Gluten Causes Ataxia (Unstable Gait or Poor Balance)

on Oct28
by Dr. Vikki Petersen | Print the article |

Why Don’t Neurologists Screen Their Patients for Gluten Intolerance?

Gluten is certainly a busy little protein – it wrecks havoc in almost every known system in the human body. Unfortunately it ‘makes sense’ to think that if a food was bothering your body, you would likely feel a digestive complaint. Why do I say unfortunately? Simply because it’s completely false, particularly in the case of gluten intolerance and celiac disease.

Ataxia (unstable gain or poor balance) is one of the two most common neurological manifestations of gluten sensitivity. While research makes the connection between ataxia and gluten going back to 1996, a typical neurologist today will not have gluten intolerance on his or her list of possible causes when a patient arrives complaining of symptoms associated with ataxia.

Up to 45% of Patients Suffer Needlessly from Ataxia – the Cause is Known!

Why not? I guess they haven’t heard of the research [1] that looked at 500 patients with progressive ataxia evaluated over a period of 13 years in the United Kingdom. Astonishingly, researchers found the following:

• The prevalence of gluten-caused ataxia was 20% among all patients with ataxia
• The prevalence of gluten-caused ataxia was 25% among patients with sporadic ataxia (it came and went)
• The prevalence of gluten-caused ataxia was 45% among patients with idiopathic sporadic ataxia (cause unknown).

That’s a very high prevalence. Anywhere from 20-45% is extremely significant. Yet the information is not known.

Sadly, even patients who may suspect they have a problem with gluten are often dismissed as ‘not knowing what they’re talking about’ by their doctors. Why? Because current knowledge about celiac disease puts it firmly into a digestive disorder category. And while that certainly makes intuitive sense, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Gluten Causes Ataxia but No Digestive Complaints in these Patients

In fact, less than 10% of those suffering from gluten-induced ataxia had any digestive problems at all [2]. Over 90% of the patients whose ataxia was verified to be caused by gluten had absolutely no digestive complaints [2].

Not only is ataxia a devastating illness that impacts one’s ability to perform basic activities of daily living, but the longer a gluten intolerance is left undiagnosed, the more permanent damage occurs to the brains of those affected.

We must raise our awareness of this critical association both for lay persons and clinicians alike. How much suffering could be allayed if neurologists understood this association and regularly utilized gluten intolerance as a potential differential diagnosis – meaning the root cause for the symptoms.

What Testing is Available? Is it Accurate?

But we get ahead of ourselves. There’s another problem. The way in which we diagnose disease is through laboratory testing. Eliminating gluten from the diet for 30 days and feeling better, while a valid test for many leaders in the field, is typically considered ‘circumstantial’ for the average doctor in the U.S. They need an irrefutable lab test.

What is at the disposal then of a doctor whose patient insists they get tested for gluten intolerance? For celiac disease there is a tTG2 test and an intestinal biopsy. Unfortunately the tTG2 test is completely inaccurate for neurologically-induced gluten diseases and the biopsy is too gross a test to pick up the estimated 33% that will have some alteration, but not complete destruction, of the lining of their small intestine.

The accurate test for gluten-induced neurological problems, tTG6, isn’t even on the market yet. I’m told that it should be soon by a specialty lab that I use for my patients, but as of this writing it is yet not released.

And of course gluten sensitivity has no ‘accepted’ lab test according to the current medical model in this country. The testing that I use has not yet been given the stamp of approval. It does seem to be accurate based on my patients’ results and the relief they get after removing gluten, but it has not yet been given the ‘green light’ from traditional medicine.

Do you start to see why so many suffer needlessly?

In the meantime I will continue to write and speak and blog and video. As a matter a fact you can view a recent video I taped on the topic here.

Please spread the word. Researchers are doing their part by conducting excellent research. Now we have to do our part in letting others know the facts.

I am happy to assist you, your friends and family. Please let me know how I can help. Our destination clinic treats patients from across the country and internationally.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”

Permission is granted to re-post this article in its entirety with credit to Dr Vikki Petersen & HealthNOW Medical Center and a clickable link back to this page. Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN is founder of HealthNOW Medical Center and the author of “The Gluten Effect” and eBook: “Gluten Intolerance – What you don’t know may be killing you”.  She has been featured in national magazines, international medical journals and is a frequent headlined speaker.

1.    Movement Disorders 2008 23:1370-77“Cerebellar ataxia as a possible organ specific autoimmune disease”. Hadjivassiliou et al.
2.    The Lancet March 2010, Vol 9 “Gluten sensitivity: from gut to brain”. Hadjivassiliou, Sanders, et al.

The Author

16 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Debbie B in MD


    My dad is 87 and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about 3 years ago. The main symptom was falling backwards. He has no tremor. He has a very difficult time speaking. He is unable to pull the correct words out. My daughter and I both have Celiac. I asked my dad’s neurologist if he would test my dad for celiac. He rather rudely dismissed me saying that gluten is just today’s panacea. With all the neurological damage already done to my dad, I doubt that giving up gluten now would help much, but I really want the rest of the family to take the possibility seriously. There are so many symptoms of gluten sensitivity throughout the family. My question, I guess, is “Can ataxia be mistaken for Parkinson’s?” I am not looking to blame anyone for a wrong diagnosis. I just really want to know. My dad’s general doctor wants a gastro doctor to test. He hasn’t had gastro issues in years and therefore doesn’t have a gastro. I don’t know why it needs to be so hard. Thanks for your response.

    28 Oct
  2. 2

    Hello Debbie,

    I really feel for you. You ask: “Why does it need to be so hard?” and that’s an excellent question. On a daily basis I hear from individuals such as yourself who are trying to help themselves or family members and keep running up against brick walls with their doctors.

    You could ‘do it yourself’ if you like by getting tests from Enterolab. is an on-line service that will send you the test kit and later the results with no need of a doctor. They offer celiac and gluten sensitive tests plus they do genetic testing.

    I agree with you – finding out is something the family should know. And as regards Dad, I have seen and heard of dramatic improvements in patients whom were thought unlikely to improve but did so after they went gluten-free. It certainly could do no harm to try.

    Please let me know if there’s any further help I can provide.

    Dr Vikki

    28 Oct
  3. Debbie B in MD


    So, you would not be totally shocked if his “Parkinson’s” and accompanying dementia was really the result of gluten ataxia? I will talk to my mom about experimenting with Dad’s diet. Thanks so much.

    28 Oct
  4. 4

    Hello again Debbie,
    No, I wouldn’t be totally shocked if his ‘Parkinson’s’ and dementia was the result of a gluten intolerance. I didn’t mean to imply that in my earlier response.

    Please let me know what you discover.

    Dr Vikki

    28 Oct
  5. Katherine


    Thank you for the work you’re doing on this. Gluten affects me mainly neurologically, and it’s a grand thing to no longer have numbness and tingling, to drop stuff all the time, bump into walls or fall down randomly, and have fewer migraines. Can’t tell you how many doctors I had tell me there was no connection between gluten and my issues. It gets frustrating when you feel horrible, and you’re told time and again that it’s in your head. My body knew the answer, though. When my doctor wouldn’t test for celiac, I used Enterolab which confirmed my suspicions about gluten, dairy, and soy (the evil triad, lol!). Three years free, and life is a lot better. Keep up the excellent research and education!

    28 Oct
  6. Rhonda Dunham


    Dr Vikki, I am a 46 yr old female who has been fortunate enough to have good health all my life. but in the past year i have had episodes of stomach bloating, excessive burping and gas, all which i put to a long weekend of playing to hard. But i also on occasion thought i missed my monthly cycle, which is always regular so i pay no attention to documenting it. but the two have become a regular thing now, i have missed 2 cylcles now and have more common than not a stomach the size of a 6mo pregnant woman( and no there is no chance of that). I have a very trusted chiropractor that i go to Dr Edwards and we did a food allergy test, and gluten seems to be a major factor, dairy is fine but there is still somthing else that seems to trigger my discomfort and am having a hard time determaning it, The other day i had 3 Woodchuck hard ciders, garanteed gluten free, and wow instant blow up! I have check and they realy have no other ingredients in them except Sulfits and Sorbate…all other foods that day checked out ok, it was one of my best gluten free cooking days. Any thoughts on this and the connection to possible menopause and Gluten Intolerance.
    Its been tuff to give up many of the foods you like and the convinence of a normal active life were food, fun and adventure run together, but possible menopause on top of it, with the 6 or 7 times a night waking up with night sweats and hot flashes during the day, Im about stressed to the max, tired to boot. I have started a strong probiotic regiment, but is there anything els i can try.

    Thank you; Rhonda

    28 Oct
  7. Debbie B in MD


    I didn’t think you did. I think I just wanted someone else to say it, especially someone who has the credentials to back it up. It is nice to be validated. Now if I could just get my dad, really my mom because she now has to take care of everything, to give gluten-free a try. I jsut watch Dr Terry Wahl’s video about her recovery from MS. At least I know my daughter and I will benefit., Thanks so much for you time.

    28 Oct
  8. Lynn D


    was trying to find information on hair analysis and came to your site.
    Had stopped wheat years ago while tryinbg to rid self and sons of digestion problems
    recalled whenever ate a sandwhich or had milk got a stomachach as child.
    So stopped dairy first, more enery….
    Then wheat , helped so much. Was neg on blood tests and HLA gene test for celiac, but
    a lab (does stool testing in Kansas)who wrote info on it said the genes I had were prone to
    gluten sensitivities. Wonder if there is an easier test bu saliva to get?
    Have been on SCD (book breaking viscious cycle”) that helped alot. just
    plain food. they encourage only Lac. Acidof. probiotic to help deal with “rude bugs ” in digestive tract.
    Went back to try cheese again this year and went to Dr for listing as waking and thought back to when stARTed and it was when started back on cheese. So stopped it and helped.
    Now trying to find how nuts are treated as use them to bake with(some use propylene oxide to pasteurize almonds)

    28 Oct
  9. 9

    Hello Rhonda,

    Thank you for writing. Associated with gluten intolerance is often secondary infections such as parasites, amoeba, yeast and the like. While they can cause digestive symptoms they also can be relatively ‘silent’. These organisms can become ‘flared up’ by alcohol (hard cider) and is perhaps was caused your reaction. I cannot be sure of course, and I’m not diagnosing you, but just trying to give you some information about gluten intolerance.

    You do seem to be in menopause and that adds an extra dimension and stress to your body. I’m glad that you have a good doctor to work with. We do specialize in the secondary effects of gluten as well as hormonal imbalance. If you do feel you need some extra assistance feel free to take advantage of a complimentary health analysis. I’m here to help! You can call us at 408-733-0400.

    You definitely should not need to continue to feel the way you do. We have many patients who have done very well with symptoms such as your own. You have enjoyed good health up until this point, there’s no reason to not regain it.

    All the best,
    Dr Vikki

    28 Oct
  10. Rhonda


    I have neurological effects of celiac disease. All the doctors I have been to know very little about celiac disease let alone the neurological side effects that can be caused. I have no intestinal issues, instead I have alot of “bone” pain, if I get contaminated I loose the use of my limbs. As I have today, my left side is normally my strong side, not today. I have very little feeling in my left leg/foot today. My hands are very weak as well. I am very careful about my diet. I have started drinking coke zero vanilla and cherry in the last month or so, could this be contributing to the attack? HELP!? Can anyone help with the pain, I am open to any and all suggestions.

    28 Oct
  11. 11

    Hello Rhonda,

    I would be more than happy to help. It is not unusual to have neurological effects associated with gluten but absolutely no digestive ones.

    It’s crucial that we strengthen your immune system, heal your gut (despite not having any symptoms there it is the initiator of many of your complaints likely) and discover any secondary effects that gluten has created that are causing your symptoms of pain.

    While not the whole problem, I do agree that discontinuing the artificial sweeteners would probably be a good idea. They too are known to have neurological side effects.

    Please consider accepting my offer of a free health analysis. We would be delighted to help you. Call 408-733-0400.

    Dr Vikki

    28 Oct
  12. Ann Marie


    I have a 5 year old son diagnosed with ADHD a year ago. He is widely considered as very bright and sweet as can be. He also seems to exhibit some signs of autism but not enough for a diagnosis and very importantly he doesn’t show any of these symptoms ADHD or otherwise all the time. As some background he has poor sight and wears glasses ( +13.5 in both eyes) but has shown major improvement in his hyperactivity level since he got glasses about a year ago. I am quite the researching mother and I gave up my job a few months ago so I can focus on my son. I also think I have the rare ability to extract myself from being a mother and look objectively at my son to see how he is progressing or not… He goes to a therapist twice a week and she says the same. In fact she often indicates that she wishes that she could get half the support i give from the other parents, for their children and the structure she tries to use for these children (they all love her deeply) … I actually think she is a God send.

    With regards to gluten, his therapist and I agreed that we should try for a gluten free diet supplemented by vitamin B complex. Important to note that my son has had a very healthy diet all his life… He just naturally likes foods that are supposed to be good for him…can’t explain it except that we always offered good food. He eats all vegetables and fruits imaginable and he eats a decent variety of proteins ( just starting to eat beef and pork) if he doesn’t like them we won’t push.

    Sometimes I don’t think Zach has any ADHD or anything else as he is just so smart, loving, adorable, not to mention handsome to boot!!

    The main issue is being Jamaicans if you are not careful you could consume an enormous amount of gluten everyday. All the breads are generally wheat based. In addition my son loves milk but most days now he get’s about 5 ounces full cream milk with milo… a chocolate based beverage ( it’s great I grew up on it and I still drink it… Comfort food) just before bed at night.

    All that said…I recently found Bob Red Mill’s gluten free pan cake mix and for some time I have been using gluten free pasta for the whole family. The question is what are the various types of starches that are gluten free and are there any gluten free crackers or buscuits or cereals that are generally found internationally that children are likely to like that you know of?

    Also how long does one need to be off of gluten to really know if it is responsible for any of these issues. I also notice that sometimes his gait seems to be off and sometimes not???

    Your thoughts?

    28 Oct
  13. 13

    Hello Ann Marie,

    Sorry in the delay in getting back with you. You are a great mom!

    A 30 day trial of a gluten free diet should be enough time to give you a good idea if your son improves. Since he is a good eater, I would focus on the foods that he likes and that are healthy while being naturally gluten-free. If you go to this page you can see what contains gluten and what doesn’t.

    I would recommend no cow’s milk at the same time. Many children react neurologically to cow’s milk. Do you have access to coconut milk? It’s very healthy and delicious.

    Let me know how it goes.

    Dr Vikki

    28 Oct
  14. Leanne Dejackome


    Night sweats are episodes of nighttime sweating that soak your nightclothes or bedding even when your bedroom isn’t excessively hot. Night sweats are a common problem many people experience from time to time. Although uncomfortable, night sweats typically aren’t a sign of a medical problem. …;

    28 Oct
  15. Dora Mendoza Chisum


    To Anne Marie
    Please do not give Milo to your son, it contains malt (derived from barley), and therefore it has gluten. Milo is made by Nestle and sold in some countries, Here, in Mexico, it was discontinued more than ten years ago.
    To Dr Vikki Petersen:
    I presented neurological symptoms from a very early age. My siblings used to call me Casper the ghost because they said I wanted to walk trough the walls (unsteady gait). I underwent a full neurological workup with all the tests available then, when I was four, since my uncle was the head of pediatricians in a major pediatric hospital. They said they could not find anything wrong. I continued experiencing problems with gait and balance. At 14 I was treated for Menier. My digestive problems began when I was about 30, soon followed by skin problems. By then I started a pilgrimage from gastroenterologyst to dermatologist to neurologist and each would only prescribe medications for bloating, for pain, iron for my anemia, lots of antibiotics for the acne in my buttock, then cortisone creams and lotions for the dermatitis in my hands, then I was diagnosed with IBS, then also with hidra adennitis supurativa, then possibly Crohns. By then I was sick of being so sick and the doctors not doing anything but prescribe medicine that alleviated some symptoms and worsened or caused many others. I stopped all medications and started reading journal articles in the internet. I found an article that mentioned a possible association between gluten and hydroaddenitis supurativa, so I began reading about gluten and found another article with a picture of hands which looked like mine and it was about Dermatitis herpetifomis. Aha, this was the skin manifestation of Celiac disease Aha! Now I am 58, I have been gluten free for 14 months and my hands are mostly clear, my bloating much lessened, my pain gone, my boils mostly gone except when I get inadvertently gluttened by cross contamination and they reoccur although much smaller and much less painful. The vertigo is gone and I have not fell or tripped on my feet for a whole year. Yey! No more sprained wrists or ankles! I still have many nutritional deficiencies caused by prolonged malabsortion and I am drinking sea water to address those deficiencies according to french

    28 Oct
  16. 16

    That is excellent Dora. I’m very happy for you.
    Keep sharing your story – it’s inspirational!
    If you need any assistance to keep improving your health, we are always available for a free health analysis – just call 408-733-0400.

    Dr Vikki

    28 Oct

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