By now many of us have heard the term celiac or coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity.
What is the difference between the two, are they not essentially the same illness?
Celiac disease is definitively diagnosed using a single method.
The first step is to consult with a gastroenterologist.
The patient will then scheduled a procedure if there is enough evidence for further testing. A biopsy is taken from the small intestine during this procedure. And lab will confirm damage that is consistent with celiac disease. If the biopsy returns a celiac confirmation then there is no other option that to cut all gluten from their diet.
However, can a person be sensitive to gluten and not have celiac disease or damage to their small intestine?
The answer is YES.
The term gluten sensitivity describes a range of ailments, illnesses and diseases. that have a common denominator. Which is, the manner in which their body’s immune system reacts when they eat gluten.
Wheat, barley and rye are the main sources of gluten. However, for the purposes of this article I’ll focus on the protein gliadin which is found in wheat.
Gluten sensitivity can appear through a variety of symptoms. However, intestinal discomfort has been the most common ailment. Gluten sensitivity can also appear through neurological, musculoskeletal, hormonal and skin problems.
Whoa, hold on a second! Let’s read that again.
Gluten sensitivity can appear through a variety of symptoms, including neurological, musculoskeletal, hormonal and skin problems.
Neurology is the science of the nerves and the nervous system – focusing on the diseases that affect them.
Neurological disorders have been linked to gluten sensitivity.
Gluten Sensitivity And Your Brain
Professor Marios Hadjivassiliou, MD has done much research that I want to tell you about. Dr. Hadjivassiliou invested much of his time into research on gluten and its effect on the part of the brain called the cerebellum.
The cerebellum coordinates and regulates muscular activity. The location of the cerebellum is at the back and lower part of the skull.
Dr. Hadjivassiliou has focused much of his research to a term he introduced ‘gluten ataxia’.
Ataxia is a medical term that means the body no longer has full control over its movements. Therefore, gluten ataxia is an autoimmune neurological condition in which gluten can cause irreversible damage to the cerebellum, thus no longer having full control over your body’s movements.
Screening for Gluten Sensitivity
Gastroenterologist now agree that gluten sensitivity can exist even if there is no evidence of damage to the small intestines. However, there is still debate that neurological and other physical ailments can appear without any gastrointestinal symptoms present.
For example, a person may be suffering from eczema. They have been ‘dealing’ with itchy, red and sometimes broken skin caused by scratching. This person is healthy with no other problems, discomforts or illnesses.
Visits to their practitioner usually end by treating the symptoms with creams and oral steroids. However, when they transitioned to a gluten free lifestyle their eczema cleared. Which leads us to determine that gluten sensitivity was the culprit.
Would this patient have been tested for gluten sensitivity? A simple blood test that looks for antigliadin antibodies.
Screening for gluten sensitivity has been a subject of debate for several reasons.
The current method for ‘testing’ for gluten sensitivity is through a blood test to screen for antigliadin antibodies. Gliadin, a protein found in wheat, which becomes gluten, is what triggers an adverse response in the body when it is ingested. A blood test that looks for the presence of this antibody is oftentimes unreliable.
Dr. Hadjivassiliou suggests testing for patients exhibiting autoimmune distress. Whether it’s neurological, musculoskeletal, skin or hormonal discomfort
He has also found that antigliadin antibodies have been found in healthy people, showing no symptoms of gluten sensitivity through, as previously mentioned, bowel disruption, anemia or abdominal pain.
However, their symptoms manifest through other forms, by attacking the neurological system of a person’s body, their brain.
While the debate continues as to whether or not a person can be sensitive to gluten because symptoms do not include bowel disruptions, abdominal discomfort, anemia, malabsorption of vital nutrients – I believe we owe it to ourselves and to others we care about to consider alternative treatments.
Are personally affected by an autoimmune disease? It may be helpful to discuss this with your doctor.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that medicine is a science. Progress and treatments have been successful through trial and error. If some type of treatment is not giving you the expected results, then take the initiative to speak to your doctor about alternative treatment options.
Dr. Hadjivassiliou closes his paper with such sincerity and care for all patients that he says,
“We owe it to our patients to screen them effectively for gluten sensitivity with the simple widely available antigliadin antibody test so that we do not in the meantime deprive them of a harmless but potentially effective treatment in the form of a gluten free diet.”
The Neurology of Gluten Sensitivity: science vs. conviction, Marios Hadjivassiliou and Richard Grünewald Department of Neurology