Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that occurs from damaged nerves in the arms, legs, hands, and feet. Commonly, symptoms experienced as a result of this are numbness, tingling, burning, and pain. The condition has a number of different causes, such as, diabetes, chemotherapy, statin medications, disc herniation and traumas, toxic metal exposure, chronic alcohol consumption and vitamin deficiencies. Now, however, scientists have linked peripheral nerve damage to gluten sensitivity and celiac disease.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, spelt, kamut and barley. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that wreaks havoc on the digestive tract. When a person afflicted with celiac�s eats even the tiniest bit of gluten it causes damage to the small intestine and interferes with nutrient absorption. In many cases, the inability to absorb nutrients can stunt growth, weaken bones and damage peripheral nerves resulting in neuropathy.
Celiac disease affects one out of every 100 people throughout the world. In America, two-and-a-half million Americans are undiagnosed and at risk for serious health problems, according to the Celiac Foundation. If it goes untreated, after a while a person can develop disorders like type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, dermatitis herpetiformis (itchy skin rash), anemia, osteoporosis, infertility, miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy, migraines, short stature, intestinal cancers, and now nerve damage.
It was approximately five years ago that researchers first discovered a possible link between celiac disease and neuropathy. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology has found celiac disease patients are at an increased risk for nerve damage. �It�s quite a high figure, compared to many other outcomes in celiac disease,� the study�s coauthor Dr. Jonas Ludvigsson, a pediatrician and professor at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, said in a statement. �There is a real association between celiac disease and neuropathy� [and] we have precise risk estimates in a way we haven�t had before.�
Furthermore, Swedish researchers studied medical records between 1969 and 2008 from over 28,000 patients with celiac disease and compared them to 139,000 people who were never diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder. Those with celiac disease were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from nerve damage also known as neuropathy.
Meanwhile, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a newly-recognized condition, and physicians who are performing research on this topic say tingling and numbness in the extremities represents one of the most common gluten sensitivity symptoms.
In another study, researchers screened 215 patients with peripheral neuropathy. A total of 140 of these had �idiopathic neuropathy,� meaning there was no apparent medical reason for their peripheral neuropathy.
The researchers tested those 140 people for antibodies to gluten using two celiac disease blood tests, the AGA-IgA test and the AGA-IgG test. Although these tests are not thought to be very specific to celiac disease, they can detect if your body views gluten as an invader and is generating antibodies against the protein.
Thirty-four percent of those tested � 47 people � had high antibodies to gluten in one or both of those tests, compared with a 12% rate of high antibodies to gluten in the overall population.
The researchers also performed endoscopies and biopsies on those people in the study suspected to have celiac disease, and found that 9% of those in the �unexplained neuropathy� group actually had celiac. The celiac disease genes � i.e., HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 � were found in 80% of all peripheral neuropathy patients.
New research has revealed that peripheral neuropathy actually is one of the most common non-digestive symptoms of celiac disease, and gluten sensitivities, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. In fact, it�s possible to have no noticeable gastrointestinal symptoms of celiac disease, but instead to have mainly peripheral neuropathy and other neurological symptoms.
Researchers analyzed medical records of over 28,000 patients with biopsy-confirmed celiac disease and then they followed up with all the study participants after a median of 10 years to see if they had developed nerve damage. They found that those with celiac disease had a 2.5-fold increased risk of developing nerve damage over a period of time as compared to the control population.
Neurological symptoms such as peripheral neuropathy, migraines and brain fog are even more common in non-celiac gluten sensitivity, according to Harvard Medical School�s Dr. Alessio Fasano, one of the lead researchers in the field of gluten sensitivity. Dr. Fasano says up to 30% of people he�s diagnosed with gluten sensitivity have neurological symptoms � a much larger percentage than people with neurological symptoms in celiac disease.
Dr. Fasano: Gluten Sensitivity May Affect 6% to 7% Overall
Dr. Fasano, director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, published the first study looking at the molecular basis for gluten sensitivity and how it differs from celiac disease. He also participated in the research concluding that celiac disease incidence is one in every 133 people.
According to Dr. Fasano, gluten sensitivity potentially affects far more people than celiac disease. He estimates about 6% to 7% of the U.S. population may be gluten-sensitive, meaning some 20 million people in the United States alone could be sensitive to gluten.
Symptoms of gluten sensitivity in this population can include digestive problems, headaches, rashes and eczema-like skin symptoms, brain fog, fatigue, and peripheral neuropathy. Almost one-third of those he�s diagnosed as gluten-sensitive report brain fog and headaches as symptoms, he says.
Dr. Ford and Dr. Fine Say Percentage Could Be Far Higher � Up To 50%
Dr. Ford, a pediatrician in Christchurch, New Zealand and author of The Gluten Syndrome, says he believes the percentage of people who are gluten-sensitive actually could be much higher � potentially between 30% and 50%.
�There are so many people who are sick,� he says. �At least 10% are gluten-sensitive, and it�s probably more like 30%. I was sticking my neck out years ago when I said at least 10% of the population is gluten-sensitive. My medical colleagues were saying gluten sensitivity didn�t exist. We�ll probably find it�s more than 50% when we finally settle on a number.�
Dr. Fine, a gastroenterologist who founded and directs the gluten sensitivity testing service Enterolab, agrees that gluten sensitivity probably affects half the population.
Another large percentage of Americans have autoimmune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic headaches and/or microscopic colitis, which place them at high risk for gluten sensitivity. About 60% to 65% of people with those conditions test positive for gluten sensitivity through Enterolab, Meanwhile, about 20% to 25% of people with no symptoms are diagnosed with gluten sensitivity based on Enterolab testing results, says Dr. Fine.
�When we did the math, we came up with the number of about one in two are gluten-sensitive,� he says.
A study published in 2010 in the journal of Neurology found that a gluten free diet led to stabilization of the neuropathy for many of the patients in this study.
Over the past many years, gluten has been shown to induce an autoimmune antibody response to nerve cells, myelin sheath (protective coating around nerves, as well as receptor sites on cells that bind neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow nerves to communicate).
It has also been discovered that gluten can contribute to the breakdown of the blood brain barrier. This allows chemical toxins to leak into the blood supply of the brain itself .
In addition, it has become a well researched fact that Gluten sensitivity can damage the gut inducing malabsorption of vitamins and minerals (such as vitamins B1 and B12). Gluten sensitivity has been linked to the following list of neurologic conditions:
� Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
� Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
� Peripheral Neuropathy
� Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders
� Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
� Facial Palsy Disorder (Bell�s Palsy)
� Bipolar Disease
� Tremor and spasm
� Sensory Nerve Damage
� Multiple Sclerosis
� Parkinson�s Disease
� Migraine Headache
So it goes without saying, if you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity/intolerance or if you suspect you may have these conditions, going gluten free is imperative for the health of your nerves and your GI tract. If you are unsure, then try the � GLUTEN FREE FOR 3 � challenge. Go completely gluten free for just 3 days and keep a journal to log in how you feel and sleep during those 3 days. If you feel better, overall, then chances are high that you are gluten sensitive.
For more information, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .
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