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Celiac And The Gluten Gut-Brain Connection Seen In Reversible Abnormal SPECT Brain Scans

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SPECT brain imaging of the majority of the few celiac disease patients studied show abnormalities, usually most severe in the front areas of the brain. An improvement in these abnormalities is observed with a gluten-free diet. The front of the brain is important for brain function, which controls attention, impulse control, organization, and problem solving. Problems in this area of ​​the brain result in short attention spans, disorganization, procrastination, short-term memory problems, anxiety, and depression.

Not surprisingly, these are common symptoms reported by sprue patients and non-celiac gluten sensitivity patients who improve with GFD. ADD, schizophrenia, alcohol and drug addiction problems, and depression, all linked to gluten in some studies, are also linked to front-end brain dysfunction seen on SPECT scans. Although reports of SPECT imaging in celiac disease are limited, there have been some very interesting findings that make sense to those of us familiar with how gluten affects the brain.

The most dramatic report I’ve found is from 1997 of a newly diagnosed celiac patient with established schizophrenia whose symptoms and abnormal SPECT scan reversed on a gluten-free diet. He presented with a confirmed diagnosis of schizophrenia, diarrhea, and weight loss. Endomysial antibody was positive and villous atrophy was present on colon biopsy. The SPECT scan was performed before and after the gluten-free diet. Before the GFD, the scan confirmed an abnormally reduced blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain. With GFD, the schizophrenic symptoms disappeared, the bowel lesion disappeared, and the SPECT scan became normal. Recently, in 2004, Usai et al. reported 34 celiac disease patients, 70% of whom had abnormal SPECT scans. Again, the abnormalities were most pronounced in the front areas of the brain and were less severe on a gluten-free diet.

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SPECT is Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography. It is a combined nuclear medicine CT scan of the head, performed by injecting a radioisotope material that is taken up by the brain according to blood flow and metabolism. A scan is created, which is a color-coded 3-D representation of brain metabolism, or brain activity. Daniel Amen MD is one of the country’s foremost experts in SPECT brain imaging. You can take a free online brain system quiz at that can be helpful. His detailed and well-researched recommendations for nutritional interventions for the brain are also worth checking out. More collaboration with neuroscientists and gastroenterologists is definitely needed to further investigate the link between poor brain function and gluten. SPECT imaging technology appears to be an exciting tool available to us if we can fund the research. We will continue to explore the connection between gut and brain.

Thanks to Dr. Scot Lewey

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