In the original Heart Scan Blog post, This is your brain on wheat, I discussed how opioid peptides (i.e., small proteins that act like opiates such as heroine or morphine) that result from digestion of wheat cause unique effects on the human brain, particularly addictive behaviors. I also briefly reviewed how elimination of wheat has been shown to reduce auditory hallucinations and other psychotic behaviors in a subset of people with paranoid schizophrenia.
These two phenomena, addictions and schizophrenia, are most likely the result of exorphins that cross the blood-brain barrier. Exorphins–exogenous morphine-like compounds–can be blocked by opiate-blocking drugs like naloxone and naltrexone. Naloxone is used in hospitals to reverse morphine or heroine overdoses; naltrexone is being repackaged into a weight loss drug, since blocking wheat-derived exorphins reduces appetite. (Yes: The USDA tells us to eat more wheat, the drug industry sells us the antidote.)
There’s another way that wheat can affect the brain and nervous system: immune-activated damage.
This is similar to the effect seen in celiac. There’s even overlap with some of the antibody markers used to diagnose celiac, like the anti-gliadin antibodies and the anti-endomysium antibodies.
The most common immune neurological syndrome consequent to wheat consumption is cerebellar ataxia, a condition in which an immune response causes damage to the Purkinje cells of the cerebellum, the portion of the brain responsible for balance and coordination. This results in stumbling, incoordination, incontinence, and eventually leads to reliance on a cane or walker and wearing a diaper. Average age of onset: 53 years. A shrunken, atrophied cerebellum can be seen on an MRI of the brain.
Problem: Most people with central nervous system damage caused by wheat do not have any intestinal symptoms, like diarrhea and abdominal pain, the sort of symptoms usually associated with celiac disease. It means the first sign of wheat-induced brain damage may be bumping into walls and wetting your pants.
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