Thursday 23 April 2015

Wheat and Mental Health: Does Gluten Affect Blood Flow To The Brain?


The use of gluten is universal. This common protein is found in most of the world’s grains including wheat, barley and spelt, and it is almost always a prime ingredient in the production of breads, processed foods, pastas, rolls and crusts. As is the way of that old expression, “one man’s meat is another’s poison”, gluten can and often does cause serious health problems, the most prominently studied of which is Celiac Disease. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, more than 50 ailments are either caused or intensified by the ingestion of gluten, including anxiety and depression.
It was first suspected that wheat consumption cuts off the blood flow to the brain back in 1954 when the disappearance of symptoms considered part of the schizophrenia syndrome in patients consuming gluten free diets first appeared in medical literature.

In 1966, F.C. Dohan, M.D. conducted a remarkable study involving women in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the United States before and after World War II, the purpose of which was to confirm the possible connection between schizophrenia and celiac disease. Findings were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It was called: Wheat “Consumption and Hospital Admissions for Schizophrenia During World War II.

The most outstanding study dates back to a 1987 case study involving a 33-year-old patient that was published in the Journal of Internal Medicine. This patient had a pre-existing diagnosis of schizophrenia, which was accompanied by classic signs of gluten intolerance; severe diarrhea and weight loss. Thanks to brain scan technology, doctors discovered a decreased blood flow to the brain within the patient’s frontal cortex. Blood flow returned to the area and the diagnosis completely changed after a gluten-free diet was implemented.

Dr. David Perlmutter’s best selling book on the subject, Grain Brain, has opened the eyes of the world to the fact that grains can and do negatively affect brain health. The disruption of blood flow to the frontal cortex profoundly concerns mankind, for it is this area of the brain that controls choosing between “good” and “bad” actions, suppressing socially unaccepted behavior, long-term memory and the recognition of consequences resulting from current actions.

Two other important studies researched the gluten-gut-brain connection. The first, “Association Between Headache and Sensitivities to Gluten and Dairy, was published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine. The second study, Overlapping with Crohn’s Disease: A Case Series, appeared in Case Reports in Immunology and addressed what appeared to be three different diagnoses gluten sensitivity.

In conclusion, studies on gluten, while remarkable, are not yet conclusive. It does seem clear, however that mood disorders related to gluten sensitivity have been considerably under-diagnosed. Hopefully, ongoing research will eventually unravel the entire truth concerning its ramifications. It can be assumed however, that if the consumption of wheat interferes with blood flow to the brain in even some individuals, abstaining from it can be the best solution.

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