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Gluten, Leaky Brain, & The Connection to Depression

Grain Brain Dr Osborne and Dr Perlmutter

Grain Brain?

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of getting to hang out with New York Times best selling author, and world renowned neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter. If you aren’t familiar with Dr. Perlmutter’s work, check out Grain Brain. Some of the concepts in this book are revolutionary, and that brings me to the point of today’s post.

Leaky Barriers

Most people have heard of Leaky Gut, but it is rare to hear anyone talk about the concept of Leaky Brain Syndrome. I have discussed this concept before with Harvard researcher, Dr. Fasano, but only briefly Today I want to talk about one of the most debilitating diseases linked to a break down in the gastrointestinal barrier, but also potentially a break down in the blood brain barrier. Depression. Unfortunately, many are unaware of the connection between gluten and depression. Part of this connection has to do with the role gluten plays in causing intestinal permeability (Leaky Gut). This process was discovered originally by Dr. Fasano. You can read a review of it here. The part less talked about has to do with gluten’s impact on the microbiome (good bacteria in the gut). Studies have shown that gluten can alter the normal bacterial flora, and in doing so set the stage for decreased levels of regulatory gut bacteria, and increased levels of bacteria that contribute to inflammation. When you combine leaky gut with altered bacteria, you get an increased presence of bacteria and their by products in the blood. One type of bacterial byproduct is LPS (lipopolysaccharide). Studies have shown that when this happens, the immune system will produce inflammation trying to combat the presence of these translocated bacteria. This increase inflammation has been shown to alter the function of the brain, and a side effect of this is DEPRESSION.[1, 2, 3] The image below illustrates the connection:
Image from: Front Neurol. 2014 Nov 21;5:241.
Image from:
Front Neurol. 2014 Nov 21;5:241.

Leaky Brain Syndrome

As described above, a big part of the problem is leaky gut syndrome. However; newer research has shown evidence that patients with gluten and dairy reactions have the antibodies showing up in their cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This is an indicator that a disruption in the blood brain barrier is present (i.e. Leaky Brain) [4] Why is this so abnormal? The blood brain barrier (BBB) is supposed to protect the brain from elements in the blood stream that could create potential harm. This includes antibodies, inflammatory compounds, infections… If this barrier becomes leaky, it opens up the potential for a number of health problems. Some of the most common include autoimmune diseases that impact the central nervous system. Beyond depression, examples include:

What Can You Do About It?

There are a number of things that can be done to protect yourself from this leaky gut/brain scenario. If you suffer with depression or if you suspect Leaky Brain Syndrome, the most important thing you can do is to be tested for gluten sensitivity and other food allergies. I would also highly recommend having your doctor measure your gut bacteria for the presence of gram negative bacteria, as these are the types that have been found to be the most problematic. If they are present, you will definitely want to consider taking high doses (200 billion CFU/day or more) of probiotics for at least 2 months. Also consider having your doctor check your vitamin and mineral status as these are essential to the healing process. From a food perspective, you will want to consume whole unprocessed foods. I would recommend avoiding all grain, processed dairy, legumes, alcohol, and large quantities of seeds. Bone broth is an excellent source of nutrient dense food helpful in gut recovery. I put together this short video on supplementation as well: Wishing you excellent health, Dr. Osborne – The Gluten Free Warrior

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