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  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 . Over 90% of the patients whose ataxia was verified to be caused by gluten had absolutely no digestive complaints .
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,
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.