Celiac Disease Neurological Symptoms – Is Gluten Damaging Your Brain

When I first began reading this article. My first thought was, “Not another thing associated with celiac and gluten!” As I read further, I began to see to possible connection with more than celiac disease, but with any type of gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance. This article covers a study which shows actual brain damage in those with celiac disease and the common and more serious celiac disease neurological symptoms, including brain damage. Read on to learn from Dr. Vikki Petersen.

Image: Dr. Vikki PetersenIs Gluten Damaging your Brain?

Do you get headaches? Have you ever gotten one as a result of gluten contamination or ‘cheating’?

Have you had balance or dizziness problems, sometimes known as ataxia? How about numbness, tingling or other sensation type issues?

For you, are any of these known side effects to gluten exposure – meaning that you experience them when you come into contact with gluten?

If you or someone you know falls into this category whereby gluten affects you neurologically, read on.

A study out of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry last August 2012 revealed that a group of celiacs who were referred to see a neurologist, had significant brain damage.

This group of individuals, average age forty four, when compared to a control group had significantly greater damage to their brains. Since the researchers found damage to both the white matter and grey matter, I thought we should define each.

The white matter makes up about half of the brain and seems to be involved in connectivity, or uniting various parts of the brain that are involved in performing mental functions. White matter affects how the brain learns, even into adulthood.

The grey matter of the brain is made up of nerve cells. The grey matter includes the parts of the brain involved in muscle control plus sensory perception such as seeing, hearing, memory, emotions and speech.

One of the researchers, Dr Hadjivassiliou from the University of Sheffield in the UK, is renowned for his work in the area of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

The goal of the research was to determine the extent of brain abnormalities in celiac patients.

While it’s certainly not news that gluten can cause brain and nervous system symptoms, the extent to which this study showed significant damage to the white matter of the brain is certainly worth sharing with the general public who suffer from these symptoms, and the neurologists from whom they seek advice.

The study consisted of 33 diagnosed celiac patients, whose condition was confirmed by biopsy. Each patient was compared to a control group and differences in brain volume and chemistry were evaluated.

The study revealed that celiac patients had diminished cerebellum volume (the part of the brain that coordinates and regulates muscle activity) plus multiple regions of decreased grey matter density.

Thirty six percent of patients showed white matter abnormalities, completely unexpected for their age group, with the highest incidence in the headache group. They demonstrated twice the number of white matter abnormalities on MRI as compared to the other two subgroups.

Celiac patients suffering from balance disturbance were discovered to have half as many white matter abnormalities as the headache group, while those with sensory loss revealed about a sixth of the white matter abnormalities. All groups were markedly more affected than the control group that was free of celiac disease.

While we have long known of the nervous system irritation created by gluten, did anyone for an instant consider that their gluten ingestion could be creating permanent brain damage? That they could be compromising the size and function of their brain? Not likely. But this study reveals that such an outcome is indeed possible.

If you or anyone you know suffers from headaches, imbalance problems, sensory problems or any sort of nervous system imbalance, including seizures and depression, a thorough work-up for gluten sensitivity is an excellent idea.

If you are currently the patient of a neurologist, please share this information with them. Increasing the awareness of your neurologist on this topic will likely benefit many of his or her patients who are gluten intolerant and are unaware of it.

Share this with your family doctor who likely treats many, many patients with complaints of headaches. The likelihood is that a percentage of them are gluten intolerant and potentially suffering from brain damage as a result. You would be doing a humanitarian service to enlighten your doctor to something that he or she has likely not considered.

I hope you found this helpful. Please contact me should you have any questions or comments. Our destination clinic treats patients from across the country and internationally. We would be delighted to offer you or someone you care for a free health analysis – call 408-733-0400.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”
Author of the e-Book: “Gluten Sensitivity – What you don’t know may be killing you!”


Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 2012 Dec;83(12):1216-21. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2012-303281. Epub 2012 Aug 20.

Should we be ‘nervous’ about coeliac disease? Brain abnormalities in patients with coeliac disease referred for neurological opinion.

Currie S, Hadjivassiliou M, Clark MJ, Sanders DS, Wilkinson ID, Griffiths PD, Hoggard N.


11 Replies to “Celiac Disease Neurological Symptoms – Is Gluten Damaging Your Brain”

  1. Dear madam,
    Does Gluten affect /damage the brain of autistic children/ adult also, same way as it does to Celiac patients. Autistic people are also said to be Gluten intolerant. Pl. clearify.
    Thanking you,
    SK Sharma

      1. Carla, You should look carefully about the credentials of your author before publishing their comments. This person is a doctor of chiropractic. Such a person works on the spine by manipulation. This person is not Qualified to provide diagnostic information regarding neurological disease. This information is implied and not diagnosis and is badly misleading.

        1. Kriss,

          Dr. Vikki Petersen and her husband, Dr Richard Petersen are highly respected in the gluten-free community. They own a medical practice in the Silicon Valley. I have been to their office and they work miracles daily for the last 20+ years well before gluten sensitivity was recognized. They are leading authorities on gluten sensitivity, hold an annual summit with leading scholars in the gluten and celiac community from around the world, and are authors of “The Gluten Effect”. You should check it off if you have time.

          Vikki has authored numerous articles on my site. She usually sites research references and bases her claims either on them or clinical evidence.

          I hope this clarifies things for you.

        2. Dr. Hadjivassiliou is a leading world expert on celiac disease and the original medical journal article is listed for further research.

  2. Interesting……
    I have never been the same since having Coeliac diagnosed 2001. Unexplained lightheadedness, off and on. My doctor kept thinking it was low iron, and occasionally it was. But often it wasn’t. Last five years it has got better, but still there. Not off and on, but permanent. It was put down to anxiety.. but I was not aware of having anxiety. I cannot drive at higher speeds anymore. Stay on local roads only for the lower speeds. When I exercise I feel my head being affected, but in a good way I’m guessing. More blood to brain. Still, its not normal to have a persistently lightheaded feeling everyday. Annoying as I have to use buses instead of driving to wherever.

  3. PS from Joan, If it is possible to have the whole facility GF I would think to go a step further. Since rice and corn etc. also contain gluten, ( but not gliadin) make the whole place Grain Free.

    1. Corn and rice starches are very much different than the gluten in wheat, rye, and barley. Sometimes people refer to starchy grains as containing gluten, but they do not. Though many individuals who are gluten intolerant do have intolerances to other grains. I think having the family all grain-free is a wonderful idea! – consuming more healthy fruits and vegetables, the better!


  4. I volunteer at a psychiatric hospital. I tried asking the co-ordinater if it would be possible to put all the patients on GF diet, making a shut down hospital totally GF. So far no response. I understand reluctance to do so from experiments done in the past and the Pharmas loss of money from scrips.

    1. Sounds like a great idea, but I highly doubt that would occur. Diabetics would need whole grains, instead of the standard high-starch gluten-free baked goods, such as bread, etc. It’s great that are being such a gluten-free activist, though. Keep up the great work!


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