1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.
Jane Anderson

Study: Neurological Exams Show Brain Abnormalities in Some Celiacs

By September 19, 2012

Follow me on:

Neurological symptoms seem to be common in people with celiac disease -- they range from brain fog to migraines. There's also evidence that some people (not necessarily celiacs) suffer from a neurological condition called gluten ataxia, which potentially can lead to progressive, permanent disability.






Now, a new study shows brain abnormalities in people with celiac disease who have certain neurological symptoms ... and these brain abnormalities are similar to the abnormalities found in people with gluten ataxia.

The study, from the U.K.'s Sheffield Teaching Hospitals neurologist Dr. Marios Hadjivassiliou (the physician who first described gluten ataxia), looked at the extent of brain abnormality in 33 patients with celiac disease referred to a neurologist because of their symptoms.

These symptoms included balance disturbances, headache and sensory loss, according to the study. Physicians used advanced MRI imaging to look at their brains, and compared them to a group of controls.

What they found was scary.

The size of the brain region called the cerebellum -- that's the part of the brain that deals with motor control, and possibly has some functions in language and attention -- was significantly less in the patient group than in the control group.

In addition, 36% of the celiac disease group had "white matter abnormalities," which most frequently are seen in multiple sclerosis patients. The group of people who reported headaches had the most of these abnormalities -- almost twice the number than those with balance disturbance, and six times more than those with sensory loss, the study said.

The researchers concluded that "patients with established coeliac disease referred for neurological opinion show significant brain abnormality on MR imaging." The study was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

As I said earlier, neurological issues seem common in people with celiac disease, and they're also commonly seen in gluten sensitivity (see my article Gluten-Related Neurological Symptoms and Conditions for more detail). This study from Dr. Hadjivassiliou provides fresh evidence that celiac disease affects far more than just our small intestines.

Keep up with the latest in the celiac disease/gluten sensitivity world -- sign up for my newsletter, connect with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter - @AboutCeliac.

Photo © Getty Images/Chad Baker

September 20, 2012 at 10:09 am
(1) Peter says:

Maybe this is why I have an migrane type headache now and usually get about one per month. Can this still occur once you are gluten free?

September 20, 2012 at 12:43 pm
(2) celiacdisease says:

@Peter — I used to get *horrible* migraines, and frequently. I still get them if I get glutened … even with just a moderate amount of trace gluten (such as you might find in a “gluten-free” food that’s only been tested to 20 parts per million/GF-20).

As I’ve gotten my diet cleaner and cleaner (practically no grains and no processed foods), I’ve been able to reduce the frequency of these migraines — these days, it’s maybe one every few months, if that. They’re not as severe, either.

Jane A.

September 20, 2012 at 10:32 am
(3) Pan says:

I have a MRI done every few years because of a slow growing tumour. In between the last one and the most recent, I have a marked increase in white matter brain lesions.

Migraines are one of my gluten responses. In response to the above commentator, migraines can also be triggered by caffeine, nicotine, nitrates, sulfites and MSG (and the many names MSG masquerades under).

Not a professional opinion, but I think Celiacs and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitive persons are much more sensitive to these additives in our food and migraines are one of the outcomes of that.

September 22, 2012 at 1:44 am
(4) Doug says:

Hey guys, I slipped in here to see what’s going on. If I may comment concerning the migraine, and all its fun stuff. My experience, one that is totally subjective, and not medical fact. Now that I have seasoned the Cellac thing, and only after becoming really obsessive about certain things pertaining to the Celiac world, I am giving my one help fix for people that have wondered, like me,
“How can I cut any thing else out of my diet !!”
I understand the culprits of the hidden, evil little things that gluten and his buddies do to us. And it is not funny… But it is a riot of wisdom, one that only the afflicted are allowed to laugh. :) Enough said, I really believe that immune deficient individuals, even the ones that are excellent in their craft of their diet, still have an erosion affect in their body that allows in this case, possibly glycemic complications.
My advice is.. maybe your senses are becoming, well more sensitive. In my case,
If I eat two different kinds of sugar – now, that could be honey, and not much of it. And some dark chocolate, just for example. But that is within the same cycle of a day. Now, that is what is important for me. If I had sugar, of any kind during the day, I don’t eat any other kind of sugar, at all. Ok, you must think I am nuts, well, yes I am. My diet is strict Celiac, no eggs, gluten, milk, or wheat. And not to mention, a ton of other awesome ingredients. So, if you read this far, I hope this helps, for explaining my thing, which is your thing, takes levels of understanding. And truly, I understand.

Good luck, and I hope this helps.

September 22, 2012 at 1:52 am
(5) Doug says:

And I forgot to mention, I am negative for diabetes. So, that tells me the factors of migraines are illusive, even on a personal level. I hope you all find you answer.

September 22, 2012 at 7:59 pm
(6) jesi says:

Doug, I’ve noticed my senses are definitely more sensitive and I don’t quite understand what you mean. Jesi

September 24, 2012 at 8:16 pm
(7) Doug says:

Hello jesi, First of all, don’t always do the same thing every day. Our body works better with diversity. Same with food. That means everything is looked at as a source for something. Mostly for fuel, and fertilizer for the body. So jesi, with a wisdom base of sickness and totally dark bed rooms, I have learned the hard way that certain foods that I once trusted as my own, to my dismay, have made me ill, and turned on me. You can get tested for allergic reactions, but the gold standard is actually eating the food, and documenting the event. This is a great plan, but as we age, the erosion of this autoimmune problem dictates that we will not always absorb foods the same each, and every year. So, in my situation, and possibly yours, we need to keep an open mind to the changes that the body is forced to make, all without our consent, and instinctively, feel what we eat, Not in a kooky way, just what is good for our body. Essentially, we are actually what we absorb, and not what we eat. Lastly, the worst, and most feared of the migraines for me, is the total absorption of a sugar, late at night, period. Like eating a bowl of ice cream at night. Sadly, that is probably my vehicle of blame in this battle against extremes that overhauled me. Over indulging as the body is concerned, does not match the criteria provided in modern day America. The bonus – we get to re-activate a primal human instinct that will be used for the rest of our life. As for the gluten, if any gets into me, it severly limits my motor skills. (when it comes to golf). But that is another story. Doug

September 26, 2012 at 12:48 am
(8) Jill says:

hi, I am soon to have an MRI to see if my Cerebellum in my brain has been affected by Gluten ingestion, I have terrible balance probs & one side of my body is affected with the disfunction of my leg & walking long distance, I guess also to rule out Stroke as the Drs look at you very strange when you mention Gluten Ataxia caused by Gluten, have been patient for 10 yrs so hopefully my scan will reveal what I suspect…all the best to everyone else who is living with these challenges. :)

September 27, 2012 at 6:09 pm
(9) Veronica says:

I have coeliac disease and was diagnosed in 2008 although I had been suffering for years and had been told I had irritable bowel and I would have to live with it! I started having intense
tingling all over my body in 2000 and it has never gone away. I had an MRI scan of the brain but all was normal. I was exhausted all the time and became very depressed. I was put on anti-depressants and then labelled as Bi-Polar and put on tablets for that. After I had been diagnosed with coeliac disease and stopped eating gluten I felt fine and was able to come off all the tablets. However the tingling has never gone away for a minute.I also get strange sensations in my head.

January 17, 2013 at 8:42 pm
(10) JIM M says:

Iím not sure if Iím the right place asking about my issues here.. BUT.. I have been searching for years for help. They found an abnormality on my brain as well about a year ago looking for a possible tumor on my ear drum due to many years of ringing in my ears. This caused them to go back and look at a previous MRI the year before that I had for problem headaches… (Sound like a wreck huh :) )… I wake up every morning with a headache which is with me all day as well as a very stiff neck and upper shoulder pain… I have no Idea what is wrong and canít really even share with my wife anymore how bad it really is… If I didnít have such a wonderful family and friend base I could see how these symptoms could drive someone to the point of well…you know…Itís bad. I donít know what the heck to do. Could these symptoms be caused by these things you speak of or anything that you may have ever heard…


March 5, 2013 at 1:20 pm
(11) Norma says:

I had the problems you describe for many many years and finally found some answers. Gluten affects the whole body causing problems that seem unrelated and they don’t necessarily go away when you quit gluten. I had chronic sinusitis caused by gluten, it’s sort of an autoimmune disease, and this caused a TMJ disorder because of the muscle tension in the jaws, neck and shoulders. Severe migraine headaches were really caused by the TMJ problem. I had sinus and TMJ surgeries which gave some relief but the problems continued to occur and will as long as the muscles are tense. I found bromelain enzyme, an anti-inflamatory, at bedtime makes life bearable, a paleo diet, and the right supplements help until I am eventually fully recovered in a few years.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.