Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease in which gluten sensitivity causes damage to the small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in most grains, including wheat, rye, and barley. One in one hundred Americans have celiac disease; 80% of these people are not diagnosed and are needlessly suffering. The majority of celiac cases go undiagnosed because their symptoms are very common and indistinct. These symptoms include fatigue, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and weight loss. Many people may also face "silent celiac," where they have no symptoms but still experience damage to their small intestine (which is responsible for absorbing nutrients from food and water).
The process of diagnosing celiac/gluten sensitivity is complicated because there are no blood biomarkers, indicators of a biological factor signaling gluten intolerance. Identifying gluten sensitivity cases can be even more complicated than celiac as the symptoms tend to be milder. Scientists at Sheffield University in the United Kingdom have been conducting more extensive studies to find any neurological biomarkers for celiac. These researchers have recently had a breakthrough: MRIs can identify celiac disease and gluten sensitivity from specific neurological symptoms.
These scientists were prompted to examine brain scans after reviewing survey results in which many celiac patients reported brain fog, balance issues, and headaches from gluten exposure. The study consisted of 5 participants who complained of brain fog and other symptoms despite already following a gluten-free diet. They first described head/brain pain, including "anxiety, depression, and headaches." Before any gluten exposure, baseline MRI scans of each participant's brain were taken. The results revealed that three participants had "abnormal amounts of white matter lesions, and two had low levels of N-Acetylaspartate." A significant amount of white matter lesions indicates small vessel vascular brain disease or inflammation. N-Acetylaspartate is one of the most abundant molecules in the body, and the more there are, the better for the brain and its health.
After the first scan, the participants exposed themselves to gluten by eating a sandwich that contained 3 grams of gluten (slices of wheat bread). After several hours another scan was taken. One thing that stood out in the second scan was that one patient experienced increased blood flow to their brain, which occurs during migraines. Overall, the researchers concluded that people with celiac and gluten sensitivity might have abnormalities in their brains compared to the average person.
The discovery of new methodologies and confirmation of reported symptoms are a big step towards solving the mystery surrounding celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. These findings could help millions around the world identify their celiac disease and help ease their discomfort, and improve their quality of life.
20 Things You Might Not Know About Celiac Disease. (2016, October 14). Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://celiac.org/about-the-foundation/featured-news/2016/08/20-things-you-might-not-know-about-celiac-disease/