|Gluten Ataxia - Gluten-Free Diet for Improved Balance & Coordination|
Those who have gluten sensitivity may experience a wide range of symptoms, one of which may include ataxia. Ataxia is a lack of muscular coordination, with varying symptoms depending on its severity. Ataxia might affect one's ability to pick up objects, walk, speak, move one's eyes normally, or even swallow. Gluten ataxia may occur in people who are sensitive to gluten who have developed antigliadin antibodies.
Trying to find the cause for a loss of muscle coordination can be a rather daunting task as many conditions can cause ataxia. Obvious causes might include a stroke, head injury, or radiation poisoning. Blood tests might reveal causes such as a vitamin B12 deficiency or hypothyroidism. Yet some people go through multiple tests only to be told that there is no clear cause for his or her ataxia and are eventually diagnosed with idiopathic sporadic ataxia.
Gluten ataxia may easily be overlooked as a cause of ataxia in people who are not diagnosed with celiac disease, celiac sprue, gluten-sensitive enteropathy, or similar conditions. Estimates indicate that approximately 1% of the population has celiac disease, a condition often called the great imitator because its symptoms can vary so widely. Many people suffer for years before being diagnosed with celiac disease. People with celiac disease or even a sensitivity to gluten may experience ataxia as purkinje cells in the cerebellum of the brain begin to decrease. In these people, the body may develop antibodies, such as transglutaminase TG6, that may target and destroy purkinje cells.
Malabsorption of nutrients in the intestinal tract is often associated with ataxia, and many people who have celiac disease experience intestinal symptoms such as diarrhea; however, a significant percentage of people with positive markers for celiac disease do not have intestinal symptoms or intestinal enteropathy. According to several sources, ataxia is the most common neurological symptom of celiac disease. Approximately 40% of cases of idiopathic sporadic ataxia may be due to gluten sensitivity.
Will coordination and balance improve if one with gluten ataxia eats a gluten-free diet? The answer to that question depends on many factors. Some studies indicate that some people with gluten ataxia experienced complete resolution of ataxia symptoms after adopting a completely gluten-free diet. A study that looked at people with gluten ataxia demonstrated that all those who adopted a strict gluten-free diet experienced improvement of ataxia symptoms over the control group who did not change the diet. Some people in gluten ataxia studies, particularly those with longer lasting and more severe symptoms, seemed to have permanent damage to the cerebellum in the brain despite a change in diet. Those diagnosed with gluten ataxia more quickly may be more likely to experience significant improvement of symptoms after adopting a strict gluten-free diet.
This article is not medical advice and is only meant to be informative. If you are experiencing symptoms of ataxia or are considering changing your diet, consult a qualified healthcare provider who can provide information that is relevant to one's own health.
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- Boyd, Christine, Gluten Attack: Ataxia, a Controversial Call, Living Without, Feb/March 2011.
- Hadjivassiliou, M. et. al., National Institutes of Health, Dietary treatment of gluten ataxia, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. Sep 2003.
- Hadjivassiliou, M. et. al., Clinical, radiological, neurophysiological, and neuropathological characteristics of gluten ataxia, Lancet, 11/14/1998.
- Widodo Judarwanto, MD, Celiac Disease: The Great Mimic Presentation