by Dr. Vikki Petersen
There are many causes of seizures, some understood better than others. I want to discuss the known association between seizures and gluten intolerance. Below is an excerpt from our book, “The Gluten Effect”.
It is quite amazing how many other parts of your health can be actively affected by gluten without the presence of any digestive symptoms. Of all the organ systems of your body, the nervous system is the one most commonly affected by gluten after the gastrointestinal system. And, because our nervous system handles so many important functions, symptoms related to the nervous system problems are quite varied.
What Symptoms Can Be Caused?
There is an abundance of evidence that inflammatory changes occur in the brain and nerves that cause a variety of symptoms. These can range from:
- mood disorders
- memory problems
Neurological Problems Can Precede Digestive Complaints by Months or Years
It has been reported that only 13% of patients with neurologic symptoms from gluten may have digestive symptoms. And often, neurological symptoms in gluten sensitive patients precede digestive symptoms by months to years when they do occur. For this reason, it is important to keep gluten in mind as a root cause when dealing with disorders of the nervous system.
Symptoms are the body’s way of getting your attention and directing you toward the site of the problem. If standard tests and exams cannot reveal a cause, then dietary factors, toxins, lifestyle issues and other stresses deserve your attention.This is where gluten should be a strong consideration. Because gluten affects so many people silently, and because most of those symptoms are not related to the digestive tract, it needs to be an early consideration when addressing many health care problems.
Gluten’s Relationship to Seizures
An excellent study was done with 171 patients who suffered seizures and likewise had gluten intolerance and calcifications in the brain. Gluten antibodies were actually found in their spinal fluid (circulates around the brain and spinal cord), and, likewise, most had the gene for having gluten sensitivity. It was notable that some patients responded well to a gluten-free diet.
The Mechanism Explained
The root cause is most likely an immune system attack of the nervous system triggered by gluten in a sensitive individual. The immune system, in addition to attacking gluten, gets confused and attacks normal brain tissue that “looks similar” to gluten’s protein structure. This is known as molecular mimicry.
In the brain, once the tissue is inflamed chronically, calcium can deposit and form a hardened scar. Due to the scar, seizures develop and can be difficult to control with normal seizure medications. Seizures are basically short circuits of the brain. Suppose there were an electrical pole knocked down onto the ground. The electrical wires tore and were lying unprotected, sending out sparks from their broken ends. The electrical connection had been severed. Calcium deposits and scars in the brain essentially do the same thing. They send off electrical “sparks” that can develop into seizures if enough brain tissue becomes involved. Medication may help the sparks from spreading, but with gluten-related seizures, medicines work less well. If gluten is truly the root cause, then eliminating it can allow the tissues to heal.
Case Study: A Lovely Girl Leaves Her Seizures Behind
T.S. is a beautiful, vibrant, nine-year-old girl who had begun having seizures at the age of four. She had undergone standard medical testing without a cause of her seizures being found. We first saw her when she was four years old. Not only did we find that she was sensitive to gluten, but she also had many intestinal infections, a Candida yeast infection and an essential fatty acid imbalance. The infections were greater in number in her than in most adults we treat, and some were very resistant to treatment, requiring two rounds of antibiotics instead of the usual one. She was treated with fatty acids in addition to a gluten-free diet.
T.S. has had absolutely no seizures for over 5 years! She told her mother that she knows that the gluten created the seizures and she is more than happy to keep it out of her diet. It is noteworthy that her mother, also diagnosed by us as gluten sensitive, never ate much gluten until her twenties because as a child, she had sensed that it bothered her. But, recalling when she was in college and consumed a lot of gluten, she remembered suffering from “brain fog” during that time.
It’s Worth Giving Gluten-Free a Try
Evidence of these inflammatory changes can be seen in some gluten sensitive patients via MRI. This was supported in another study examining patients with gluten sensitivity and seizures, which demonstrated deep-tissue inflammation in at least 20% of the children studied who had seizures.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation: a) By 75 years of age, 10% of the population will have experienced some type of seizure. b) 3% can be expected to have been diagnosed with epilepsy.
So, having seizures is definitely not a rare occurrence in our society.It is therefore critical we recognize that a percentage of those suffering may be having seizures as a manifestation of gluten sensitivity. For these individuals, a gluten-free diet may be the only effective treatment.
If you or someone you know suffers with seizures, it would be well worth your while to consult a clinician who specializes in gluten intolerance. Imagine if such suffering could be allayed with a simple dietary change. We have certainly seen it here in our clinic.
Dr. Vikki Petersen, a Doctor of Chiropractic and Certified Clinical Nutritionist, is founder of the renowned HealthNOW Medical Center in Sunnyvale, California. She is co-author of The Gluten Effect: How “Innocent” Wheat Is Ruining Your Health
a bestselling book that has been celebrated by leading experts as an epic leap forward in gluten sensitivity diagnosis and treatment.
HealthNOW Medical Center serves San Jose, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Mountain View – and all cities of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.It is also a Destination Clinic, treating patients from across the country and internationally.