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Could Celine Dion Be Reacting to Gluten?

Celine Dion Concert – Singing ‘Taking Chances’” by Anirudh Koul is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 .

Could Celine Dion Be Reacting to Gluten?

It’s always unfortunate when a celebrity speaks out about a medical condition, but the silver lining is that it draws attention to a condition that may go unnoticed for many of us. 

Such is the case with the recent announcement by Celine Dion that she is canceling her tour due to a new diagnosis of Stiff Person Syndrome.

What is Stiff Person Syndrome?

Stiff Person Syndrome is a rare neurological autoimmune disease that is characterized by progressive muscle stiffness in the axial muscles (the muscles of the head, neck, and back), sensitivity to noise and touch, and painful muscle spasms. These symptoms can result in severely impaired movement, and over time people with stiff person syndrome may develop a hunched over posture. 

Stiff person syndrome is extremely rare. It affects only one or two in one million people, twice as many women as men. 

Stiff person syndrome is associated with other autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, vitiligo, pernicious anemia, and celiac disease.

How is Stiff Person Syndrome Related to Gluten?

There is a high prevalence of gluten sensitivity in patients with stiff-person syndrome, which has led to research attempting to understand the connection between the two. 

While the exact mechanism is not fully understood, research shows that most patients with stiff person syndrome have high levels of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) antibodies. GAD plays a role in making a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger between nerve cells) called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps to control muscle movement.

Research also shows that there is a strong link between those with GAD antibodies and those with gluten sensitivity. This suggests that those with stiff person syndrome could likely benefit from the adoption of a gluten free diet. And some research has shown this to be true. Studies have demonstrated that a gluten-free diet can help support patients with GAD antibodies and conditions of the central nervous system in general.

In fact, one study identified a subgroup of patients with gluten sensitivity who complained of “episodic severe headache often with transient neurological deficit and extensive white matter abnormalities on an MRI.” Some of the patients also reported ataxia or neuropathy. The study found that patients’ headaches resolved with the introduction of a gluten free diet. 

Though there is no direct causation connection between gluten and stiff person syndrome, there is a growing body of research that shows that a gluten free diet might be helpful. 

Natural Ways to Manage Stiff Person Syndrome

  1. Physical therapy, massage, and hydrotherapy 
  2. Adoption of a gluten free diet
  3. Meditation and mindfulness
  4. Gentle movement (e.g., walks) as able
  5. Heat therapy (hot tub, infrared sauna)
  6. Acupuncture

Our Best to Celine

We certainly can’t diagnose the root cause of Celine Dion’s rare condition, but we do hope that some people can learn from her experience. And more than anything, we hope for comfort and clarity for Celine, and send our sincere well wishes. 

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