Neurological Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Neurological Symptoms2015 International Celiac Disease Symposium (ICDS) held in Prague in June 2015 reported that patients with neurological dysfunction showed increased tendency to have difficulties ingesting gluten. Anecdotally, celiac patients experience neurological and psychological issues that seem to be connected to being “glutened.” A UK study of newly diagnosed celiac patients found 61% had neurological symptoms, most commonly headaches, balance problems and sensory issues.

Gluten ataxia involves patients having significant problems with coordination, making life very difficult. Studies show that 18% of all ataxias are gluten-related, and 15% of genetic ataxias are gluten-related. Gluten ataxia is found in patients with celiac disease as well as those with non- celiac gluten sensitivity.

Improvement of ataxia was usually seen within a year of the strict gluten-free diet even in those without enteropathy (intestinal damage). Dr. Marios Hadjivassiliou of the UK, who spoke about this issue, finds it very easy to justify putting people with gluten ataxia on the gluten-free diet, as the benefits are significant.

In his research, Dr. Hadjivassiliou found neurophysiologic evidence of improvement of neuropathy within a year of the gluten-free diet among his test subjects. Gluten neuropathy was not common at the time of diagnosis of celiac (2%), but much more common in the long term. The onset of gluten ataxia averaged around 56 years of age, and the prevalence was roughly equal between men and women.

In terms of why there seemed to be an increase in neuropathy in people long after the celiac diagnosis, he chalks it up to poor adherence to the gluten-free diet. Further, he argues, cheating on the diet when you suffer from gluten ataxia may put you at increased risk of vascular dementia.

From the Scientific Forum

Discussion in the Scientific Forum focussed more generally on extra-intestinal manifestations of celiac disease. Celiac disease is now being described as a multi-system disorder, a major change from the earlier definition that focused only on gastrointestinal manifestations.

One question that remains is whether extra-intestinal manifestations of celiac disease respond to a gluten-free diet in the same way as intestinal symptoms. Research from the University of Chicago indicates that approximately 75% of children on a strict gluten-free diet showed symptom resolution, a higher rate than symptom resolution found in adults.

Canadian Celiac Association Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) Board Member Mark Johnson and Operations Manager Sue Newell represented the CCA at the  2015 International Celiac Disease Symposium (ICDS) held in Prague in June 2015. This report represents their learnings on the Neurological Symptoms  of Celiac Disease.  Want to join the Canadian Celiac Association? Visit or email [email protected]