Gluten Sensitivity a Nerve Disease,Not a Gut Disease, NZ Doctor Says

by Melissa Diane Smith

Gluten sensitivity is much more than celiac disease: It is ten times more common than celiac disease and it is a brain and nerve disease, not a gut disease, New Zealand’s Dr. Rodney Ford said at the Southern Arizona Celiac Support Group general meeting in Tucson on November 7th.

Gluten sensitivity causes a wide range of symptoms because gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley, adversely affects the brain and nervous system that connects every cell and organ in the body. “The main symptoms of gluten sensitivity are that people are sick, tired and grumpy,” Dr. Ford said. But every cell in the body is connected to the brain through a network of nerves, so when the brain and nerves become damaged by gluten, that can lead to many other symptoms in different parts of the body, such as digestive problems and skin conditions, according to Dr. Ford.

The focus with gluten-related illness should not be gut damage, nutritional deficiency, or intestinal biopsy results. The focus should be treating the symptoms that develop from eating gluten and that go away when gluten is no longer eaten, Dr. Ford said.

Celiac disease, the main type of gluten-related illness recognized by most medical doctors today, is characterized by gut damage shown by intestinal biopsy. In today’s high-tech medical environment, illness is often defined by highly paid procedures and “there may be some financial motivation to keep the biopsy the gold standard (for diagnosing just celiac disease),” Dr. Ford said. Intestinal biopsy and celiac blood tests – the main tests used today – look for just celiac disease. They don’t identify gluten sensitivity. The IgG anti-gliadin antibody test, which is now commonly overlooked, is the best blood test to identify gluten sensitivity. The best clinical test is to try a gluten-free diet for three months (a food elimination test).

Instead of people having a “belief” in non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there needs to be more widespread knowledge about gluten sensitivity so it is acknowledged and diagnosed and people don’t needlessly suffer. Many practitioners may look for celiac disease but most simply are not looking for gluten sensitivity and therefore miss it. That’s because most doctors are unaware that gluten sensitivity is a brain and nerve disease that in turn affects other parts of the body. “We will see heaps of information in the future on gluten and the brain,” Dr. Ford said. But we already know some of the effects, such as that gluten interferes with blood flow through the brain, according to Dr. Ford.

In his clinic, The Children’s Clinic in Christchurch, New Zealand, 89 percent of 724 children who had high levels of IgG gliadin antibodies, a marker for gluten sensitivity, were not celiacs because they had no evidence of gut damage. Yet the vast majority of those non-celiacs experienced relief in their symptoms and improvement in their health on a gluten-free diet.

Many people don’t get properly diagnosed with gluten sensitivity because many doctors are not aware of the latest research and most do not know how to interpret test results. To help patients who are confused about test results or who need guidance about whether they have gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, or additional food allergies, Dr. Ford is launching an eClinic in which he will give his allergy and gluten sensitivity specialist expertise online, on the web. More information about his eClinic can be found at

Copyright © 2009 Melissa Diane Smith

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