Vertigo means dizziness that stems from a dysfunction in the balance system in your inner ear. When you have vertigo, you may feel as if the room is spinning, or you may feel as if you yourself are spinning or otherwise moving when in fact you're sitting or standing still.
The dizziness can start because of an outside stimulus that leads to an imbalance in your inner ear (for example, when you experience motion sickness or have over-consumed alcohol), or it can stem from an actual disorder of your inner ear, as it does in Meniere's disease. People with Meniere's disease experience chronic bouts of vertigo, and doctors don't really understand the cause of the condition.
So can gluten cause vertigo?
Maybe, but it's far from proven. There are many anecdotal reports from people with vertigo whose dizzy spells improved or subsided completely when they started the gluten-free diet. However, there's actually very little written in the medical literature about vertigo and gluten.
One case report, published in 2002, described an 11-year-old girl who was admitted to the hospital with vertigo, nausea and lack of appetite. Tests for celiac disease were performed and the girl was found to have the condition, so she started eating gluten-free.
Once she was gluten-free, her vertigo disappeared. It came back when she cheated on the diet and it disappeared again when she got more strict, indicating that the vertigo stemmed from her gluten ingestion.
A second study, this one published in 2012, looked for gluten sensitivity in patients with diagnosed Meniere's disease, using a skin prick test. A total of 58 patients with Meniere's disease were tested by skin prick for gluten sensitivity.
The study found that 33 of the 56 Meniere's disease patients tested were sensitive to gluten via the skin prick test. Most of them showed their reactions between six and 12 hours after the test. However, the study didn't place the patients on a gluten-free diet, so it's not clear if any of those people who tested positive would see an improvement in their vertigo if they started eating gluten-free.
The authors noted that this was the first study looking at Meniere's disease and gluten, and that further studies are needed to determine the relationship between the immune system response to gluten and Meniere's disease.
So, very preliminary research indicates there may be a link between vertigo and gluten in people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. However, much more research will need to be done on whether the gluten-free diet can help some chronic vertigo sufferers.
Di Berardino F. et al. Gluten sensitivity in Meniere's disease. The Laryngoscope. 2012 Mar;122(3):700-2. doi: 10.1002/lary.22492. Epub 2012 Jan 17.
Mohn A. et al. Celiac Disease-Associated Vertigo and Nystagmus. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. March 2002, pp. 317-8.