Is Gluten to Blame for your Brain Fog?

Anthia Koullouros

Naturopath and Holistic Health Expert

As a practicing Naturopath I have seen the immediate and long-term health benefits of removing gluten or grains entirely from my patient’s diets. Most obvious improvements are seen with those who are carrying excess weight, digestive imbalance and general inflammation.

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Though one could argue that by removing gluten or grains we are also removing chemicals such as additives and other processed ingredients such as sugar (which are known to cause disease and that by removing industrial processing methods that are used to create many grain or gluten containing food products) we are removing products that have little or no nutrients as well as removing inflammatory toxic by products caused by processing.

And by removing gluten and grains we are replacing them with nutrient dense whole foods in the form of grass fed beef, lamb, chicken, pastured chooks, and chook eggs, wild seafood and fish, organic fruit and vegetables, plenty of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil and natural salt.

Yes, this will improve health, obviously, but there also seems to be plenty of evidence to show how gluten directly affects our brain causing poor cognitive function such as the mind going blank, memory loss, poor decision-making, poor clarity and eventually dementia.

I have previously reviewed what gluten is, gluten intolerance, ill effects of consuming gluten and testing for gluten.

In this post I will share with you how gluten affects everyone’s brain, even if you haven’t been diagnosed with gluten intolerance or sensitivity or Coealiac disease.

Some researchers say that people with Coeliac may actually have an advantage over the apparently non-afflicted individuals. This is because those who are ‘non-symptomatic,’ and whose intolerance goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because they lack the classical symptoms, may suffer in ways that are equally or more damaging, but expressed more subtly, or in distant organs such as the brain.

According to Dr. Alessio Fasano, globally recognised for his pioneering research in the fields of Coeliac disease and gluten intolerance, all humans have some negative reaction to gluten. Gluten induces this cornerstone of brain degeneration: inflammation. It causes leakiness of the blood-brain barrier and it also causes leaky gut. He headed up a team that discovered the molecule zonulin, which regulates the permeability of the intestine and is now known to be a major player in ‘leaky gut’. Too much zonulin causes leaky gut. Zonulin release is triggered by gluten.

The problem with leaky gut is that it allows undigested food material and microorganisms into the bloodstream causing an immunologic reaction presenting as an intolerance or auto immune reaction. In addition this immune activation leads to more damage to the intestinal cells and the gut becomes more inflamed and more permeable or ‘leaky’.  As the damage continues, the microvilli that line the intestines and absorb nutrients become damaged, leading to other nutrient deficiencies.

Inflammatory cytokines produced in the gut travel through the blood and they cross the blood-brain barrier. The inflammation makes the blood-brain barrier leaky. Once the inflammatory cytokines get into the brain they activate the microglial cells, which causes inflammation of the brain.

Dr Fasano says that people with gluten sensitivity get some gastro-intestinal inflammation, but they don’t get the blunting and destruction of the villi as people with Coeliac disease get.  They experience intestinal permeability at a lower level and for a lesser amount of time than Coeliac disease patients but they are still effected.

According to Nora Gedgaudas, author of Primal Body Primal Mind, exposure to gluten in a sensitive individual, causing inflammation of the brain, essentially shuts down blood flow to the prefrontal cortex—the part of our brains that allow us to focus, manage emotional states, plan and organise and exercise our short term memory.  The prefrontal cortex is our brain’s ‘executive function’ control center and is the part of our brain that, basically, makes us the most human.

Inflammation in the brain causes neurons to fire more slowly, slowing down mental activity, recall, and reflexes. Sluggish neurons also shut down the production of energy in the cells. This means that cells fatigue easily, and you may lose your ability to focus for long periods of time.

Brain fog is a sign of inflammation.

In next week’s post I outline more ways gluten can affect brain function.

Images: Tumblr

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