If you suffer from celiac disease or know someone who does, here’s sobering food for thought.
According to health experts, consumption of gluten-containing grains may actually contribute to the development of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia; and now new and disturbing research seems to confirm their opinion, by showing that wheat consumption cuts off blood flow to a vital area of the brain.
Celiac disease occurs when your immune system reacts to dietary gluten and manifests as inflammation or irritation of the small intestine, causing problems with absorbing vitamins and minerals from the diet. However, when gluten is removed from the diet, inflammation is reduced or goes away completely and your small intestine begins to heal again.
Let’s look at a 1997 case study published in The Journal of Internal Medicine involving a 33-year-old patient with a pre-existing diagnosis of 'schizophrenic' disorder. This patient first came for medical attention for severe diarrhea and weight loss, both of which are classical symptoms of gluten intolerance.
Brain scans showed that blood flow to the patient's frontal cortex was reduced. In this case, a gluten-free diet not only normalized intestinal damage and auto-antibodies, but raised blood flow again to the frontal cortex, and schizophrenic symptoms disappeared.
A follow-up study was performed in 2004. A total of 15 untreated celiac patients without neurological or psychiatric disorders (other than anxiety or depression) were compared with 15 celiac patients who were on a gluten-free diet for almost one year. Also, 24 healthy volunteers of similar sex and age were included in this study. All subjects underwent a type of brain scan known as cerebral single photon emission computed tomography examination.
The results were truly remarkable.
Of the 15 untreated celiac patients, 11 (73%) had at least one brain region with dramatically lowered blood flow, compared with only 1 (7%) of the 15 celiac patients on a gluten-free diet and none of the controls.
Not only that, blood flow in the frontal cortex was significantly lower in untreated celiac patients compared with healthy controls in 7 of 26 brain regions. Finally, no significant differences in blood flow were found between celiac patients on a gluten-free diet and healthy controls.
The frontal cortex of the brain is responsible for managing 'executive functions', such as:
- Recognizing future consequences as a result of current actions;
- Choosing between 'good' and 'bad' actions;
- Overriding and suppressing socially unacceptable responses;
- Retaining longer term memories which are not task-based;
- Being able to determine similarities and differences between things or events.
If wheat consumption interferes so strongly with blood flow to this critical area of the brain, it is likely to disrupt one or more of these executive functions.
So if you are intolerant to gluten in any way, avoiding wheat and gluten altogether may help to protect the health of your brain and perhaps even lower your future risk for schizophrenia.
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