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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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    I was tested for allergies when I was 20 and the top allergy I had was GLUTEN and it was called a brain allergy. I have never been diagnosed with celiac disease or Lyme disease; however, I'm not familiar with those.

     

    The symptoms I felt, when eating large amounts of pasta, was that my brain felt foggy, more tired, harder to think. I felt irritable and cranky. And I felt an urgency to sleep. This is not how some people get tired from eating food. This was my brain feeling suddenly tired.

     

    At that age, I tried completely eliminating gluten from my diet, no pasta, no bread, no sandwich bread, and just ate vegetables, rice, corn based or potato based foods for carbohydrates.

     

    I felt the symptoms went away with that.

     

    However, since 20, I have loosened up my strictness with "no gluten". I find that the brain allergy/ fatigued feeling is proportional to the amount of gluten I eat. I have enjoyed pasta in smaller amounts and it only gets me little more tired, but I don't eat it before I play a big sports game.

     

    Though, I do purposely eat some pasta before I go to bed and it helps me fall asleep quickly.

     

    Hope this personal experience of the gluten brain allergy helps to clear it up...

     

    The question is what is the toll on the body to eat your brain allergy food in small doses?

     

    The doctor says the body can recover after removing gluten from the diet, but are there permanent brain or nerve damage that cannot be recovered?

     

    -Diane

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    Guest Scheleta Phillips

    Posted

    Hi Dr. Ford,

    My husband and I have a son who is 10 1/2 years old. Two years ago he was diagnosed with Petit Mal seizures, which we initially thought were from hitting his head, while he was playing tug-o-war, his cousin let got and my son flew back into the pointy end of a toy box, we seen the seizures start after this. To make a very long story short, we initially tried a prescription medication, this did not reduce nor take his seizures away, but it did produce horrible side effects; seeing demons in his room trying to kill him, his A's and B's dropped to D's and F's...constantly in trouble and defiant if not in a zombie mode, and those are just a few of the side effects. We decided to try natural ways of healing and through a long journey, we see a Holisitc Practitioner who is also a Chiropractor. With changing his diet along with adjustments weekly, his seizures have dramatically reduced. The best and most results we have seen in the 2 yrs hes had them. A few things we are finding, one, processed sugars trigger them, MSGs, and GLUTEN. If he has something with Gluten he will have seizures that last longer and he will even fall at times. Since we've done this diet/detox, he has not fallen once in two weeks and his seizures now only last 2 seconds max., as they were about 6 seconds max and usually falling. You website is so informative thank you!!!

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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.

    Thank you for your response. I agree. Dr's are Practicing (until they get it right). Also the hidden gluten in foods I never thought of.

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    Thank you for your opinions. Everyone is entitled to one. You repeatedly say "I believe, postulate, or propose" Where is the research to back this up? I find it strange that there are no opposing opinions posted...will this be posted or just thrown out? You can find a connection in anything if you want to look hard enough. I refuse to believe that the wheat made by God for man to eat is causing all these problems.

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    Thank you for your opinions. Everyone is entitled to one. You repeatedly say "I believe, postulate, or propose" Where is the research to back this up? I find it strange that there are no opposing opinions posted...will this be posted or just thrown out? You can find a connection in anything if you want to look hard enough. I refuse to believe that the wheat made by God for man to eat is causing all these problems.

    Made by God, modified and poisoned by man.

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    Made by God, modified and poisoned by man.

    ....and hybridized. Yes. Our wheat has come a long way from what it was in its original design. Herein lie a labyrinth of problems for modern man. Let us not forget the details regarding modern agricultural methods that denature (and modify) what was once a product the human body could ingest and digest properly. Good stuff.

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    Thank you for your opinions. Everyone is entitled to one. You repeatedly say "I believe, postulate, or propose" Where is the research to back this up? I find it strange that there are no opposing opinions posted...will this be posted or just thrown out? You can find a connection in anything if you want to look hard enough. I refuse to believe that the wheat made by God for man to eat is causing all these problems.

    obviously you are ignorant. Maybe it isn't affecting you, but it is me, as I've been sick for ten years. I stopped eating gluten and I feel alive again. What is in our diet now is a hybrid wheat modified by man to contain more gluten. The research is right here honey.

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    Doctors seem to be the most ignorant and arrogant people on the planet. It seems that if they acknowledge the fact that gluten is ruining our health they would be out of work and people won't believe it unless a doctor tells them. They are I believe controlled by the drug companies. We are now eating copious amounts of wheat and people can't understand how something they have eat all their lives is wrecking their health. It also has an addicting quality and is very acidic. I should also mention that Monsanto has screwed with it. Farmers are now growing ROUNDUP READY WHEAT which is resistant to the unselective herbicide Round up. Once I quit wheat all my problems disappeared. When I told my doctor he sarcastically replied good for you. My symptoms were bouts of mental illness followed with colon cancer around age 47, then came joint pain, next was bad gas and diarrhea which led to my discovery of my wheat intolerance. I no longer fear cancer because my PH is now 7.0 which is normal.

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    Trying to make sense of my entire life after being diagnosed with celiac disease in June 2011, I am 50 now. Generational dyslexia on my fathers side, he had nine brothers and sisters, numerous family members with mild to severe dyslexia. I have four children and also had one premature baby at 26 weeks that died, my 22 year old daughter seeing endocrinologist diagnosed hypothyroid, P.C.O.S and birth defect, malformed uterus. Twins, 20, 6.5" and underweight, one has allergies, other birth defect urethra, both eczema, A.D.D, L.D. Spent my life trying to help them, accept them, school was a nightmare so we home schooled. I am wondering now if celiac disease/gluten may have affected all of our lives. Wishing all better health and Bless those who heal!

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    Thank you for your opinions. Everyone is entitled to one. You repeatedly say "I believe, postulate, or propose" Where is the research to back this up? I find it strange that there are no opposing opinions posted...will this be posted or just thrown out? You can find a connection in anything if you want to look hard enough. I refuse to believe that the wheat made by God for man to eat is causing all these problems.

    Jessica, whoever is your God, he didn't intend us to be farming, and certainly not with the aid of Monsanto. please do your research before opposing a very well established fact: celiac disease is real.

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    thank you Prof. Ford for a compelling article. I have been sick with strings of symptoms for years and have been complaining about my severe migraines to doctors for the last seven years. they prescribed strong pain killers. recently my tummy problems were so aggravated that I was scared of leaving home. luckily, a friend told me she was diagnosed with fructose malabsorption, which led me to a low FODMAP diet (and no gluten) and which led my doctor to send me to a gastroenterologist - who is going to test me for celiac. 3 months without gluten, and my migraine disappeared, together with my tummy problems! yesterday, i started the gluten challenge towards the celiac biopsy test. I happily ate slices of beautiful organic bread non-gluten-free, and was looking forward to this 'challenge'. I woke up in the middle of the night with a tummy ache and this morning, I have got the start of a migraine. that's the end of that challenge for me, as the specialist said to stop if I got sick. Your article gives me the confidence that I can at last recover my health and lead a normal life, GLUTEN FREE!!!

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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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