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Gluten & Ataxia

Ataxia is a neurological disorder affecting the body’s ability to control muscular coordination.  The symptoms can manifest in a variety of ways, but often lead to dizziness, clumsiness, loss of coordination, fatigue, difficult speaking, difficulty swallowing, muscular tremors, abnormal gait or difficulty walking, nausea, and vomiting.

Though there are many causes for this condition (including head trauma, brain surgery, alcoholism, infection, tumors, and physical malformation of the brain, brain stem, and spine), a few of them have direct links to gluten.

Gluten Induced Autoimmune Reactions

The first is gluten induced autoimmune damage to the brain and central nervous system.  According to many research studies, a large percentage of patients with ataxia produce antibodies to an enzyme called transglutaminase 6.  This is similar to what happens in patients with celiac disease, only instead of an autoimmune reaction damaging the gut, we have an autoimmune reaction damaging the brain and causing ataxia symptoms.  Consider the findings of the following two recent research studies:

Gluten sensitivity (GS) is a spectrum of disorders with diverse manifestations. Recent evidence suggests that ataxia may be the only manifestation of GS and that it may be one of the causes of sporadic ataxia.

Source: Neurol India. 2013 May-Jun;61(3):226-30.

Antibodies against TG6 are gluten-dependent and appear to be a sensitive and specific marker of Gluten Ataxia.

Source: Neurology. 2013 May 7;80(19):1740-5.

Gluten Induced Vitamin B-12 Deficiency

Vitamin B-12 deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies caused by gluten.  B-12 deficiency also happens to be one of the other causes of ataxia not mentioned above.  A deficiency in this important B vitamin can cause demyelination of the nerves in the brain and spinal cord.  Demyelination is the process where the insulating layer of fat around the nerves is broken down.  Without insulation, the nerves do not deliver electrical impulses as efficiently, and the symptoms of ataxia set in.  The diagram below illustrates many of the possible manifestations of a vitamin B-12 deficiency.  The bottom left section of the diagram (Neuropathy) illustrates the pathway to ataxia.

gluten and vitamin B-12

 

 What You Should Investigate If You Have Been Diagnosed with Ataxia

If your doctor has diagnosed you with idiopathic ataxia, the first thing you should have investigated in the possibility that you might be gluten sensitive.  This is easily accomplished with genetic testing.  You can also take this short free quiz here.  The second thing you should investigate is whether or not you have a vitamin B-12 deficiency.  Both are relatively easy to accomplish.  In my experience treating patients with B-12 neuropathy (including ataxia), it can take up to two years to recover from the neurological damage and symptoms.

If you want to learn more about the symptoms and problems linked to vitamin B-12 deficiency, click the “next page” button below…

vitamin b12

 

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