Gluten and Your Brain
The astonishing link between your brain, neurological disorders and gluten.
In 2008, Julie Hahn, then 51, dropped and broke every one of her coffee mugs in a matter of weeks. The Colorado Springs resident had not only become suddenly and inexplicably clumsy, she was also having trouble with her balance.
“It started as weakness on the right side of my body,” she says. “I was dragging my right leg and arm as I walked.”
Before long, Hahn was using walls and furniture to catch herself and the once-avid runner was forced to use a cane. She met with a series of neurologists who ran batteries of tests, including multiple MRIs of her head and an EEG, which detects abnormal electrical activity in the brain. But no definitive diagnosis was made.
Meanwhile Hahn developed crushing fatigue. She’d sleep 14 hours a day and still feel exhausted. When her co-workers had to help her home one afternoon—the fatigue was so profound, she couldn’t get up from her desk—Hahn resigned from her job as an administrative assistant.
“After that point, I was spending 24 hours a day in bed,” she says. Friends and family later told Hahn they feared she was dying.
Then 18 months after the frightening symptoms first appeared, Hahn got some surprising news. A rheumatologist she’d been seeing for joint pain had run a test for celiac disease.
“She told me I needed to see a gastroenterologist. I was confused because I’d never had any stomach problems,” Hahn says. “Celiac disease? That didn’t sound like me.”
It wasn’t long before Hahn’s gastroenterologist, Scot Lewey, DO, clinical professor of medicine at Kansas City University of Medicine and Bioscience, confirmed the celiac diagnosis. Hahn had celiac antibodies and her intestinal villi were flattened. Lewey also diagnosed gluten ataxia, a gluten-related autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the cerebellum, the balance and coordination center of the brain.
“What I thought was probably multiple sclerosis or a devastating brain disease was actually a problem with gluten,” Hahn says. “It came as a total shock.”
Next: The Brain on Gluten