Gluten Sensitivity and Your Brain Health

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gluten sensitivity

Gluten Sensitivity and Your Brain:

Gluten is the common protein molecule found in wheat, barley, rye, kamut and spelt.  Gluten is a sticky storage protein that binds to the small intestinal wall where it often causes digestive and immune system disorders.  Gluten sensitivity is an epidemic that is a major factor in inflammatory disorders of the gut, immune system, skin and nervous system.

Gluten intolerance is highly associated with inflammatory disorders of all kinds (1).  It is also a contributing factor in many autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes, neurological disorders, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, autoimmune cardiomyopathy, lymphoma, and dermatitis herpetiformis (skin disease) among others (2,3,4,5).   It is also linked as a contributing factor in asthma, allergies, & eczema (6,7).

gluten sensitivity

Gluten and the Brain:

Studies have found associations between gluten sensitivity and disorders in every part of the neurological system including the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves.  Gluten is a significant trigger in psychiatric disorders, movement disorders, sensory ganglionapathy, ataxia, neuromyelitis, multiple sclerosis, cerebellar disease, cognitive impairment, dementia, restless leg syndrome, migraines, apraxia, neuropathy, myoclonus, hearing loss and virtually every other neurological disorder (8,9).

For many individuals there immune system gets so overworked from gluten sensitivity and other environmental challenges such as toxins, parasites, vitamin D deficiencies and trauma that they can have severe immune reactions that last months after one provoked exposure.

This means that consuming gluten on one day can cause an inflammatory assault that could last 2-3 months afterwards.  This is why it is so critical to be as strict as possible when avoiding gluten and other inflammatory irritants.

The Complexity of Gluten Sensitivity:

Gluten is made up of a sticky portion called glutenin and a protein portion called gliadin.  Gliadin can be broken down into alpha, omega and gamma gliadins.  Most lab tests only look at alpha gliadin antibodies but this is only a very small component of the total molecule.  Often times this lab comes back negative but the individual is reacting to some of the other components of the gluten molecule.

Glutenin gives wheat dough strength and elasticity and is very commonly used in the baking process do to these desirable characteristics.  Many people have severe reactions to this molecule but it never shows up on the basic gliadin antibody testing.

The food processing industry very often deamidates the gladin molecule to make it water soluble.   Deamidated gliadin has been shown to trigger severe immune responses in many individuals.  This never tests out for gliadin antibodies.

Lectins can Compound Gluten Sensitivity: 

Grains, nuts and legumes also contain lectins which bind sugars and carbohydrates together.  They are referred to as wheat germ agglutin (WGA) molecules in wheat.  The WGA molecules have been shown to trigger immune reactions and their highest concentrations are found in whole wheat and sprouted wheat (10).

Research has shown that WGA molecules can pass through the blood brain barrier and attach to the myelin sheath which is the protective coating of the nerve (11).  Lectins inhibit nerve growth factor which affects the ability of the nerves to heal and repair effectively.  Many individuals never test positive for a gluten allergen yet they have WGA sensitivity that is causing severe inflammatory problems in their body.

gluten sensitivity

Gluten Based Opioids: 

When the body metabolizes gluten it creates opoids in the form of gluteomorphin.  One can have a blood test to see if the body produces antibodies to gluteomorphin and the building block prodynorphin.  When someone has a opioid sensitivity going gluten free can cause severe withdrawal symptoms that are similar to coming off of opioid drugs such as heroin (12).

These symptoms include depression, crazy mood swings, nausea and vomiting as well as abnormal bowel activity.  This can often last anywhere from several days to weeks and can be one of the worst parts of a gluten sensitivity.

gluten sensitivity

Cross-Reactivity Immunology:

Immune cross reactivity happens when the immune system mistakes one protein for another.  The gluten protein is similar to protein structures in the nervous system and the thyroid tissue.  When the body creates anti-bodies for gluten it may also produce antibodies to the body’s own nervous tissue or thyroid.  This cross-reactive effect leads to damage to the brain, thyroid and other neurological tissue when the individual consumes anything with even the slightest bit of gluten.

The best test for gluten sensitivity cross-reactivity is the ELISA.  This is a blood test in which the blood is placed in a dish with various neurological tissues and later inspected for an immune response.  If the immune response is elevated it is evidence of such a cross-reactive immune response.

The most common area of cross reactivity is through a family of proteins located on neurons called synapsin.  These proteins help to regulate neurotransmitter release.  This is most common in the cerebellum which can cause problems with vertigo, motor control, balance and anxiety.

gluten sensitivity

Transglutaminase AutoImmunity: 

Transglutaminases are enzymes found throughout the body that bind proteins together and they are also key to the digestion of wheat.  Transglutaminase-2 (TG-2) is found in the intestinal lining and antibodies to TG-2 are a marker for celiac disease (13).  Transglutaminase-3 (TG-3) are found in the skin and anti-bodies can lead to chronic acne, eczema and dermatitis.  Transglutaminase-6 (TG-6) is found throughout the central nervous system and antibody formation leads to neurological disorders (14).

Transglutaminase enzymes are also used by the food industry to tenderize meat to hold processed meats together in specific shapes.  Individuals with transglutaminase reactivity would have significant reactions when they consume these processed meats as well.

Gluten and the Blood-Brain Barrier:

The inflammatory reaction to gluten deteriorates the thin lining that protects the brain from pathogens and environmental toxins.  This only increases auto-immune reactions and chronic inflammatory damage in the brain.

This also creates a pathway for heavy metals like aluminum to get into the brain.  Aluminum amyloid plaques are classically found in the temporal lobe with Alzheimer’s disease (15).

gluten sensitivity

The Complete Gluten AntiBody Screening:

The following factors should be tested first before anyone should think about consuming gluten containing food sources:

Gliadin – Alpha, Omega & Gamma

Deamidated Gliadin

Wheat Germ Agglutin (WGA)

Gluteomorphin & Prodynorphin

TGA-2, TGA-3, TGA-6

*This is the Wheat/Gluten Proteome Sensitivity and Autoimmunity Panel through Cyrex Labs*  We offer this test on here


Sources of Gluten:

Wheat         Spelt           Barley         Kamut        Rye

Oats (except from a gluten-free oat farm)

Foods Suspected Cross-React with Gluten by the Immune System:

Alpha Casein                 Beta Casein A1              Corn                     Oats

Instant Coffee                 Yeast                                       Sesame                 Soy

Peanut                           Egg Protein                    Rice                      Canola

Milk chocolate               Whey Protein                 Millet                    Potato

Hidden Sources of Gluten:

Modified Food Starch             Food Emulsifiers           Food Stabilizers

Artificial Food Coloring          Malt Extract                            Dextrins      Clarifying Agents

Commonly Overlooked Sources of Gluten:

Processed Condiments (ketchup, mustard & salad dressings)

Deli Meats            Beer            Soy Sauce            Imitation Crab Meats     Shampoos

Food Sensitivity, Advanced Food and Chemical Sensitivity Test

Going Beyond Gluten-Free:

For most individuals with a gluten sensitivity going gluten-free alone is not enough.  Clinically, I see many of these individuals do better going gluten-free but they continue to have digestive and neurological struggles.

This process often continues until they remove grains, legumes, most dairy (grass-fed butter or ghee is often acceptable) and nuts.  By doing this, they reduce lectins, which can be very inflammatory for individuals with compromised digestive systems and immune imbalances.

Often these individuals have severely compromised digestive systems from years of inflammatory assault on the villi of the small intestine.  Many of these individuals will need to do an advanced leaky gut cleanse to get over the hump.  If you want more information on advanced strategies to improve your brain, check out the Brain Regeneration guide here

Leaky Brain, Leaky Brain Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes and Natural Solutions

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Sources For This Article Include:

1. Farnetti S, Zocco MA, Garcovich M, Gasbarrini A, Capristo E. Functional and metabolic disorders in celiac disease: new implications for nutritional treatment. J Med Food. 2014 Nov;17(11):1159-64. PMID: 25072743
2. Severance EG, Yolken RH, Eaton WW. Autoimmune diseases, gastrointestinal disorders and the microbiome in schizophrenia: more than a gut feeling. Schizophr Res. 2014 Jul 14. pii: S0920-9964(14)00319-3. PMID: 25034760
3. Troncone R, Discepolo V. Celiac disease and autoimmunity. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2014 Jul;59 Suppl 1:S9-S11. PMID: 24979198
4. Cohn A, Sofia AM, Kupfer SS. Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease: clinical overlap and new insights into disease pathogenesis. Curr Diab Rep. 2014 Aug;14(8):517. PMID: 24952108
5. Valentino R, Savastano S, Maglio M, Paparo F, Ferrara F, Dorato M, Lombardi G, Troncone R. Markers of potential coeliac disease in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Eur J Endocrinol. 2002 Apr;146(4):479-83. PMID: 11916614
6. Uvackova L, Skultety L, Bekesova S, McClain S, Hajduch M. The MS(E)-proteomic analysis of gliadins and glutenins in wheat grain identifies and quantifies proteins associated with celiac disease and baker’s asthma. J Proteomics. 2013 Nov 20;93:65-73. PMID: 23268118
7. Ohlsen BA. Acupuncture and a gluten-free diet relieve urticaria and eczema in a case of undiagnosed dermatitis herpetiformis and atypical or extraintestinal celiac disease: a case report. J Chiropr Med. 2011 Dec;10(4):294-300. PMID: 22654688
8. Gorelick PB. Role of inflammation in cognitive impairment: results of observational epidemiological studies and clinical trials. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010 Oct;1207:155-62. PMID: 20955439
9. Prakash A, Kumar A. Implicating the role of lycopene in restoration of mitochondrial enzymes and BDNF levels in β-amyloid induced Alzheimer׳s disease. Eur J Pharmacol. 2014 Oct 15;741:104-11. PMID: 25066110
10. Sollid LM, Kolberg J, Scott H, Ek J, Fausa O, Brandtzaeg P. Antibodies to wheat germ agglutinin in coeliac disease. Clin Exp Immunol. 1986 Jan;63(1):95-100. PMID: 3754186
11. Broadwell RD, Balin BJ, Salcman M. Transcytotic pathway for blood-borne protein through the blood-brain barrier. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1988 Jan;85(2):632-6. PMID: 2448779
12. Huebner FR, Lieberman KW, Rubino RP, Wall JS. Demonstration of high opioid-like activity in isolated peptides from wheat gluten hydrolysates. Peptides. 1984 Nov-Dec;5(6):1139-47. PMID: 6099562
13. Kumar V, Jarzabek-Chorzelska M, Sulej J, Rajadhyaksha M, Jablonska S. Tissue transglutaminase and endomysial antibodies-diagnostic markers of gluten-sensitive enteropathy in dermatitis herpetiformis. Clin Immunol. 2001 Mar;98(3):378-82. PMID: 11237562
14. Hadjivassiliou M, Aeschlimann P, Sanders DS, Mäki M, Kaukinen K, Grünewald RA, Bandmann O, Woodroofe N, Haddock G, Aeschlimann DP. Transglutaminase 6 antibodies in the diagnosis of gluten ataxia. Neurology. 2013 May 7;80(19):1740-5. PMID: 23576621
15. Exley C, Vickers T. Elevated brain aluminium and early onset Alzheimer’s disease in an individual occupationally exposed to aluminium: a case report. J Med Case Rep. 2014 Feb 10;8:41. PMID: 24513181

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  1. What is the advanced leaky gut cleanse? A diet, or pills to order? I am gluten free but I am still having digestive issues and can u recommend something for constipation? Thanks, Tally

    1. The advanced leaky gut cleanse can be found on my website if you search for it under “Digestive Health” – for constipation I would recommend chia seeds, lots of water and lots of probiotics. Of course, if you wanted me to set up a customized health plan for you we could do a consultation via Skype. Let me know. Blessings!

    2. Tally,

      Sorry to hear about your health challenges. The advanced leaky gut cleanse is a specific protocol I developed to help people with major damage to their guts. It is a specific 4-6 week cleanse. If you would like me to customize the right plan for you we could set up a Skype consult. Let me know. Blessings!

  2. Are you serious about when it comes to removing nuts and legumes!? If that would happen i feel i would be so limited as I am already a vegan bc of health benefits and religion. Why does it have to be implicitly emphasized or imposed upon everyone to go gluten free when many don’t have an issue with it? I have tried to go gluten free and trying to avoid wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut and overlooked sources above but i just cant give up nuts or legumes. Studies everywere show how nuts and legumes are the vital sources. Regarding health, people following things simply without binds and dysfunctional lifestyle is the key. Thanks!

    1. If you study the AIP elimination and reintroduction protocols, you can find a way to objectively determine if you add an individual need to avoid certain classes of foods. I’ve been one to find out that I needed to avoid, and am finding out for how long. I used to do the psychological dance around these types of articles, that I had no proof that I had a gluten sensitivity. I knew snot this for ten years while I vacillated in my mind. Now I do have autoimmune and wish I had done AIP sooner. Look at the Wahls Diet BOOK as one of the most clear stories and evidence.

  3. John, your body may be able to handle nuts and legumes well. Although, I would recommend soaking and sprouting them as often as possible. Not everyone tolerates them well. For myself, I do MUCH better when I am nut and legume free. Everyone is different though, but I have found that those with auto-immune tendancies like myself do better off of nuts and legumes.

  4. I read your article in the South African magazine Natural Magazine, as I am South African. Your article makes a lot of sense, particularly the section on Cross-reactivity immunology and nervous system dysfunction. Sorry for this long email -but my story goes back nearly 30 years! To cut a very long story short, ever since 1989, I have struggled with digestive disturbances, increasing numbers of diagnosed food sensitivities (blood tests), even allergies to chemicals, medications and electromagnetics. SInce 1989, I have suffered from periodical vertigo, unexplained anxiety (unprovoked panic attacks), hyperthyroidism, adrenal fatigue, inflammatory responses that move around my body, extreme fatigue, brain fog, memory and concentration issues,most days diarrhoea, etc etc. … Finally in January 2014,I found one immunologist – in Cape Town – who seems to have an idea what is wrong with me – also linked to Leaky Gut. Stool test revealed the following (after months on Lactobacilli capsules daily): Normal flora º
    ▫ Physiological E. coli 10E2 (reduced)
    ▫ Lactobacillus 10E3 (reduced)
    ▫ Enterococci > 10E5 (normal)
    ■ Pathogenic bacterial species º
    ▫ Enterobacter aerogenes 10E3
    ▫ Enterobacter cloacae 10E3
    ■ Pathogenic fungal species º
    ▫ Candida albicans 10E5
    ▫ Candida glabrata 10E5

    I have been on a gluten-, egg-, dairy- soya – shellfish-, peanut- and legume/onion/cabbage -free diet for over 5 years now,, and still there is little improvement overall. Sometimes better for a few months, even years in between, but situation has worsened and not improved. I had to give up a leadership position in a Christian NGO due to my ill health and fatigue. I am still consulting in the Development Sector, and doing well -have not caved in – but it takes all the willpower I have to keep going and not succumb to exhaustion and self-pity., I am happily married with 2 grown-up children and am generally positive and live a productive life.I live in a beautiful nature reserve, walk 2 or 3 times weekly with our dogs, and do yoga weekly (short session of stretches every morning on my own). I can share with you the regimen I am currently on with the immunologist and a homoeopath/naturopath here in Pietermaritzburg, SA. (I’ve been with the latter since 2001). I am sure they would be keen to hear your take on it all as well. I would be delighted to have a Skype appointment with you, and discuss a tailored advanced leaky gut cleanse to reverse the damage, as per your conclusion.

  5. Hi dr. Jockers,

    Excellent article on gluten. There is only one way to get your health back after you’ve been diagnosed with gluten intolerance or sensitivity. The gluten over time builds up in your body and binds along the intestinal walls like you said.

    It is impossible to get rid of through dieting, removing gluten or any other way. The OMNKLY way you can dissolve the gluten thats built up in your body is by taking special gluten protease enzymes. These enzymes will slowly break down and dissolve the gluten thats caked itself throughout your intestines.

    There are a bunch of products that work really well. I take:

    Gluten relief (by Natural Factors).
    Another good one is GlutenEase (by Enzymedica).
    Or Gluten Digest (by Now Foods).

    The removal of the gluten takes a few months, and you can expect withdrawal symptoms along the way, but they are mostly manageable.

    I take my enzymes twice a day, once with breakfast and once with dinner.

    You can actually see your bloated gluten gut slowly disappear day by day

  6. Dear Dr Jockers, My husband and I have been following a gluten free diet since the beginning of this year and feel 100% better for it. I have been following a diet proposed by another Dr/ author who has produced a gluten free cookbook in which he advocates baking primarily with ground almond flour. This creates delicious treats which keeps my husband away from gluten but on reading your report above, I am now somewhat concerned about the use of some many nuts. Could you please comment on this for me?

    Many thanks in advance.

    1. Hey Necia,

      I would recommend using nuts or almond flour in moderation. Not excessively or you may risk more gut irritation and developing a food sensitivity to various nuts.

  7. Dear Dr Jockers, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease 2 years ago. I knew something was not right when I itched all over my body for a few years and then started vomiting when eating a meal and my head felt like there was a fog inside it. A blood test and biopsy was done and it was confirmed I had celiac disease. I still struggle today and I seem to itch all over when ever I eat most foods, my stomach just bloats. I am getting to the point where do not know what to eat any more . I also noticed sulphites seem to cause me to itch so I try and avoid as much as possible processed food and alcohol of any kind . Any help and advice of what I could do and where to start.


  8. Hey Deborah,

    Thanks for writing, what you experienced is not uncommon at all. I have consulted with so many clients with similar issues. I would recommend a very strict diet with no sugar/grains or dairy.

    It is also a very good idea to get a complete food sensitivity panel done to see what foods are cross-reacting in your body with gluten.

    This is the Cyrex lab that is the best for that:

  9. Hello Dr Jockers,

    My 5 years old son has been suffering from allergies for the past 3 years. His nose is always congested and once he gets a cold it triggers azhma. We were told he is allergic to dust mite and now to trees, grass, and weed. He eats very healthy and we wonder why he can’t overcome this allergy and why he got it on the first place. We took him to different doctors and all of them prescribe the same medicine flovant inhaler and fluticasone nasal spray which appear not to get a rid of his problem. It hurts to see my son suffering every day and panicking about the side effects of this medicine that’s really help him. Do you think gluten is behind hia allergy? I really appreciate your feedback! Thank you

  10. Hi Dr Jockers,

    I want to comment on Daniela’s symptoms. My son was sick with many of the same
    symptoms. Last summer we discovered LYME disease, along with celiac disease.
    Lyme tests are frequently false negative. We found the right test and he tested positive for
    Lyme. Encephalopathy can be caused by both diseases.


  11. I know this article is a few years old, but im curious about dairy. I believe casein is the main issue with dairy, so does goat milk make any sort of a difference? Im told goat milk has a different type of casein.

  12. Dr. Jockers;

    After reading your gluten article (very good) and Daniela Gennrich’s comments I realize that I’m not alone. It’s tough to be in a city with more than 350 physicians, a health depot to a large area, and no help.
    Of the about 20 human foods that I can eat, nuts, walnuts, pecans, and sprouted pumpkin seeds, have been among my main foods. Perhaps they are hurting the process rather than helping, I seem to tolerate them. I’ll not mention the social and family effects of the malady. It has all started with an unknown gluten sensitivity, that I have given to off-sprig, present all my life. It’s so hard to fathom the effects of my immune system even with a fairly good health training. All my blood work is excellent, I think that my body is fooling me, just to keep me alive to live in the punishment of pain! ( I should have added this to my last week’s reply.)

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