Celiac.com Sponsor (A1):

Join eNewsletter

Celiac.com Sponsor (A1-m):

Join eNewsletter
  • Join Our Community!

    Ask us a question in our celiac / gluten-free forum.

  • Record is Archived

    This article is now archived and is closed to further replies.

    Dr. Rodney Ford M.D.

    Gluten Causes Brain Disease! By Prof. Rodney Ford M.B., B.S., M.D., F.R.A.C.P.

    Dr. Rodney Ford M.D.
    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    This article appeared in the Autumn 2006 edition of Celiac.coms Scott-Free Newsletter.

    Celiac.com 12/11/2006 - Yes, thats what I think. Gluten-sensitivity is a disease of your brain and nerves.

    Celiac.com Sponsor (A12):

    Celiac.com Sponsor (A12-m):

    The gluten puzzle
    I have come to this conclusion after studying the effects of gluten on my patients for over a decade. I am a pediatric gastroenterologist and allergist. I run a busy clinic for children and their parents. I have been increasingly concerned by the large numbers of my patients who are affected by gluten. I was perplexed by their wide-ranging symptoms. The puzzle was to explain how gluten could cause so much ill health to so many people in so many different ways, including celiac disease.

    Faulty brain control
    Eureka! The solution came when deep in discussion with my friend and colleague, Ron Harper, Professor of Neurobiology, UCLA. We were both struggling with the concept of multiple symptoms that needed to be explained. The answer appeared absurdly simple: disturbed "brain control". It suddenly seemed obvious—gluten could disturb the neural pathways of the body. Gluten was gradually damaging the brain and the nerves of susceptible people. It was the brain that was the common pathway for the manifestations of all of the gluten symptoms. So I set out to research what the world medical literature had to say.

    Is gluten a neurotoxin?
    I felt excited. I reviewed my patients in this new light—I began looking for a brain-grain connection. I began to see gluten as a neurotoxin—this could provide a universal model of gluten-sensitivity. This toxicity might act through inflammatory mechanisms or cross-reactivity with neurons. I began accumulating the evidence for my proposal that gluten-sensitivity is a brain and nerve disease.

    "Full Of It!"
    The concept of "Full of it" developed from the stories from my patients. I wrote my hypothesis down in a book now called Full of it! It refers to our diets being full of gluten; to the world being full of gluten-sensitive people; to the medical practitioners who are so skeptical of adverse reactions to gluten; to the enthusiasm of people who are feeling vibrant again on a gluten-free diet; and to those who are brimming with hope that the problem of gluten has now been recognized.

    Food allergy skeptics
    As a junior doctor I decided to formally research the food allergy phenomenon. I was awarded a research post and carried out the first comprehensive food allergy studies in New Zealand. I triumphantly demonstrated that food allergy was both a real entity and that it was common. But, to my disappointment, my colleagues were reluctant to believe me or my data. They professed a "disbelief" in food allergy. This surprised me as I had the research data.

    My next step was to conduct four more years of investigation of food allergy in Australia (at the Royal Childrens Hospital, Melbourne). This was a bigger and more elaborate study. My Doctoral Thesis (1982) based on this work is called: Food hypersensitivity in children: diagnostic approaches to milk and egg hypersensitivity. Since then I have continued my investigations into food allergy—but still today (25 years later) medical skepticism abounds. This "disbelief" is held despite the vast body of research describing food allergy. There seems to be an underlying unwillingness for doctors to consider food allergy as a possibility. Unfortunately, this also applies to gluten reactions.

    The shocking truth
    The shocking truth about gluten is that gluten foods are causing tremendous damage—but currently this is going mostly unrecognized. Unfortunately, gluten grains have become our staple diet. The quantity of gluten in our food supply has been steadily increasing. Yet worse, official Health Policies endorse gluten grains as the foundation of our food pyramid.

    Medics turn a blind eye
    Gluten is sapping the energy and wellbeing of countless millions. To date, the medical profession has turned a blind eye to glutens wider problems whilst focusing all of their attention on the narrow problem of celiac disease.

    A typical story
    I received emails like this every day:

    "Dr Ford, I have emailed you a number of times regarding our two children.

    I thought I should let you know that since going gluten free for the last three months, at last our son and daughter have put on some weight.

    If I had kept them on a normal gluten diet (which they recommended at the hospital) we would be still be having the headaches and sore tummies as well as the bad moods which our son would have. People just thought he was a naughty child, but now he is so different - we can talk to him without getting into any fights.

    I congratulate you for all your efforts on bringing gluten intolerance to the media and medical profession. More children and their families may find long awaited help. We have had to put up with this for seven years! At long last there is light at the end of the tunnel. Kind regards, Sue and Garry."

    Can gluten damage your brain?
    I believe that gluten was actually causing these two children to be sick. That is the explanation for their "naughty" behavior, their moods and their headaches.

    I postulate that gluten can damage your brain. I have come to this conclusion by the abundant circumstantial evidence from my observations of my patients who are gluten-sensitive. I have pondered the next questions: "Why do they have such an array of symptoms from gluten?" "Why do they recover so quickly when gluten is removed?" And "Why do they deteriorate so rapidly when only tiny amounts of gluten are eaten?" The concept of a brain/nerve disease can explain everything.

    The brain/nerve hypothesis
    "The symptoms from gluten occur through its action on the nervous system".

    I propose that gluten-sensitivity is a brain condition. Each and every organ in your body has some form of brain/nerve control. I propose that gluten can injure the delicate nervous networks that control your guts functions. A malfunction will subsequently lead to all of the gut symptoms that have so well been described. In addition, gluten can also directly affect brain function, which leads to the primary neurological symptoms that are so commonly seen with gluten-sensitivity.

    What is new?
    There are a number of new ideas that I put forward. These are based on circumstantial evidence. They produce a unifying theory of the symptoms that are attributed to gluten toxicity.

    • A brain disease
      I consider that gluten-sensitivity is mostly a neurological problem. A major contribution to this debate is the realization that the brain has a central role in the expression of the symptoms that have, until now, been attributed to the local toxicity of gluten in the gut.
    • A nerve disease
      I propose that gluten-sensitivity is a nerve disease. There is a gigantic network of nerves that controls every function that your gut is programmed to do. There are as many nerve cells in your gut as there are in your head! (about 25 billion nerve cells). I call it your tummy brain (or gut brain). Your tummy brain can be directly damaged by gluten reactions. This is the cause of so many sore tummies and bowel troubles.
    • A wide spectrum of neurological manifestations
      For decades, there have been reports of unexplained brain and nerve symptoms which are associated with celiac disease. Although these associations have been described, there has been no universal mechanism proposed. However, if gluten is seen as a neurotoxin, then the explanation has been found.
    • A very common disease
      Reactions to gluten have recently been documented to be extremely common. About one-in-ten people (as ascertained by blood donor studies) have high levels of gluten antibodies in their blood. My clinical studies have arrived at this same high number of gluten-sensitive people. Others have data to show that it is even more prevalent.

    Am I full if it?
    You might ask, "Is he full of it?" Yes, I am full of excitement and hope for the future. So many people can now be helped, if only this information can be widely distributed. I am full of ideas and full of enthusiasm. I hope that you are full of hope for your healthy and vibrant future.

    Tariq's story:

    "Dear Rodney,

    Thank you for your care and support of my family in regard to our allergies, gluten sensitivity and celiac disease that exists within that framework.

    My son Tariq, who is nearly 12 years old, has been a patient of yours over a number of years for his multiple food allergies. Tariq also suffers from dyslexia. Over the last several years Tariq has been becoming increasingly tired, lacking in energy and motivation, struggling with school work and constantly scratching due to his eczema and rashes covering all of his body.

    During this time, even though he has attended soccer training up to four times a week he somehow gained a lot of weight. Tariq was constantly grumpy and had low mood levels.

    Two months ago you diagnosed Tariq with gluten-sensitivity (his tTG 4; IgG-gliadin 86; IgA-gliadin 9).

    Tariq was extremely reluctant to go on a gluten free diet. But as the rest of the family had gone gluten-free—so he was forced also to become gluten-free.

    The changes that a gluten-free diet has evoked in Tariq have been astounding. His energy levels have increased, his skin has vastly improved, he has lost a lot of his excess weight (even though his appetite has increased) and he has shown improvement in his dyslexia.

    Tariq is not as grumpy as he was and his mood levels have improved. Tariq is now vigilant about gluten and can see the differences it has made to his life and the quality of it.

    Also, the other soccer parents have noticed a vast improvement in Tariqs energy levels and speed. His teacher has also noticed a big difference.

    Thanks again.

    Regards, Rosemary"

    Are you affected?
    The shocking truth is that gluten can damage your brain and that so many people are being encouraged to eat gluten-foods that might be steadily eroding their health and energy. If you have any lingering doubt about your own health, then I suggest that you check out the possibility of gluten-sensitivity.

    If you have any comments or questions we would love to hear from you.

    Dr Rodney Ford is a Pediatric Gastroenterologist, Allergist and Nutrition Consultant. He has been Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Christchurch School of Medicine, University of Otago. He runs a busy Childrens Gastroenterology and Allergy Clinic in Christchurch, New Zealand. He has written over a hundred scientific papers including book chapters and books. www.doctorgluten.com

    This includes a series of five books on gluten: why it can make you ill and how to go gluten-free.

    • Are You Gluten-Sensitive? Your Questions Answered
    • Going Gluten-Free: How to Get Started
    • The Gluten-Free lunch book
    • The book for the Sick, Tired and Grumpy (Gluten-Free kids)
    • Full of it! The shocking truth about gluten (The brain-grain connection - ISBN 978-0-473-10407-8)

    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    Hmm... the Roman 'bread and circuses' come to mind... Did the Romans see the connection and get their populace fat, dumb, and happy with gluten? Makes me wonder...

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    The article was very informative and gave me something to go forward with. While I don't think that I'm a celiac, I do believe that I am gluten sensitive. I also believe this can be my husband's problem too. Thank You very much for this life changing information.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    I am on the gluten free diet after about a year and a half of suffering from the symptoms of celiac disease. I have been diagnosed by a gastroenterologist as a celiac from several days of different tests to confirm this diagnosis. I am a new patient and have seen for myself and my family has seen this too, my symptoms have improved greatly. I have been on this diet for about two months now. I love it that I do see light at the end of the tunnel. I can now get back some of the energy, I do not have the symptoms of joint pain, vomiting or diarrhea, my skin has improved and most of all, I feel good. I am not completed well, but I am encouraged and know that this has a treatment that can help me. Thanks for hearing my story. S.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    A great article which shows the issue.


    I collapsed last Boxing Day after eating a large amount of cakes pies and bread on Christmas. The hospital thought I had all of the symptoms of a stroke. It was proved later that it was not that. Since then, I have spent almost a year in agony. My muscles developed cramps. My legs swelled up. I had heart rate attacks of 220 BPM and blood pressure attacks of up to 200 (separately and together). I developed rashes all over my body. I had bleeding through my skin. My legs swelled up. I developed skin like that of an alligator on my legs. I ended up hardly able to walk, even though I had been a 3 mile a day runner for 40 years. I had dizzy spells. I spent a total of two weeks in hospital undergoing tests by a number of specialists. It was determined that I also had perophral neuropathy. I was given up to 14 drugs in an effort to deal with the symptoms. But the doctors had no idea of the cause of all of this.


    A friend then told me she had had some of the symptoms I had and was cured by not eating gluten


    I laughed, but tried it. Guess what ? I am getting better week by week and all of my symptoms have either abated or have vanished . I am about to start my running again,


    Guess what? The doctors refused to believe that it was caused by gluten.


    How many others have what I have had to some degree, while the doctors say, 'We may never know the cause of the illness,' while blindly saying that there is no such thing.


    Yet medical experts all over the internet search engines around the world say there is this form of gluten sickness beyond the intestine type


    I have a challenge in life. It is to see that the doctors in Ontario accept that there is a second disabling if not deadly gluten sickness.


    And suggestion which will help me?

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    About a month ago, my daughter started having some strange symptoms. Along with her eczema, which she scratched to the point of bleeding, she started having a lot of unexplained pain. She is 2 1/2. She complained about toe pain, eye pain, and she was also having frequent tantrums daily. I was at my wits end. None of her doctors could tell what was wrong. They said she was fine, but I knew she was not fine. She also started having odd behavior. She seemed to not be able to control her motor functions of her hands. She would hold on to something with one hand and than use the other hand to try to pry the other hand off. This was very frustrating to her. I went to a naturopath doctor and she was diagnosed with having an allergy to gluten. I now have an appointment with the allergist specialist to verify this. I am not waiting around though. I have taken her off the gluten and she has changed dramatically. I am just learning about gluten-free foods so sometimes there is a slip up and she regresses, but overall, she is pleasant, no more tantrums, and her skin is better. Reading your article made so much sense to me. It helped me realize why she was having such strange behavior. Gluten being a brain disease is an obvious answer to me. I feel so relieved to have an answer. I am so glad I did not take her to a behavior specialist.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Dr. Richard Becker says that gluten is a toxin. I believe it to be true. We have a first hand experience with Celiac Sprue from Grandmother, mother, husbands cousins and on and on. Keep up the good work as it is important to all.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites



    The missing piece of this puzzle is gluten ---> glutamate release. Wheat in particular is full of other glutamate precursors, not just gluten.


    Glutamate excitotoxicity (like toxicity from monosodium glutamate ingestion) ---> acetylcholine release ---> histamine ---> inflammation. Brain fog, autoimmune issues, and more will crop up along any step of these pathways. The process is seen pretty clearly in asthma, where magnesium (directly antagonizes glutamate/CA++ overflow) is given intravenously in dangerous attacks, causing rapid bronchodilation.


    Glutamate excitotoxicity ---> prolactin release ---> dopamine antagonism.




    Good luck!

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    Guest Barbara Frohne


    I'm so excited to learn about the brain connection. I think we are going to be able to get my mother some help!

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Brilliant article, good on you Dr. Ford for your great work that is no doubt saving peoples lives, making them well and happy again, and for challenging the some medical beliefs. I may add that countless children are no doubt being put on dangerous mind altering drugs for a so called ''ADHD'' and 'ADD,' or for just being naughty, the side effects just add to their behavior problems and sickness. I believe Gluten or food allergy intolerance is the cause with some.

    We are in the process of getting our children gluten tested.

    Since coming to see you with my daughter amelia, the result is amazing, she is progressing wonderfully thanks to you Rodney.:-) Cheers

    Diane Blakemore.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    This is now closed for further comments

  • About Me

    Dr. Rodney Ford is a Pediatric Gastroenterologist. He was Professor of Pediatrics at the Christchurch School of Medicine. He runs the Children's Gastroenterology and Allergy Clinic in New Zealand. He has written a series of 7 books on gluten (www.DrRodneyFord.com). His main theory is that symptoms from gluten reactions arise from brain and nerve damage. His latest book is "The Gluten Syndrome" which encapsulates current ideas and concepts of gluten and the harm that it does.

  • Celiac.com Sponsor (A17):
    Celiac.com Sponsor (A17):

    Celiac.com Sponsors (A17-m):

  • Related Articles

    Dr. Scot Lewey
    This article appeared in the Summer 2006 edition of Celiac.coms Scott-Free Newsletter.
    Celiac.com 08/31/2006 - All of us have patterns of proteins on the surface of our white blood cells. These proteins are known as human leukocyte antigens (HLA), one of which is DQ. Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), and several autoimmune conditions occur more frequently with certain HLA DQ types. DQ gene testing is performed by analyzing cells from a blood sample or from a Q-tip swab of the mouth. HLA types have a naming system that can be confusing even to scientists and physicians but here is my explanation of the testing, the results...

    Scott Adams
    Celiac.com 03/21/2007 - Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder marked by an inflammatory condition in the small intestine that triggers when genetically susceptible individuals consume wheat. Symptoms of celiac most commonly begin around age two, after wheat has been introduced into the diet, or in the third and fourth decades of adult life.
    In genetically susceptible people, the ingestion of wheat gluten protein triggers an inflammatory reaction in the small bowel that causes a collapse of the villi, the small finger-like projections responsible for nutrient absorption. This greatly reduces the amount of surface area available for nutrient...

    Jennifer Arrington
    I would hate to add up all the hundreds of dollars I have wasted trying to get healthy.  Now, however, I get healthy by focusing on one thing:  making my intestines healthy.  If my intestines are healthy, I can absorb food.  If I can absorb food, my body will be receiving the nutrition it needs to function, and thus I will be healthy.
    Of course, rule number one for all of us is to stay gluten free.  But, focusing on avoidance alone, can get depressing.  Instead, I like to focus on what I can do to strengthen my digestive system.  That way, all the good gluten free food I am consuming can actually benefit my body.  What good is eating healthy if you ...