December 15, 2010

Gluten, Leaky Brain, and Epilepsy (Seizures)


Which Came First – The Chicken or the Egg?

It has long been held that chronic seizures cause blood-brain barrier (BBB) damage. Recent studies have also demonstrated that BBB damage triggers seizures.


Brain Res. 2010 Sep 24;1353:176-86. Epub 2010 Jun 27.

Mov Disord. 2009 Oct 30;24(14):2162-3.

We know that gluten sensitivity can contribute to seizures.  We know that gluten sensitivity can contribute to blood brain barrier permeability (leaky brain).  We know that a leaky brain will contribute to seizures and epilepsy.  Thus the circle is complete.

Standard treatment for seizure disorders is typically medication (antiepileptic medication or AED’s).  Unfortunately, the drugs do not actually correct the seizure disorder, they just reduce the occurrence of seizures.

The real question is, why are the seizures occurring in the first place.  Too often doctors look for a symptomatic fix over the origin of the problem.  This leaves patients no better off and in many cases worse off because the medications used for epilepsy lead to B-vitamin deficiency.

Common Symptoms of B Vitamin Deficiency

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irritability
  • Muscle pain and spasm
  • anxiety
  • heart murmurs
  • neuropathy (numbness and tingling of the hands, face, feet, etc)
  • elevated homocysteine levels (increases your risk of heart disease)

B-vitamin deficiency can cause neurological disease, contribute to seizures, neuropathy, and so on and so on and so on…

And so we wonder how many people with seizure disorders are gluten sensitive?  And because epilepsy is for the most part caused by an “unknown etiology”, we wait for doctors to open their eyes to the possibility that epilepsy (seizure disorders) can be caused by gluten exposure.

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20 Responses to “Gluten, Leaky Brain, and Epilepsy (Seizures)”

  • ddlennon says:

    has anyone with epilespy gone on a gf diet and it has helped you control your seizures?

  • rita says:

    my daughters epilepsy is now gone after cutting out gluten and casein!! so cool to have come across this article, though i know it to be true finally others are connecting the dots.

  • C Martin says:

    My son went seizure free 2 months after starting the GF/CF diet (actually SCD diet). Preaching to the choir here! Huge believers in the gut-brain connection!

  • Kimberly says:

    My daughters seizures stopped after going grain free! Her diagnoses was after having neurological symptoms. We went GF but didn’t get rid of seizures until going grain free! Thank you from the bottom of my heart Dr Osborne!

  • Hi Kimberly,
    Thank you for sharing your success with me. I am so happy to hear such wonderful news!
    All the best,
    Dr. Osborne

  • Annmari says:

    Dr. Osborne,

    Is there a connection between non-epileptic seizures and gluten intolerance? My son has been having grand-mal seizures for 4 1/2 yrs and NO doctor can figure it out. Some say it shows on EEG – most say it does not. Now they found “scattered tiny non-specific T2 hyperintense foci” in the subcortical white matter of both cerebral hemispheres that weren’t there 4 years ago but they say it’s not related. Any help would be appreciated.

  • Yes there is a connection. Is your son gluten free? If not, get him genetically tested for gluten. Test his vitamin and mineral levels with Spectracell labs. May also be beneficial to test the water in your home. Often times these lesions can manifest as a result of heavy metal exposure in the water or from nearby polluted industrial air. Pre and post chelation provocation testing might also be of benefit.
    All the best,
    Dr. O

  • Annmari says:

    Thank you so much for your reply. I have been trying to find a genetics specialist to see him to test for gluten and anything else known to cause these. Through my research, I have found that there are several genetic issues that can cause the problems he has. I will look into the other tests you suggest as well.

    Thanks for your assistance and concern.


  • Jennifer says:

    I was diagnosed with complex temporal lobe epilepsy when I was 18–I had audio hallucination seizures, no grand mal. Over the years whenever doctors would attempt to wean me off of anticonvulsants I would have a seizure (they were completely controlled using one medication). 20 years after I started epileptic drugs, I weaned myself off of them after going gluten free for one month. (Keep in mind that without anticonvulsants I had three seizures a day). btw, I am not recommending that people wean themselves off of meds without the help of a doctor, this was just my personal choice and a necessary one for various reasons. However, I encourage people to seek assistance with it if an allergy is suspected. My seizures were of “unknown origin.”

    I have been seizure free for one year on a strict gluten free diet. I have had seizure “auras” a handful of times, each time after accidentally ingesting gluten. It is too much of a coincidence. I totally believe they are related.

    Also, I did not test positive for celiacs before I went on the gf diet even though it runs in the family.

  • Jennifer,
    Thanks for sharing your story! Glad to see you are doing so much better with a gluten free diet.

  • Frandi says:

    I have a close friend who has a 12 year old son who started getting seizures when he was 8 months old. At that time he had one for 2 hours. Since that time – from age 8-12 he was seizure free. Once he turned 12 he started having them again and they got closer and closer in frequency. He had a brain surgery about 5 months ago with a 95% cure rate. But his seizures came back. My friend thought about having him go gluten free but the nutritionist she goes to suggested he is TOO unstable to go gluten fre – so she didn’t do it. I heard they are considering another surgery.
    Any suggestions Dr? If you think a gluten free diet would help him (which I think she has nothing to lose by trying it) then please let me know. Also if people’s seizures have been cured by stopping gluten why wouldn’t they be seizing all the time when they eat it?
    Thank you so much for your help.

  • Frandi,
    There is absolutely no danger in going on a gluten free diet. I would say that your friend should find a new nutritionist. As to whether or not going gluten free would help? There is a strong and growing body of medical evidence that says YES. It certainly would not hurt to try and the diet might very well be a meaningful solution.

    “Also if people’s seizures have been cured by stopping gluten why wouldn’t they be seizing all the time when they eat it?
    Thank you so much for your help.”

    Although in some people, gluten can cause an immediate reaction, it does not typically cause an acute response. The damage from gluten exposure can be delayed and accumulative. Clinically, I have seen a number of patients stop having seizures after diet changes.
    Let me know the outcome of your friend.
    All the best,
    Dr. O

  • Pat D. says:

    Hello Dr. O, Due to the uncontrolled seizures of my child I’ve read much on alternative help, gut brain connection issues, Oxidative Stress and dehydration issues etc. Can you share with me / us what you feel maybe the mechanism by which the Gluten causes the permiability in the BBB? I am interested to know if it is maybe related to the metabolic breakdown of the Gluten?

    Is the leaky blood brain barrier a possible cause of Mitochodrial damage same as Oxidative Stress which has also been linked to seizures?

    Thanks, this Gluten info is great.
    Pat D.

  • Pat,
    There are many possible theories as to how gluten disrupts barrier function. The most well studied is zonulin – a protein that disrupts how cells create a tight junction barrier. Gluten also disrupts vitamin B-12 absorption by the stomach by damaging parietal cells. Vitamin B-12 is necessary to form white matter and the myelin sheath around the brain and nerves. This disruption could potentially create a “short circuit” in the ability of nerves to conduct their messages. Gluten also creates the release of inflammatory cytokines. This release can theoretically create damage anywhere in the body.

    Hope that is helpful for you,
    All the best,
    Dr. O

  • Susan w says:

    My daughter was diagnosed with JME at age 16. She is fairly well controlled on aed. She has a celiac gene and a gluten gene. She is on a gluten free diet but definitely gets contaminated tho. I asked her neuro docs if it could be related and they said her type of seizure/epilepsy was not. I have never been convinced of that. Is there just a certain type that is connected to gs in your opinion or all seizure activity.

  • I would tighten up the reigns on her gluten free diet. It is most likely linked to gluten exposure, but without being 100% gluten free there is no way to know. Remember that gluten can cause seizures, but it is not the only cause. Have her nutritional levels checked. Ask her doctor to perform a Spectracell vitamin and mineral analysis. Serum lab tests are inaccurate.

  • Linda K says:

    I had a seizure for the first time in my life after age 47 and 2 more after that and dr’s couldn’t find any reason, did all the testing and put me on Dilantin. I found it left me feeling out of control, foggy and not able to concentrate at work. I weaned myself off and when I went back to see my neurologist, he was alarmed but at the the same time understanding. At my first visit with him, he was skeptic that the seizures were gluten related but after my last visit, being off the medication for a year he was on board.

    As long as I am 100% gluten, soy, dairy, sulfate, all things “made in a factory”, and these days sugar free, I do not have seizures. I was diagnosed in 2008 after suffering a serious bout of Dermatitis Herpetiformis. I also have peripheral neuropathy. And ever since I was diagnosed it has improved 80%. Still there but not 24 hrs a day. This website is my absolute go to for all info Celiac. Thanks for all the research and info.

  • Coleen B says:

    My daughter was diagnosed with Celiac Disease last June 2012 she has been on a gluten free diet since then and doing better she did not present with gastro issues her issues were chest pain heart palpitations and then she would be wiped out for a day after the episode from Feb to June of 2012 they were the issues two pediatric cardiologists could find nothing in mid June they x rayed and saw she was severely constipated she had lost ten pounds at this point finally did a Celiac Panel and endo biopsy which confirmed she has CD they still tell me nothing with heart they blame anxiety she is a happy fun loving person on March 16 she had one short and one long what looked like seizures long last over an hour short five minutes I called 911 because I was so scared they hospitalized her for three days lots of tests and told me no way it was from CD again they said she should see a psychiatrist I did let them send in a person from psych who said they did not think she was anxious Could what looked like a seizure episode be missed by our neoruospecialists? Anyone else have these symptoms I am taking her to Childrens Hospital of Pennsylvania Celiac Center in May to see what they say.

  • Coleen B says:

    I meant to say Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

  • Coleen B says:

    As of 11/13 my daughter has be seizure free as long a she stays gluten dairy soy free Thank God she also takes many quality supplements Thanks Dr. O

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