Sunday, November 21, 2010

Do you suffer "Gluten-Brain"? The neurological manifestation of Celiac Disease exposed...

If you ever needed confirmation that Gluten can lead to a lack of proper brain-functioning and/or other nervous-system disorders and symptoms thereof (without the presence of gastrointestinal manifestations as well), an article by David Perlmutter, M.D (a Board-Certified Neurologist) that I read today is sure to be enlightening.

The article discussed the case history of a 9-year old child that was previously undiagnosed (with Celiac Disease) and suffered from no particular symptoms that would make one immediately think: "Celiac!"; there was no history of the typical abdominal symptoms that doctors first associate with Celiac Disease, but rather a variable amount of cognitive impairment manifesting as difficulty thinking, memory issues, and general academic performance decline.

What caught the attention of Dr. Perlmutter was the fact that although "...she [the 9-year old patient] had no significant medical problems in her past and her overall physical, as well as neurological examinations were entirely normal...", [...] "...her problems were not constant, indicating that basically her brain was intact but something seemed to be detrimentally influencing her from time to time, causing her to have these significant issues with respect to how her brain functioned."  Dr. Perlmutter recognized the possibility that DIET was perhaps the culprit (due to the fluctuating cognitive impairment), and ran blood tests that confirmed a profound sensitivity to gluten in this girl.

Within just a couple weeks of implementing a strict gluten-free diet for this young patient, the girl experienced a remarkable change in her cognitive function (for the better), and this improvement in symptoms continued over the next several months as the gluten-free diet was maintained.  Her parents reported the following:
"Karen is completing third grade this year. Prior to removing gluten from her diet, academics, especially math, were difficult. As you can see, she is now soaring in math. Based upon this test, entering the fourth grade next year, she would be at the top of her class. The teacher indicated that if she skipped fourth grade and went to fifth grade, she would be in the middle of her class. What an accomplishment!"
WOW! Gluten was knocking this girl's brain for a loop, and once it was removed from her diet, she quickly returned to normal functioning!  This is certainly more evidence for why we need to maintain a STRICT GLUTEN-FREE DIET if we want to live life to the fullest and function normally. 

I personally can tell the difference gluten makes (with regards to my thinking process) if I am accidentally exposed to it these days, and I have other friends (with gluten sensitivity / gluten intolerance) that have repeatedly experienced "gluten brain" whereby they find it difficult to think, formulate thoughts, and even articulate themselves in a coherent fashion.  This condition is not one to be taken lightly, and we need to avoid gluten 100%.

Hopefully the medical community at large will begin to receive further education into the devastating effects of Celiac Disease -- effects that go beyond the GI tract and into our gray matter.  Like the author (Dr. Perlmuter) states:
Standard medical text books typically describe celiac disease (gluten sensitivity) as being primarily a gastrointestinal problem. I recall in medical school being taught that celiac disease was characterized by abdominal pain, abdominal distention with bloating and gas, decreased appetite, diarrhea, nausea, unexplained weight loss and growth delay in children. Newer research indicates that celiac disease can have a profound effect on the nervous system.
And, if that quote is not enough, when you start seeing the words TOXIC and BRAIN in the same sentence discussing a condition you have (Celiac), it is time to really snap to attention and take notice:
Dr. Maios Hadjivassiliou of the United Kingdom, a recognized world authority on gluten sensitivity, has reported in the journal, The Lancet, that "gluten sensitivity can be primarily and at times, exclusively a neurological disease." That is, people can manifest gluten sensitivity by having issues with brain function without any gastrointestinal problems whatsoever. Dr. Hadjivassiliou indicates that the antibodies that a person has when they are gluten sensitive can be directly and uniquely toxic to the brain.
EEK!  I do not want any brain-toxins in MY body, thank you!  This type of article may make me even more paranoid about my desire to remain free of gluten, though it seems my concern stems from substantial scientific basis.  I take quite a few precautions to keep (wheat, rye, barley) gluten out of my diet, and I will maintain vigilance with regards to this task as I go through life.   This is an allergy not to be taken lightly.

I do not want to suffer "gluten brain" ever again!  Although the article focused on the manifestation of what I call "gluten brain" (i.e., cognitive impairment) in children affected with gluten-sensitivity, the fact is this condition affects ADULTS as well.  I personally experienced severe bouts of cognitive impairment and neurological manifestations prior to discovering I had Celiac Disease.  It was a terrible period in my life, and I never want to end up like that again.  This disease nearly killed me before I knew what it was that was destroying me (i.e., gluten), and it took years for some of the symptoms to abate and/or disappear completely.  The periods of being dizzy all the time, living with parathesia (rather badly) in my feet, being unable to think clearly, and more... that is gone, along with the gluten.  Doctors I dealt with during that time of my life had, quite literally, no experience with Celiac Disease and never even considered it... luckily my brain was functioning (on "good days") enough to perform my own research discover Celiac Disease before it was too late.  It would have been nice if someone else (e.g., doctors) would have considered this prior to all those tests: MRI, CT, EKG, EEG, and a boatload of others I just assume forget.  I wonder if today those same doctors I dealt with a mere 7 or 8 years ago are now educated in spotting the neurological symptoms of Celiac Disease? They had better be... if this information is out there on the Internet for the average person to learn about, I expect medical professionals to get up to speed as well.

I hope Dr. Perlmutter's article, and additional emerging research, prevents others from ever having to go through this, or at the very least I hope it helps medical professionals (and the population at large) develop an awareness that leads to very early identification of the condition before Celiac Disease / Gluten substantially reduce the quality of life for anyone else.  

NOTE: The original article I referenced herein appears on the Huffington Post website: Gluten Impacts the Brain

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gluten-Free: in Houston, Texas

After spending our entire lives in Ohio prior to 2010, my wife and I are both now officially Texans!  Our house in Ohio, which we really liked and will probably never be able to replace, sold quickly after we essentially put it on the market at "fire sale" pricing once we came to the conclusion that the logistics of two-State living was going to be really difficult to maintain, if not impossible.

Now that were are both in Texas full time, we are getting a feel for the Gluten-Free diet scene here in the Houston area, and so far so good.

Houston, TX : Gluten-Free Benefit #1 :
Citrus in the back yard

This lovely grapefruit tree is within just a few feet of our back window.  It is actually quite a large tree -  around 25' high by 30' wide - and although it is technically the neighbor's tree, it hangs over the fence into our yard area a good 10 feet or more, so there are plenty of tasty grapefruit hanging into our yard for easy picking.

And, if grapefruit were not enough to enjoy, there is another orange tree nearby also hanging into the yard.  So, fresh citrus is always a great thing in my book!  mmmm!  Makes up for the summertime heat and humidity in Houston, TX perhaps :)

Houston, TX : Gluten-Free Benefit #2 :
Some Nice Restaurant Options
Having only been in Houston, TX for a short time, my experience with gluten-free restaurants in the area is limited, but it is growing as I find out what is in the region and "safe" for Celiac persons.  Earlier this year, we went out with a group of people to a Brazilian steakhouse, Fogo de Chao, which although pricier than I would prefer, had quite a nice selection of meats that are supposed to be gluten-free, as well as a fantastic "salad bar" (much more than salad on it) with a wide variety of gluten-free items too.  I found the meat to be fantastic quality cuts that were quite tasty, but it was all much too salty to be my ideal (that fact alone will keep me from eating there regularly).

A much preferred gluten-free friendly restaurant for regular attendance in Houston is a restaurant with fantastic and rather healthy Tex-Mex options : Taco Milagro restaurant on the corner of Kirby and Westheimer.  Everything we have tried at Taco Milagro is AMAZING, and we now suffer from gluten-free Tex-Mex cravings on a regular basis... cravings that this restaurant alone can satisfy!  Highly recommended!  I must issue a well-deserved THANK YOU to Heather of who emailed me welcoming us to Houston, and who also wrote a great review of Taco Milagro's gluten-free diet menu items.  Her review had us sold before we ever went, and it only got better with first-hand experience!

On the more mainstream side of things, there is always P.F. Chang's China Bistro within 15 minutes drive, though I am sure I will be spending much, much more time at Taco Milagro than PF Changs.  I like Asian food quite a bit, and though I like some of the gluten-free menu items at Changs, I find there food to be a bit "generic" for me and also overly salty (like most restaurant food).

Houston, TX : Gluten-Free Benefit #3 :
Decent Access to Gluten-Free Items

As one may expect of any major city, Houston offers a pretty decent array of stores that cater to the gluten-free diet : be it ingredients or finished products.  There is easy access to CostCo for much of our fresh produce, and even an occasional Rotisserie chicken (they make a decent roasted chicken that is gluten-free according to the package; bit salty, but nice flavor).  We also have Whole Foods Markets in the area, and a chain of stores called H.E.B. (Here Everything's Better) and their associated "Central Market" store(s), and other more specialized diet stores too.

I have been pleased with HEB gluten-free selections, including some of their own branded HEB products - like their pasta sauces - which clearly state "Gluten-Free" on the label, and these self-branded items have been quite reasonable.  HEB impressed me with their wide selection of products in general.  This is the store where I first encountered the awesome gluten-free yogurt from Cultural Revolution (which is in the midst of being re-branded as "Kalona SuperNatural").  The store has a lot of Schar brand gluten-free items (pasta, crackers, cookies, and more) in addition to a wide range of others.  I generally do not buy pre-made gluten-free desserts and snacks (we tend to make our own), but it is nice knowing there are options close by if "needed".

Houston, TX : Gluten-Free Future...
I will certainly have much more Houston, Texas gluten-free insight after being here full time for more than a couple weeks.  My wife and I have plans to get out and check into more restaurants, shopping, and the gluten-free scene in general to see what this region has to offer those with Celiac Disease.

As we find more wheat-free and gluten-free diet-worthy notables in the region, I will certainly blog about them.

And last, if anyone in the Houston, TX region wants a copy of our Gluten-Free & Wheat-Free Gourmet Dessert Recipes book and wants to avoid the shipping charge, just contact me and I can arrange for you to stop by and get one without the added shipping. (send email to me at: my-first-and-last-name-appended-together AT

Note: this is likely going to be the last batch of printed books, as we are nearing a release of an "e-Book" (Amazon Kindle) version of our gluten-free cookbook, since our new Houston residence does not have the room for storing thousands of books at a time like we used to be able to do.  So, if you prefer hard-copy, now is the time to get one while we still have some remaining from our most recent printing (note to local GF merchants: if you want to retail our book, just contact me to work out details. Thanks).