Gluten-Free Diet May Relieve Neuropathy Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

A small study by British researchers suggests that a strict gluten-free diet may help protect against the nerve pain caused by gluten sensitivity.

"These findings are exciting because it might mean that a relatively simple change in diet could help alleviate painful symptoms tied to gluten neuropathy," said lead author Panagiotis Zis, MD, a senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield. "While our study shows an association between a self-reported gluten-free diet and less pain, it does not show that one causes the other."

Gluten sensitivity has been associated with peripheral neuropathy -- a condition in which peripheral nerves become damaged, causing weakness, numbness and pain in the hands and feet. Diabetic neuropathy can also cause these symptoms, but when diabetes is ruled out and a person is sensitive to gluten – the pain and numbness might be caused by gluten neuropathy.


The British study involved 60 mostly elderly people who had gluten neuropathy. They were asked about the intensity of their pain, mental health and whether they followed a strict gluten-free diet. About half of the participants had pain with their neuropathy.

People who were following a gluten-free diet were significantly more likely to be free of pain than those who did not. Over half of those without pain were on a gluten-free diet, while 21 percent who were gluten-free still experienced pain.

After adjusting for age, sex and mental health status, researchers found that people following the strict diet were 89 percent less likely to have pain.  

The study also found that people with painful gluten neuropathy scored significantly worse on their mental health assessment, which had a range of zero to 100 with 100 being best. Those with painful gluten neuropathy had an average score of 76, as opposed to the average score of 87 for those with painless gluten neuropathy.

"This study is promising because it shows that a gluten-free diet may help lower the risk of pain for people with gluten neuropathy," Zis said. "More research is needed to confirm these results and to determine whether the gluten-free diet led to the reduction in pain."

Further results of the study will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in April.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, oats and other cereal grains. Gluten is found in many types of food, including bread, pasta, cereal, sauces and salad dressing.

When people with celiac disease eat gluten, it triggers an immune response that attacks the small intestine, causing pain and inflammation. About 1-2% of the population has celiac disease, but most cases go undiagnosed and untreated. Celiac disease is hereditary and runs in families.

People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) may also develop gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as headaches, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and allergies. Abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements are frequently reported with NCGS, which can make it difficult to distinguish from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Research about the relationship between gluten and chronic pain conditions is rather slim, although there are many anecdotal reports that a gluten free diet reduces pain. In PNN columns, Donna Gregory Burch said going gluten-free helped reduce her fibromyalgia symptoms, while Lisa Ayres found that eliminating gluten quickly relieved her arthritis symptoms.  

Wheat Protein Could Worsen Chronic Illness

By Pat Anson, Editor

Gluten isn’t the only reason why some people should avoid eating wheat.

German researchers have discovered a second protein in wheat that triggers inflammation and worsen symptoms of multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic illnesses. The finding could help explain why some people who are not gluten intolerant and do not have celiac disease still benefit from going on a gluten-free diet.

Researchers say a family of proteins called amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) make up only about 4% of the protein found in wheat. But they can trigger powerful immune system reactions outside the digestive system, in the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen and brain.

"As well as contributing to the development of bowel-related inflammatory conditions, we believe that ATIs can promote inflammation of other immune-related chronic conditions outside of the bowel,” said lead researcher, Professor Detlef Schuppan of Johannes Gutenberg University.

“The type of gut inflammation seen in non-celiac gluten sensitivity differs from that caused by celiac disease, and we do not believe that this is triggered by gluten proteins. Instead, we demonstrated that ATIs from wheat, that are also contaminating commercial gluten, activate specific types of immune cells in the gut and other tissues, thereby potentially worsening the symptoms of pre-existing inflammatory illnesses.”

Schuppan presented his findings at United European Gastroenterology Week. He said future clinical studies will explore the role that ATIs play on chronic health conditions in more detail.

"We are hoping that this research can lead us towards being able to recommend an ATI-free diet to help treat a variety of potentially serious immunological disorders," said Schuppan.

Celiac disease is a gastrointestinal inflammation caused by the ingestion of wheat, barley, rye, and other foods containing gluten. About 1-2% of the population has celiac disease, but most cases go undiagnosed and untreated.

People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) may also develop gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as headaches, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and allergies. Abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements are frequently reported with NCGS, which can make it difficult to distinguish from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The symptoms typically appear after the consumption of gluten-containing food and improve rapidly on a gluten-free diet, even though gluten does not appear to cause the condition. Schuppan says the real culprit may be ATIs.

"Rather than non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which implies that gluten solitarily causes the inflammation, a more precise name for the disease should be considered," he said.

My Life with Migraines

By Sara Batchelder, Guest Columnist

I have had migraine disease since I was 22. My first migraine was in 1992, the year I graduated from college. 

I am now 45, and my migraines have become chronic and daily.  I have lost two jobs, many friendships, my social life, and my relationship of eleven years.  This year, I also lost my ability to work full-time at a regular job.  The only reason I can still work part-time is that my ex employs me and allows me to work whenever I am able.  Thank goodness for that. Working gives me a purpose and makes me feel like a productive member of society.  It is an extreme struggle to work twenty hours a week though. 

I also have thyroid disease (my thyroid gland was removed when I was 29), celiac disease (I have been 100% gluten free for a year), depression, anxiety, infertility, and extreme allergies to many things, such as food, pollen, dust, cats, you name it. 

I now have a multi-pronged approach to my treatment.  For migraine, I have botox injections every three months, I see a “natural MD” for various treatments, and I take Relpax (a triptan) and opioids (Norco and morphine). 

I am still learning a lot about celiac disease, but I stay ever vigilant that I do not ingest any gluten whatsoever, even one molecule.  It’s a learning experience and constantly challenging.  For instance, I will visit a restaurant that I consider safe, get “glutened” and cross that restaurant off the list.  I am down to four restaurants that I can eat at. 

Since I am too sick to cook for myself most of the time, I graze on various packaged food - some good, some not so good.  I eat protein bars when traveling, although I do not travel often anymore.  It’s a lot of work to make sure all the food I eat is gluten-free and free of all of my other food allergies. 

sara met with sen. barbara boxer while advocating for migraine research

sara met with sen. barbara boxer while advocating for migraine research

I’ve been dealing with allergies for all of my 45 years.  My “natural MD” (my voodoo doctor, as I jokingly call him) gives me small doses of LDA shots, which are helping a bit.  He also believes that I have a lyme-like disease called Bartonella, which he is treating me for.  I am on so many vitamins that I won’t even go there. I take Wellbutrin for depression, nothing for anxiety, and since I am now 45, the infertility has played itself out. 

Deep breath. That’s a lot of illness and treatment.

Even with all of this, my scariest problem today is the government’s war on pain patients who take opioids.  After the DEA stormed one of my doctors’ offices in bulletproof vests with guns drawn (to request appointments with two doctors -- couldn't that have been done by phone?), all of my doctors, but one, have withdrawn ALL narcotic treatments for ALL migraineurs. 

It baffles me why this policy exists.  This is discrimination plain and simple.  I want to sue, but no lawyer will take the case.  I know that many addicts lie and tell doctors that they are migraine patients, since migraine is an invisible disease that cannot be diagnosed with blood tests, MRI’s, or anything else, but these are doctors whom I have a 10 year relationship with! 

They are either petrified of the DEA or always thought that I was an addict, and didn’t care enough to deal with that.  Either way, what the heck I am supposed to do?  Without my weekly pain shots, I can no longer work full-time.  If I still didn’t have one doctor on my side, I’m pretty sure I would have committed suicide. 

My private disability was denied due to some technicality.  SSI pays less than I can make part-time and SSI doesn’t allow the disabled to work part-time anyway (don’t get me started on that). 

I am very, very fortunate to work in California, where I have been on part-time disability.  But it will only last for one year, so I will be on my own again soon anyway.  I don’t know about other people, but there is no way I can survive in California on half-pay.  I was barely making ends meet while working full-time.  Now that I am single again, I cannot rely on someone else to support me. It is terrifying!!!

I have met and will soon meet again with members of Congress to discuss more funding for migraine and headache research through an organization called Headache on the Hill. That organization does not support opioid treatment for migraine at this time, but I still want to address the opioid issue with other pain patients.  Who will join me?


Sara Batchelder lives in California, where she received an MBA with honors from the University of San Francisco and works as a controller for small architecture firm. Sara volunteers at her local credit union and tries to advocate for migraineurs as much as she can.

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The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.