼ cup ketchup
2 t Yellow mustard
2 T Parmesan cheese
¼ tsp garlic salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp basil

Pop popcorn in air popper.
Mix in ketchup and mustard.
Add cheese and spices.
Stir and enjoy with a spoon!

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