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The Brain Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

Gluten Intolerance does not only cause digestive issues. Many people with brain fog, depression, ADHD, joint pain, headaches, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue may also be gluten intolerant.

Extra-intestinal Symptoms

Symptoms that do not affect GI function are more common in gluten sensitivity than in celiac disease. These often are divided into neurological or behavioral symptoms and systemic symptoms.

Behavioral/neurological symptoms

Among the most common of these are:

  • Chronic headache: A study in the journal Headache found that about 56% of those with gluten sensitivity had chronic headaches.5

  • Brain fog, characterized by difficulty concentrating, short-term memory lapses, confusion, and disorientation

  • Anxiety, which may be due to anticipation of abdominal pain

  • Depression, possibly a result of a chronic health problem, although there is some evidence gluten may directly affect brain function. In addition, there also has been research showing increased depression among people with gluten sensitivity after undergoing a gluten challenge.6Ford R. The gluten syndrome: a neurological disease. Medical Hypotheses. 2009 Sep;73(3):438-40. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2009.03.037

  • Neuropathy. Numbness or the sensation of "pins and needles" in the arms and legs is often experienced by people with gluten sensitivity. For example, in the Italian medical center study, 32% of subjects experienced these symptoms.7

Systemic symptoms

In the Italian study, 68% of patients reported feeling feeling generally unwell. Fatigue also was prevalent, affecting 64% of patients.

Joint and muscle pain described as similar to the discomfort characteristic of fibromyalgia also is often associated with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. There is some speculation it's due to gluten-induced inflammation.8

Some people with NCGS develop skin changes. In a study out of the University of Maryland's Center of Celiac Research, 40% of patients with gluten sensitivity developed a rash and/or eczema.3

The spectrum of non-GI symptoms that have been linked to gluten sensitivity extend beyond these most notable ones, including several quantified in the Italian study.

Functional Medicine Testing:

To testing for gluten sensitivity is a food sensitivity test. SAMPLE TEST Results

How Can Gluten Intolerance Be Treated?

Obviously, the number one treatment for gluten intolerance is the removal of gluten from the diet. If you have a gluten intolerance, some of the mainstays of treatment include:

  1. Elimination Diet

  2. Staying well hydrated to prevent dehydration

  3. Taking digestive enzymes

  4. Occasionally taking activated charcoal to help bind toxins and reduce gas

  5. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids to decrease inflammation

  6. L-glutamine supplementation (15) to help heal the intestinal epithelial cells

  7. Taking a collagen supplement, which is also an anti-inflammatory.

  8. Again, the number one treatment is gluten avoidance.

One of the most commonly used methods to see if you have gluten intolerance is to do an elimination diet. The Elimination Diet is a process of isolating foods that could be potentially causing the immune system to over react by taking them out of your diet for a period then reintroducing them. The purpose of the Elimination Diet is to avoid all problematic foods. The top problematic foods are gluten, dairy, eggs, yeast, and soy.

When you eat foods that you are intolerant to, they cause inflammation in your body. With the elimination diet, by cutting out these intolerant foods, you are eating to calm inflammation and balance the body. Once the body is calm, the symptoms diminish and it will become noticeable to you when a “trouble” food is eaten because the symptoms will come back. Incorporating a detox with the Elimination diet helps to heal the inflammation and support you through the process.

A sample guide for the Elimination diet can be found here:  Elimination Guide

If brain and neurological symptoms are a concern, it is worth investigating and ruling in or out whether gluten consumption could be at the root of your problems.

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