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    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:

    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

    Guest Theresa Schaefer


    Thank You. My husband was retaining 25 lbs. of water and doctors could not find what was wrong with him so he came home with 5 different blood pressure pills, steroids and water pills to the tune of $100,000.00 for 3 weeks in the hospital. I suggested gluten and they shot me down. So we went on a gluten free diet and with in 4 days he lost all that water and is doing great.

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    I wish this article can be posted so that everyone in the world can see it. I tried telling my parents I have gluten intolerance but they won't believe me and it's so hard to eat anything they cook because most of the food they make has gluten.

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    Since the age of 3 I have had severe asthma. I have been hospitalized uncountable times through the years. At age 44 I had asthma, allergies, reflux disease, depression, endometriosis, digestive problems and pain, severe back pain, chronic bronchitis, bells palsy and an extra 45 pounds of weight.

    I am an optometrist. A patient of mine told me she cured lupus and asthma with a gluten free diet. Since my pharmacy bill was going to be $500 a month, I became curious and tried it along with isotonic supplements OPC 3 and ORAC. I lost 35 pounds, pain free, no meds and never felt better in my life. All the bouts with

    Bronchitis was really a reaction to gluten. Now I take a Benedryl and Mucenix only rarely.

    OUR FOOD IS Poisoning us!!!

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    Thank You. My husband was retaining 25 lbs. of water and doctors could not find what was wrong with him so he came home with 5 different blood pressure pills, steroids and water pills to the tune of $100,000.00 for 3 weeks in the hospital. I suggested gluten and they shot me down. So we went on a gluten free diet and with in 4 days he lost all that water and is doing great.

    I can relate to the water retention thing... had terrible edema in my legs for basically my entire life, and within a few days (literally less than three) without gluten they were "normal". I could hardly believe it.

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    After my food is contaminated with gluten, I become worthless. I can't process letters into words, or road signs for their meaning.I can't drive. I can't read. I can't work. But the scariest part is my thoughts. I get so angry and have no remorse for my actions. I go from Mother Teresa to Charles Manson in minutes. I'm so relived to hear that progress is being made with this. THANK YOU!!

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    Although I agree that many people suffer from gluten intolerance, I cannot see the brain and nerve system connection. There is not a single convincing evidence shown in this article for this. Myself being a scientist, regard the terms "I believe" and "I think" as disqualifying. The author does not explain, why e.g. the cardiovascular or lymphatic system should not be able to produce all the symptoms by transporting the damaging agents throughout the body? Isn't the fact that people recover after being on a non-gluten diet a clear argument against a damaged brain/nerve system?

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    I don't care if it is neurological or not. We have increasingly modified and over-processed our food to the point where it is nothing like it was intended to be. Too many physicians want to treat the symptoms with medicines rather than look for the underlying causes to many medical problems.


    Having removed wheat and gluten has changed my entire family. My son having been diagnosed with wheat and gluten allergy was completely changed within 48 hours of a gluten free diet. He went from pale, bloated, and lethargic to a thinner, energetic 4 year old. He is now almost 7 and as energetic and healthy as ever.


    Removing the wheat and gluten from my diet has allowed me to loose 50 lbs. and I no longer have migraines and ear infections...


    Kudo's to documents that look for the root of the problem and not just treat the symptoms!!!

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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.


    I am a Medical Doctor and never knew anything about gluten until I started loosing balance, have terrible sense of directions and experienced brain fog at the time of menopause. My brain MRI showed brain loss at 42 and no Neurologist could comment on it.

    I started studying Integrative, Functional Medicine and started tests on myself.

    Yes I always had Geografic tongue - /this is the first time I am hearing it could have association. Hyporhyroidism--one tiny bold patch since birth/alopecia areata/ few white spots on my olive skin/vitiligo/. Yes I had IBS and I have hearing loss in one ear. I am 60 now.

    I am switching my Family Practice to Integrative, Functional Medicine and I am excited about it.

    Keep in mind that gluten has cross-reactivity. It means that you may eat chocolate or have coffee and your body thinks it gluten and reacts to it same way as it would to gluten.

    Cyrex lab in AZ performs these tests.Regular laboratories have very limited tests rarely come positive.

    Yes, patients-stop asking"is it covered?"

    Nothing good is covered. Health insurance is like car insurance- covers wreckage not prevention . And you still pay for oil , timing belt change...

    I am off gluten for 2 months I don't have this brain fog anymore.

    I am supplementing vitamin B12 and looking forward to a new gluten free life!

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    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?

    Make sure you try the gard diet. I am dealing with the same things you are and looking for a cure. I was a runner of up to 3 miles 4 times a week and woke up one day not being able to even walk a 1/2 mile. I am currently seeking to find other things besides gluten or gliadin. Just look up gard on the internet.

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    Three examples of gluten at work:


    1. For a couple of years I had gastric reflux (I also have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Lyme Disease, Hashimoto's & low thyroid--but I'll just stick to gluten sensitivity here). My doctor suggested I go off grains. Lo and behold, not only did the GERD disappear but also headaches.

    2. About 2 years ago I started having abdominal aching (I had drifted away from my non-gluten diet). I was very worried. My GP sent me to a gastroenterologist; then I went to a second one. Of course they automatically want to do a colonoscopy/endoscopy--and in my already fragile condition I didn't want any invasive procedures. I was advised by someone who does muscle-testing and dowsing to go off not just wheat and other gluten products, but all grains (because as someone mentioned, there can be a sort of "cross-contamination" or sensitivity to gluten-like proteins), as well as some other foods. Within 2 months my condition began to resolve and after a bit longer I was pain free.

    3. Just the other night, because I've been having a rough time generally, I had a "treat" of pizza made with wheat. I have been able to tolerate small doses of gluten, infrequently, before, so I was not prepared for the HUGE reaction I had. In the middle of that pizza, I found myself in a very unpleasant "altered" state and when I got up from the table I was weaving like a drunk person. I barely made it into bed. And the next day, just like after being drunk, I could hardly remember what happened-- just that it did happen and that my brain was in some bizarre state. Well, no more "treats" for me. And no more grains of any kind--even nongluten--for a while.

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    A few years ago I read an excellent book called "Dangerous Grains" which touches on this subject. It certainly clued me into my gluten sensitivity when I was experiencing such extreme brain fog that I couldn't even carry on a conversation because I couldn't remember what a person had just said to me, or the topic of discussion! The book also pointed out that all grains have proteins similar to gluten, even the supposed gluten-free ones. For a time, my body and mind were reacting to all grains and I had to go completely grain-free for a time because I was experiencing the same symptoms as I did prior to my initial gluten detox. Consequently, grains play a very minor role in my diet. For me, a "treat" is a gluten-free baked item or gluten-free musli. My ability to use my brain is too important to me, and I'm too young to be experiencing brain impairment like this.

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    Dr. Ford, it is great to have some sort of clarity on this subject. I had gone two years with what I thought were acid flashbacks and extensive rashes that would cover a majority of my body, with no explanation. About 5 months ago my nephew was diagnosed with celiac disease and as our symptoms were similar, I tried cutting gluten out of my diet. I have now lost weight, gained energy, and I have a much more positive attitude towards life, including a slow but steady change in the episodes I was having. I just want to thank you. Keep on truckin'.

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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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