While gluten sensitivity is a fairly well known problem, a lot of people don’t realise just how much it can affect their body. People generally associate it with stomach and intestinal problems, but there is a wide range of problems that people can experience, including:
- Inflammatory diseases
- Celiac disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type I Diabetes
- Neurological disorders
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Autoimmune cardiomyopathy
- Skin disease (Dermatitis herpetiformis)
One of the more common problems is gluten passing through the blood-brain barrier, ultimately causing headaches and other mental problems.
Before we look at the ‘Why’ and ‘How’, let’s have a look at ‘What’ gluten is and where it can be found.
What is gluten?
While it is well known to be part of wheat, gluten is also the common protein molecule that is found in:
The biggest reason for the wheat association is thanks to bakers all over the world. It is a major reason bread is the way it is.
The Gluten Breakdown
Gluten is primarily made up of Gliadin (a protein portion) and Glutenin (a sticky portion), with Gliaden being broken down into alpha, gamma and omega Gliadens (diagram below).
When testing for gluten sensitivity, labs tend to only look at alpha Gliadin anti-bodies. Because this is only a small piece of the gluten puzzle, test often come back negative. This doesn’t mean the patient isn’t gluten sensitive, it just means one of the other portions are the reactant.
When bakers create the bread dough, Glutenin is responsible for the strength and elasticity that can is so common. A lot of people have severe reactions to Glutenin, but it doesn’t show up on the basic Gliadin anti-body testing.
The food processing industry is another big player in the gluten game. They regularly deamidate (remove part of) Gliadin to make it water soluable. This lets them add it to other foods without changing its properties. Deamidated Gilidian has been shown to trigger sever immune responses in patients but is not part if regular testing.
But what does this have to do with our brain and why is it such a problem?
Gluten: The Brain Drain
It has been shown through numerous studies that Gluten sensitivity and countless neurological disorders are associated.
Gluten is a major trigger in:
- Psychiatric and movement disorders
- Multiple sclerosis
- Cerebellar disease such as Ataxia
- Cognitive impairment
- Restless leg syndrome
- Hearing loss
For most sufferers, their immune system becomes so overworked by the Gluten sensitivity and other environmental factors (toxins, parasites, vitamin D3 deficiencies and trauma) that they can have a reaction that lasts for months after one provoked exposure. This means that having gluten on one day can cause 2-3 months of inflammation and problems, explaining why it’s so critical to be as strict as possible when avoiding Gluten and other irritants.
Gluten isn’t the only problem for the brain, however.
Lectin and Gluten: blood brain barrier double-header
Grains, nuts and legumes contain Lectin; a molecule that binds sugar and carbohydrates together. known as wheat germ aggluten (WGA) in wheat, with their highest concentration being found in whole and sprouted wheat.
They have been shown to trigger immune reactions and that they can pass through the blood brain barrier, then attach themselves to the protective coating (myelin sheath) of the nerve (12). Lectins inhibit the nerve growth factor, making it harder for the nerves to heal themselves effectively.
It’s even possible to be WGA sensitive but never test positive for a gluten allergy, causing inflammation without a known cause.
I did a video series here on the connection between lectins leaky gut and gluten
Gluten can also have a substantial effect on the blood brain barrier.
When the body reacts to Gluten, the thin lining that protects the brain from pathogens and environmental toxins can be damaged. This increases auto-immune reactions and chronic inflammatory damage in the brain, while simultaneously opening a hole for heavy metals, like aluminium, to enter the brain. Aluminum amyloid plaques are generally found in the frontal lobe with Alzheimer’s disease (13)
Gluten can even make the body attack itself.
The immune system can mistake certain proteins for other proteins. This is immune cross-re-activity.
Because the Gluten protein is similar to a protein in the nervous system and thyroid, causing the body to create anti-bodies for the nervous system and thyroid, as well as Gluten. If this happens, when Gluten is ingested, the body will send out these anti-bodies to deal with the Gluten, but it will also send out anti-bodies to fight the thyroid and nervous system, potentially attacking the brain, thinking that these are part of the problem.
Cross-reactivity is most common on through a protein family found on neurons called synapsin, which help to regulate neurotransmitter releases. This mostly happens in the cerebellum, causing problems with:
- motor control
Some of the food sources associated with cross-reactivity include:
- Alpha Casein
- Beta Casein A1
- Instant Coffee
- Egg Protein
- Milk chocolate
- Whey Protein
The most effective test for cross-reactivity detection is ELISA. This test involves placing the blood in dish with various neurological tissue and is later checked for an auto-immune response. Heightened responses can indicate a cross-reactive immune response.
The enzyme that helps digest wheat and bind proteins, Transglutaminase, is another major problem.
The protein binding enzyme
Transglutaminases are an enzyme that is found throughout the body. They are what bind proteins together and are the key to digesting wheat.
There are 3 main forms of Transglutaminases that can be trouble with Gluten:
- TG-2; found in the small intestine and a marker for celiac disease
- TG-3; found in the skin and can cause severe acne, eczema and dermatitis
- TG-6; found in the central nervous system and anti-body creation can lead to neurological disorders (14)
This enzyme is used by the food industry to tenderize meat, allowing processed meats to hold their shape. TG sensitive people can have severe reactions when eating processed meats containing the enzymes.
Be aware, taking gluten away can be as big a problem as having it in the first place.
The Gluten withdrawals
As the body metabolizes gluten, an opioid is created, called gluteomorphine.
A person who is opioid sensitive can suffer withdrawal symptoms from removing gluten from the diet. These can be as severe as coming off opioid drugs like heroin (15), leading to symptoms, such as:
- Crazy mood swings
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abnormal Bowel activity
This can last for as little as a few days and up to a couple of weeks. This can easily be tested, via blood test, to determine if produces anti-bodies for gluteomorphine and the building block prodynorphin.
The complete anti-body screening system
If you suspect that you are gluten sensitive, you should get tests for the following before continuing to eat gluten-based products:
- Gliadin – Alpha, Omega & Gamma
- Deamidated Gliadin
- Wheat Germ Agglutin (WGA)
- Gluteomorphin & Prodynorphin
- TGA-2, TGA-3, TGA-6
Gluten sensitivity can be linked to more than just digestive problems; it can also affect the nervous system and other important areas due to cross-reactivity, breaking through the brain blood barrier and attacking protein binding enzymes.
You can even have a withdrawal from stopping Gluten intake.
Always remember to be tested for the entire Gluten sensitivity spectrum, not just a single piece of the puzzle, and if you are sensitive, stay away.