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  • Dr. Rodney Ford M.D.
    Dr. Rodney Ford M.D.

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

    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.

    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)

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    Recommended Comments



    Wonderful site - I would like to be able to post a comment. Or ask a question - please tell me how. I have had celiac test that came back negative. But I have bad reaction to all grains, so would like tell people about this also.

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    This article is outstanding. I see that the doctor was concluding his first study in 1982. That was when my symptoms first started, how I wish we had this article then. It took me over 20 years to figure it out, you all know how that goes. It is inspiring that there are people like the doctor out there.

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    Guest Donielle Wilson, ND

    Posted

    Dear Dr. Ford! Thank you so much for this article and all of your work. I am sitting here researching the connection between gluten and mental health issues for a presentation I am giving in February. I am a naturopathic doctor in New York specializing in neurotransmitter imbalances and food sensitivities. I have seen in my practice exactly what you describe, and I am so excited to be sharing the information with more patients and practitioners. Brilliant! I hope to have the chance to meet you one day. Here is to eating gluten-free!

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    Thank you Dr Ford and others for your welcomed contribution and continued observation and research into gluten toxicity, and for highlighting the toxic effects of gluten to all, and for this article. It took nearly 3 decades or me to be diagnosed with Coeliac Disease (I have what I call 'toxic gluten autoimmune disorder', it effects all my body including by brain not just my gut). I had neurological symptoms, muscle weakness, concentration problems, poor memory, hypertension, tachycardia, exercise intolerance, incoordination, ataxia, dizziness, breathlessness, low immune symptom, skin/bone/eye pain, headaches, blurred vision, pins/needles/numbness, nightmares, insomnia, hypoglycemia, and had anaemia even though I ate plenty of food and took supplements, felt worse after eating food, had bulky stools after eating, I constantly felt nausea, sometimes retched after eating anything and felt bloated, sometimes I was very thin with a pot belly other times I looked overweight - swollen with water retention, dry skin, cold sores, blisters often on skin, red flushing of skin, kidney stones, glomerulonephritis, I was like a zombie, just existing. Doctors claimed I was attention seeking, and that it was all in my head, that there was nothing wrong with me therefore it was in their words chronic fatigue syndrome/ME/hysteria/stress/anxiety, my symptoms were dismissed by ignorant doctors who should know better, who should take their head out of the sand, and stop being ignorant. I was told it wasn't the food I was eating when I said I thought it was the carboydrates (mainly grains), and they told me there was no such thing, and accused me of having illness behaviour, and an eating disorder. I was shocked when I purchased my medical records after many years of fighting for them, to find doctors labelled me as neurotic and they hadn't even put my symptoms down, saying I was hysteric/malingering/chronic fatigue syndrome therefore nothing organic wrong with me, that I was attention seeking with illusionary ideas about my health. It was bad enough living not even half a life, and fighting for a diagnosis without the bullying poor behaviour from so called health professionals. I was thankfully diagnosed with Coeliac Disease due to a doctor writing his thesis on coeliac disease and anaemia, and I just so happen to have had a blood test at the same time that landed on his desk by mistake. Within two weeks on the gluten free diet I was well for the first time in my life, I felt alive for the first time in my life, all my symptoms gone in just 2 weeks. Unfortunately the doctors disbelieve me that gluten is not just confined to the gut, majority do not listen/respect/trust what patients say, they dont believe the effects of gluten on the body, or want to believe, one wonders if there was a pill for gluten toxicity and a financial incentive to diagnose and prescribe a drug for gluten toxicity that we will see a huge surge in acceptance of the condition and an increase in diagnosis, even though the solution is simple - do not eat gluten.

     

    If I eat the smallest amount of gluten my symptoms reappear, and it takes 2 weeks to recover, I ignore food that claim to be gluten free, I make sure everything is naturally gluten free. Unfortunately after two years on the diet I started showing signs of myasthenia gravis, again doctors are saying there is nothing wrong, I purchased my own blood tests for the antibodies for myasthenia gravis, they were negative (but they are not 100%, like alot of conditions, we can't always rely on tests or health professionals), An Ice pack on any muscle including my eyes for just two minutes reverse my muscle weakness for just over a minute - again doctors dismiss this, and say there is no such thing. However I do believe there is a connection to gluten toxicity and people developing other autoimmune disorders, especially if not diagnosed soon enough, and doctors should start listening to patients and keep up to date with the research. Patients health outcomes should be recorded internationally on databases for all to see, objectively to measure health outcomes and raise awareness of the gluten toxicity as well as other conditions, information is power. So many peoples lives are ruined because of the lack of awareness of gluten toxicity, so many misdiagnosed. Thank you for your dedication and enthusiasm into researching and raising awareness of gluten toxicity.

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    I'm a little perplexed why it's called a "disease." Celiac, gluten sensitivity, whatever... If a food item is toxic to an individual then it could be completely normal rather than some oddity. Maybe instead there's something wrong with people whose bodies don't react when they should. Most people would die instantly if they drank cyanide, but there may be a few out there who would survive... Therefore do the vast majority of people have a "disease" that prevents them from being able to ingest cyanide?

     

    Crazy.

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    I can vouch for four generations of undiagnosed gluten sensitivity. Even now, my daughter and I have had severe stomach, eczema, and anxiety/irritation symptoms, but there's nothing in our medical records about that. We quit eating wheat before being tested (and won't go back on it to prove what we know!) None of our pediatricians, dermatologists, or a psychotherapist from Stanford ever suggested we get tested or would comment on gluten sensitivity causing tantrums in my daughter. Yet once we quit gluten, the tantrums disappeared. Parents, my daughter also gets tantrums from food coloring (within 15 minutes of eating them she is pretty belligerent).

     

    Dr. Ford, I have also been researching pesticides and fungicides commonly used on grain products. These list MANY neurological symptoms, since many of them are in fact neurotoxins (malathion, permethrin, etc). It seems chemical sensitivities in general are not validated, and there is no public research on symptoms related to pesticide residues on food. Do you know if there has been any direct research into the possibility that many people are reacting to the pesticides and not the gluten?

     

    Can't thank you enough for supporting all of us!

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    It's extraordinary how diverse the symptoms for this can be. Me: dry skin, dermatitis herpetiformis (small itchy clear bubbles), constipation, diarrhea, breast (not chest) pains, bloating, then moving on to leg "vibrations" and burning palms, red flushes, cramped hands and "unidentified bright objects" on my Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

     

    Got a probable diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, then found out that many gluten-intolerant people have a "neuro dominant" expression or some form of neurological problems. (At least 10% according to one site--search "House episode on celiac disease" and then choose the "wikis" link.)

     

    I read an article in Scientific American about how much of the world's wheat fell to a fungus--rust--that led many of the world's growers in the late 90's to spray with fungicides. Then when that grew expensive, they turned to a Turkish wheat strain that was resistant to rust. AND, the gluten levels in wheat flour have risen from 2% in the 50s to over 20% now. Did you know it is often sprayed onto the flour after grinding to raise the gluten levels?

     

    I first went to spelt and got some relief. Then cut out that. More symptoms went away. Still ate oats. Until I gave up oats (unless certified gluten free) and ALL forms of gluten, had residual symptoms. They still come back, sometimes as small bumps around the edge of my scalp, if I accidentally eat gluten.

     

    Other symptoms: my sister: bloating, especially her face. One niece: absolute moon face even when rail thin. Another niece: heart palpitations, mood alterations, digestive difficulties, etc.

     

    All symptoms resolved on a gluten free diet. Someday folks will look back at us as we look at the Romans who used lead glazes on all their dinnerware and poisoned themselves.

     

    If you're having these symptoms, research the kinds of common foods you wouldn't ordinarily think contain gluten: vinegar, except rice vinegar and apple cider vinegar, malt products of all kinds including worchestire sauce, soy sauce (try wheat-free tamari), maltodextrin, modified food starch (wheat forms), etc. I had to print out a list and then go through all my food supplies and throw out 2/3. But worth it.

     

    Who wants unidentified bright objects showing up in brain scans? (They are also associated with lupus, Alzheimer, multiple sclerosis, other auto-immune diseases) P.S. Blood work inconclusive (I had already given up wheat and they warned me I would need to eat it for a month again first. No way!)

     

    Don't always go by what the doctors say. They are fumbling in the dark on this one, for the most part.

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    It's extraordinary how diverse the symptoms for this can be. Me: dry skin, dermatitis herpetiformis (small itchy clear bubbles), constipation, diarrhea, breast (not chest) pains, bloating, then moving on to leg "vibrations" and burning palms, red flushes, cramped hands and "unidentified bright objects" on my Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

     

    Got a probable diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, then found out that many gluten-intolerant people have a "neuro dominant" expression or some form of neurological problems. (At least 10% according to one site--search "House episode on celiac disease" and then choose the "wikis" link.)

     

    I read an article in Scientific American about how much of the world's wheat fell to a fungus--rust--that led many of the world's growers in the late 90's to spray with fungicides. Then when that grew expensive, they turned to a Turkish wheat strain that was resistant to rust. AND, the gluten levels in wheat flour have risen from 2% in the 50s to over 20% now. Did you know it is often sprayed onto the flour after grinding to raise the gluten levels?

     

    I first went to spelt and got some relief. Then cut out that. More symptoms went away. Still ate oats. Until I gave up oats (unless certified gluten free) and ALL forms of gluten, had residual symptoms. They still come back, sometimes as small bumps around the edge of my scalp, if I accidentally eat gluten.

     

    Other symptoms: my sister: bloating, especially her face. One niece: absolute moon face even when rail thin. Another niece: heart palpitations, mood alterations, digestive difficulties, etc.

     

    All symptoms resolved on a gluten free diet. Someday folks will look back at us as we look at the Romans who used lead glazes on all their dinnerware and poisoned themselves.

     

    If you're having these symptoms, research the kinds of common foods you wouldn't ordinarily think contain gluten: vinegar, except rice vinegar and apple cider vinegar, malt products of all kinds including worchestire sauce, soy sauce (try wheat-free tamari), maltodextrin, modified food starch (wheat forms), etc. I had to print out a list and then go through all my food supplies and throw out 2/3. But worth it.

     

    Who wants unidentified bright objects showing up in brain scans? (They are also associated with lupus, Alzheimer, multiple sclerosis, other auto-immune diseases) P.S. Blood work inconclusive (I had already given up wheat and they warned me I would need to eat it for a month again first. No way!)

     

    Don't always go by what the doctors say. They are fumbling in the dark on this one, for the most part.

    Sounds familiar--Could this be a family member writing this comment on her birthday? Even though I didn't think I was one of the family members to suffer from gluten intolerance--I'm beginning to wonder. I have recently experienced toe joint pain and leg cramps, as well restless leg syndrome in the evening. Could these symptoms come from my exposure to gluten? Hmm...I will try a gluten free diet for a few weeks and see if there is a connection. Thank you for sharing this site.

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    I'm reading this article and every single comment and I can't be more angry that I've spent my whole life. I'm 53 right now and suffering from celiac disease manifested with all classical complications associated with that. I have lost all my savings trying to get help and find a doctor who could treat me. I ended up with a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with depressive disorder. My doctor is constantly changing my anti- depressive medications because none of them have been working, and telling my mother I am just a hypochondriac and I have to work more. I forgot to say, none of my family members believed me even when I got so sick, that I could not work any more and went on disability with. Every one of them and even my best friend who is not my friend any more- I'm just lazy and something with my head even when I could not get up or walk. I looked like a skeleton eating and washing everything down with with frequent hypoglycemia attacks. My weight went down to 95lb. Only a holistic doctor helped me, who put me on organic diet with fruits, veggies, fresh juices, meat and brown rice (no wheat bread). But he never mentioned the word gluten. And it never occurred to me any connection between eating my whole life wheat and rye bread, semolina and being sick and getting sicker. After getting better I went on my old diet, eating everything and got sick again and even worse rapidly degrading not understanding why and losing any hope. I just got diagnosed with celiac two months ago by young doctor a new graduate, who didn't ignore any of my symptoms: severe depression, anxiety, very weird and scary feelings in my head when I'm eating bread, blurry vision, peripheral neuropathy, loss of balance, frequent pain in the whole gastric intestinal tract, frequent fatty diarrhea with mucus, geographic ulcerated swollen tongue (which I had all my life thyroid, hypoglycemia episodes, cardiovascular problems like arrhythmia, severe osteoporosis, pain in bones, skin problems which do not respond to treatment and getting worse when I eat bread. And finally asthma and difficulty to breath through the nose from swelling after eating bread, constant debilitating fatigue, problems with memory, concentration, attention, orientation, feeling crazy and demented, sometimes forgetting simple words and tasks and not be able to talk and communicate normally. Wondering how could I finish high school and college with very good grades and be good in math, physic and all this technical stuff, with memory oriented to little details. Did these sound like hypochondriac's complaints. I don't think so. After being on gluten-free diet almost for two months I feel so much better, not 100% yet. I can say 50% for sure. But I am getting there. I don't feel crazy any more, very calm without Lorazepam, no scary crawling sensations in my head. More energy and the rest of the symptoms are not so severe right now. I understand there is some damage to the body that is irreversible and being on the very bottom financially due to inability to work, I'm gonna bring my life back again. Thank you very much. Great article. Every doctor should read it.

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    I am grateful that you are making a connection with gluten and the brain. I just started a gluten free diet 3 days ago. For 12 years I've been suffering with intestinal problems, balance issues, massive confusion, memory issues, joint and neurological issues, and depression. Everything has since been chalked up to depression. I believe gluten is it. I stomach hasn't bloated in the last 3 days.

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    What isn't mentioned here is the simple fact that we cannot digest any refined carbohydrates without using up our reserves of b vitamins as part of the metabolic process, so the functionality of the fine veins supplying the brain is compromised leading to many mental health problems, doctors generally only look for this in cases of extreme alcoholism, but a high sugar diet is just as bad.

    Obviously celiacs with reduced capacity to produce digestive enzymes will be particularly prone to this.

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  • 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.

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