Sensitivity to gluten can cause neurological problems.
What is Gluten Neuropathy?
Neuropathy refers to the pins and needle tingling and numbness that can happen to certain body parts, such as when a foot falls asleep. The tingling may be painful and the numbness can be bothersome if it happens all of the time. Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity have recently been linked to some cases of peripheral neuropathy, which is a neurological condition. “10% of people newly diagnosed with celiac disease” have been found to have this type of issue.1 Celiac disease is a condition in which eating gluten (e.g., rye, wheat, barley) damages the small intestine, leading to complications from lack of nutrient absorption. Some of the problems that could result from celiac disease include infertility, osteoporosis, malnutrition, and cancer.2 There are also people without celiac disease, but with gluten sensitivity, who have shown symptoms of numbness and tingling. Peripheral neuropathy stems from nerve damage, which starts in the longest nerves, leading patients to feel symptoms in the hands and feet. The legs and arms can also be affected. Diabetes and autoimmune conditions (such as celiac disease) are linked to peripheral neuropathy, and anti-gluten antibodies may also be related in some of the cases. For patients who have only gluten sensitivity, and not celiac disease, peripheral neuropathy, brain fog, and migraine are neurological symptoms that can develop. In fact, these gluten-sensitivity neurological problems are even more common than those found in patients with celiac disease.3 In celiac disease, patients with peripheral neuropathy have been found to experience “severe burning, stinging and electric shock-type pains”.4
Treatment and Prevention
It is important for patients with celiac disease to adhere to a completely gluten-free diet in order to eliminate symptoms.5 Research is being done to further understand the mechanisms behind peripheral neuropathy and gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. One case report found that a man with gluten neuropathy and symptoms that included muscle twitches (fasciculations), fatigue, brain fog, and gastrointestinal distress benefited from dietary changes.6 Even adhering to a gluten-free diet can take some time for symptom resolution, as there “may be a related inflammatory process involved”. Physicians may want to discuss medication changes with patients, as certain drugs might cause symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. Lifestyle changes may also be warranted to reduce pain. Patients should avoid walking or standing for long periods of time, they might want to try therapeutic or looser shoes, or they may even soak their feet in ice water so that the tingling and pain are eased. It is important to take extra care when walking and moving, as numbness in the feet can lead to falls.7
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