Gluten May Compromise the Blood Brain Barrier

Autoimmunity & Healing Diets

Nov 15

It appears that a sensitivity to gluten can set a person up for brain related conditions from Alzheimer’s and dementia to depression, headaches and even schizophrenia.

While some people continue to think that properly preparing grains by sourdough fermentation, soaking and/or sprouting) is the simple fix to this problem, the reality is that the immune response to gluten is much more complicated. While proper preparation of grains is very important for the people who can tolerate them, those who have an immune reaction to gluten will be creating inflammation that can affect all areas of the body from the digestive tract to the joints, the skin and the brain.

Dr. Perlmutter recently released his best selling book Grain Brain. At the Gluten Summit this week, he discussed the role of gluten in inflammation and brain function.

Inflammation is the Most Basic Causative Disease Agent

Inflammation is the cornerstone of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and MS — all the chemical markers of inflammation are the same whether the inflammation is in a joint or in the brain.  We need to get to the actual cause and treat that — not the symptoms.

Inflammation is fundamental to the cause of Alzheimer’s, (also known as diabetes type 3). Studies back up what Dr. Perlmutter is saying about sugar and it’s relationship to inflammation.

When blood sugar is even mildly elevated it raises glycation. The glycation process is when sugar binds to proteins. When this happens it increase free radicals and the glycated proteins increase the process of inflammation. This is devastating for the human brain.

A high carb diet leads to modification of proteins (glycation) that leads to damage to DNA.

Read more about what Dr. Perlmuter, a practicing neurologist, has to say about the relationship of sugar and carbohydrates to brain conditions.

What is the Ideal Diet

According to Dr. Perlmutter, it is a low carb diet/high fat diet — just like we have been eating for the past 2.6 million years. Fat is not bad, but bad fat is bad. In fact, Dr. Perlmutter encourages a diet rich in good fats, such as, coconut oil, butter, olive oil, fat from grassfed animals, eggs, etc.

Good fats

Fat is an energy source and it is also a component of the structural body — fat is an important component of the membranes of the cells — particularly nerve cells and of course, the brain. If a person is consuming refined vegetable oils  –  those are dead and damaging fats that will eventually destroy the brain.

The good fats are butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, grassfed beef, wild fish, nuts and seeds. These fats will not cause heart disease or weight gain. We have been told by health officials that eating fat makes you fat. Science doesn’t support that.

In 2008 the New England Journal of Medicine published a study of weight loss on 3 different diets: low fat diet, low carb diet, or a Mediterranean diet. The researchers concluded,

Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate diets may be effective alternatives to low-fat diets. The more favorable effects on lipids (with the low-carbohydrate diet) and on glycemic control (with the Mediterranean diet) suggest that personal preferences and metabolic considerations might inform individualized tailoring of dietary interventions.

It’s time to let go of the low fat/high carb mantra — we just don’t need those carbs and our bodies and brain desperately need good fats.

Cross Reactivity

Individuals with gluten sensitivity may have a cross reaction to other proteins — especially prolamines. Appropriate testing for all the isotopes of gluten can identify this. Casein (a dairy protein) is a particularly susceptible protein that may cross react. This is why many people need a gluten-free dairy-free diet in order to heal.

Once the gut is sensitized to gluten, it causes a “feedforward” process. This affects zonulin and when we eat gluten, zonulin opens the gut wall (leaky gut) that allows other proteins to challenge the immune system.

Dr. Fasano has shown this in his research of leaky gut syndrome that he has documented. Leaky gut paves the way for other dreaded diseases. And, it may affect 100% of the people, not just the 30% that test positive to gluten sensitivity.

It is speculated by some, that zonulin may also open up the blood brain barrier (a barrier similar to the gut lining barrier) and that would allow many unwanted substances into the brain — such as, heavy metals, bacteria and environmental toxins.

Rebuild the Health of the Gut Lining

Rebuild with probiotics, (probiotic foods), and other gut healing foods and supplements. In another interview in the Gluten Summit, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride talks about the GAPS diet, which is the best way to heal and seal the gut.

When there is leaky gut, there is a greater potential for a compromise to the blood brain barrier.

Elevated Antibodies to Cerebellum

The cerebellum is the back part of the brain that regulates movement. Cerebellar ataxia (loss of muscle coordination) is known to be from gluten sensitivity. A person can develop ataxia from having gluten sensitivity and doctors can measure gliadin in the cerebrospinal fluid — or they can measure tissue transglutaminase  (specifically tTG6) in the blood and can see if there is sensitivity.

Elevated Tissue Transglutaminase May Indicate Brain Disorders

tTG6 is a component of the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain. If you produce antibodies against tTG6  — larger molecules can enter the brain and cause leaky brain and cognitive symptoms. tTG6 may also be a marker for schizophrenia.

When the immune system is activated, the body creates antibodies that look for specific proteins — some look for proteins in the cerebellum and this can be the cause of ataxia — a movement disorder from gluten sensitivity.

Dr. Perlmutter has many anecdotal case reports of his experience with patients who have serious brain issues that are clearly related to gluten. These anecdotal reports are important because they form the basis for further preliminary studies.


Dr. Perlmutter and Dr. Aristo Vojdani both found an association between headache and sensitivities to gluten and dairy. (Integrative Medicine, April 2013 – vol. 12, No.2.)


The Mayo clinic demonstrated a relationship between celiac and dementia and suggested that recognizing this may open up  a therapeutic window for treatment.

Children with Autism

In a study just released, 24% of kids with autism tested had elevated IgG antibodies to gliadin but only two kids had the blood marker of celiac disease. This is exactly what Dr. Vojdani has said and others have said over and over. The conventional celiac testing is just for one aspect of the immune response — the more sophisticated testing is needed to check the many other aspects of the immune response to gluten.

Understanding the mechanism of leaky gut and gluten sensitivity can open up a whole new world of opportunity to help people. Better yet, the treatment does not involve drugs. Dr. Perlmutter said,

Don’t treat the smoke, treat the fire. Gluten sensitivity is the fire.

If you want to learn how to cook without grains and gluten check out my Go Grain-Free on-line class. Email me at Jill at Realfoodforager dot com for the current coupon.

Photo Credit

Shared at: Mommy Club, Allergy Free Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Party Wave Wednesday,Thank Your Body Thursday, Tasty Traditions, Tasty Traditions

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