The answer is YES (1)!
In recent scientific studies gluten has been associated with severe brain issues. This is caused by an autoimmune reaction related to gluten. Essentially the body attacks its own brain! The symptoms in a recent case study (1) where a man was affected by gluten were sporadic ataxia (this means he had impaired coordination almost like someone is intoxicated).
How does this happen?
For the science minded: Gluten ataxia results from immunological damage to the cerebellum from gluten antibodies that cross-react with cerebellum tissue in genetically susceptible subgroups. Individuals suffering from gluten ataxia have been found to clinically improve when implementing a gluten-free diet due to cross-reactivity of dietary proteins with ataxia target sites, such as glutamic-acid decarboxylase-65 (GAD-65) within the cerebellum in clinical settings (2).
For the layman: Gluten can cause the body to attack its own brain when the individual has certain genetic susceptibilities and when the immune system has been irritated enough! The body gets confused by trying to attack the gluten proteins and because the brain proteins look similar these are also attacked.
Gluten ataxia should be considered in all patients with sporadic ataxia, regardless of whether they have gut symptoms; early diagnosis and treatment may result in neurological improvement (3). It is also important to realise that many patients with gluten ataxia do not demonstrate gastrointestinal manifestations (eg gut pain) but instead exhibit only cerebellum neurological deficits (such as this example of ataxia), while progressed individuals demonstrate cerebellum changes on MRI (4).
Early diagnosis and treatment with a gluten-free diet can improve ataxia and prevent its progression(5). However, there are subgroups of patients suffering from gluten ataxia that only have a partial resolution of their symptoms while implementing a gluten-free diet. It is not clear why these patients do not respond. It is possible that cross-reactivity to food proteins with GAD-65 other than gluten may be responsible for triggering sporadic ataxia and explain why a gluten-free diet alone is not enough for some gluten ataxia subjects. We have discussed cross reactivity in one of our other blogs. Basically the body gets confused between different type of foods and they can act in a similar way. Eg corn can emulate gluten in some people and the list is growing with these cross reacting foods.
In research it has been shown that some other foods that humans can develop sensitivities to that can also drive severe autoimmune issues are greatly varied and depend on the individual. More research is needed in this area particularly around intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut) and how our immune system gets sensitised to these type of foods in the first place (6)!
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