Gluten's Impact on Your Brain, Nervous System & Yes, Your Gut

Gluten's Impact on Your Brain, Nervous System & Yes, Your Gut

Should I go Gluten Free?

Gluten impacts more than your gut.

— by Terri Tennant, Tennant Products CEO

Going gluten free has been rather popular lately...a fad it seems. Many people have heard that gluten can cause trouble with one’s gut, that going gluten free helps with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s, or perhaps they just heard that going gluten free can be good for your health in general, but don’t really know why. Nope, it’s not related to keto!

Fad or not, going gluten free is far more valuable to you than just for your gut health. Gluten can damage your brain, nervous system and more—and your doctors don’t know this.

It's estimated that 35-50% of us are gluten sensitive, 
and most of us don't realize it. 

In this article, I'll explain why gluten is different today, how it impacts your gut, brain, nervous system, and skin; how it can trigger autoimmunity and cause problems for many of us in ways that you probably didn't know. I'll also share how to find out if you are gluten sensitive and how to mitigate gluten exposure. 

Going gluten free has improved my life tremendously. Before giving up gluten, I suffered frequent migraines, chronic fatigue, autoimmune issues, joint pain, brain fog and memory issues. I hope this info helps you live a better life or helps you better understand the challenges for someone that is sensitive to gluten. Thanks for reading. 

What is gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley, spelt and rye. The average American consumes gluten every day and often at every meal. Gluten is found not only in breads, pastas, cereals and baked goods, it is also found in oats, salad dressings, condiments, candy, alcohol, deli meats, spices and even cosmetics and medications.

The gluten today is different than that eaten by your parents or grandparents. Gluten has been hybridized and deamidated over the years making it inflammatory to humans. Hybridization combines different strains of wheat to make a new protein which can alter a protein sequence up to 5% from the original. This new protein can trigger immune reactions, especially in the brain and nervous system (we’ll talk about this in a minute). Deamidation uses acids or enzymes to make gluten more water soluble so that it is easier to use and mixes easier with other foods. But this also has been shown to create a severe immune response in people.

It is estimated that one-third to one-half of us are gluten sensitive and don’t even know it. Gluten-sensitive people can have trouble digesting, skin issues, and trouble with energy or brain function.

FYI, burping, bloating, and flatulence are signs that your digestion is challenged by something you ate.

I used to think this was normal, but a healthy digestive scenario doesn’t have these problems. 

Gluten-sensitivity symptoms to consider:

  • Gut trouble, including burping, bloating, flatulence, constipation or overactive bowels. 
  • Autoimmune issues or disorder. 
  • Heart problems or heart disease. 
  • Nutritional deficiencies. 
  • Brain fog or memory issues. 
  • Regular headaches. 
  • Fatigue. 
  • Inflammation, including joint pain or arthritis. 
  • Moodiness, anxiety, or depression. 

Celiac and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS)

Celiac disease is a severe reaction to gluten that causes autoimmune destruction of the intestinal tract for a small percentage of the population. About 1% of the population has celiac disease, and data is indicating that this is on the rise. It’s estimated that only one in eight of those with celiac disease are aware they have it due to incomplete testing procedures. Certain gene types called HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 are associated with increased risk of celiac disease; and antibodies, such a gliadin and transglutaminase, are also associated with celiac.

Symptoms can include more than just what we think celiac triggers, like diarrhea. Symptoms can also include:

  • Cramping.
  • Bloating.
  • Nausea.
  • Gas.
  • Acid reflux.
  • Burning sensation and burping.
  • And even nerve tingling.

It was thought that the damage celiac disease caused was due to gluten in the intestinal tract, but recent research is indicating that the damage is beyond the gut and impacting people beyond those with celiac.

Damage beyond the gut

Studies are finding people are experiencing reactions to gluten in the brain, thyroid, joints, skin, or other tissue. We are now learning that...

...gluten sensitivity destroys the brain and nervous system tissue
more than any other tissue in the body!

The destruction in the brain and nervous system is even more than the damage in the intestinal tract, and many doctors are not yet aware of this.

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) is a newly described condition in which people have celiac-like reaction to gluten but don’t test positive to the celiac antibodies (I’ll explain proper testing later). Symptoms of NCGS that follow eating gluten and disappear after gluten withdrawal include:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Altered bowel habits.
  • Bloating.
  • Bone or joint pain.
  • Fatigue.
  • Hair loss.
  • Headache
  • Mood disorders.
  • Rashes or eczema.

Gluten cross-reactivity

Gluten cross-reactivity can assault the nervous system, brain and thyroid.  Cross-reactivity is when the immune system mistakes one protein for another. The immune system produces gluten antibodies when it identifies gluten as a bad actor, but those antibodies may attack more than the gluten. They may create an autoimmune attack against nervous system tissue, the brain or your thyroid because the tissue is similar enough to gluten.

How does gluten impact the thyroid?

Gluten is similar enough to thyroid tissue that the immune reaction to gluten also attacks and damages the thyroid. Gluten intolerance and celiac disease are immune responses to gluten that numerous studies link to

Hashimoto’s.Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that impacts the thyroid and is one of the leading causes of hypothyroidism. Eating a gluten-free diet has been found helpful for those with Hashimoto’s. 

How does gluten cause problems for your brain?

Dr. Datis Kharrazian  explains in his book "Why isn’t my brain working?"  that cross-reactivity has been found to cause autoimmunity with synapsin, a family of proteins located on neurons that regulate neurotransmitter release; the brain cerebellum, which can cause issues with balance, vertigo, or motor control; and an enzyme found in the brain called glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), which may cause symptoms related to anxiety.

Gluten can cause a leaky blood-brain barrier

A thin lining protects the brain from pathogens and allows just the right things into the brain, like precursors to neurotransmitters. Gluten can break down the blood-brain barrier and increase inflammation and autoimmune reactions in the brain and nervous system. Inflammation in the brain is linked to migraines, neurological disorders, memory loss and brain fog. 

On a personal note, when I removed gluten from my diet, my migraines disappeared, and I began to get my memory back. I had seen doctors all over the world and had been looking for solutions for years. I had migraines multiple times a week and my memory was like someone with dementia. I had to quit my job and thought I might be disabled for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, doctors don't often know that brain inflammation can cause migraines and that the inflammation can come from a leaky gut and gluten. 

How does gluten affect your nervous system?

Gluten triggers nervous system transglutaminase autoimmunity. Transglutaminases (TG) are enzymes that help bind proteins together and are also involved in the digestion of wheat.

  • TG2 is found in the intestinal tract. Elevated TG2 antibodies indicate atrophy of the villi (the tiny finger-like projections in the small intestine that absorb food) and destroy the intestinal lining causing damage and inflammation and poor nutrient absorption

  • TG3 is found in the skin. Damage to TG3 can lead to skin outbreaks like dermatitis herpetiformis, which is itchy red blisters found on the body most frequently on the knees, elbows and back.

  • TG6 is found throughout the central nervous system. Damage to TG6 can cause damage to brain and nervous tissue.

How does gluten affect your gut?

Your intestinal lining is critical for protecting your body from harm and allowing the precious nutrients your body needs to fuel itself, but gluten creates a challenge for how your lining functions by impacting a substance called zonulin.

Zonulin helps regulate the opening and closing of the spaces or "junctures" between cells in the lining of the digestive tract. Zonulin is triggered by harmful bacteria, and impacts important protection to the body. If you accidentally eat a food contaminated with salmonella, you rely on zonulin to help trigger diarrhea and flush out the bugs.

Gluten (or more specifically two of its components, gliadin and glutenin) promotes the release of zonulin, which increases gut permeability. Increased zonulin weakens the tight junctures within the gut lining. We could say then, that gluten itself weakens the intestinal tract, increasing permeability. This increased permeability is “leaky gut.”

Gluten causes leaky gut and inflammation throughout the body. 

Izabella Wentz, PharmD. FASCP and Marta Nowosadzka, MD, explain in their book Root Cause that “When gluten proteins cause damage to the intestinal wall, gaps can form, creating a leaky gut that allows food particles to enter into the bloodstream. Once in the gut, these particles are recognized as foreign substances by the immune system, and the body launches an immune attack every time those foods are eaten.” This immune attack impacts the gut causing discomfort and damage as well as inflammatory issues throughout the body, causing the issues mentioned above, and may include aches, pains, and flu-like symptoms.

How to test for gluten sensitivity

As mentioned earlier, gluten is made up of glutenin and gliadin. Gliadin is the protein portion of gluten and is broken down into alpha, omega and gamma fractions. Most labs only test for alpha gliadin which is an incomplete picture for gluten sensitivity.

It is recommended that you do a complete gluten antibody screen to accurately assess gluten sensitivity. Cyrex Labs ( has a complete panel called the Wheat/Gluten Proteome Sensitivity and Autoimmunity Panel. It tests for the following:

  • Alpha gliadin
  • Omega gliadin
  • Gamma gliadin
  • Diamindated gliadin
  • Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA)
  • Gluteomorphin
  • Prodynorphin
  • Transglutaminase -2 (TG2)
  • Transglutaminase-3 (TG3)
  • Transglutaminase-6 (TG6)

Cyrex Labs also offers a panel that checks for foods that most commonly cross-react with gluten. This is called the Gluten-Associated Cross-Reactive Foods and Foods Sensitivity – Array 4. This is something to consider doing if you think you may have issues with cross-reactivity to gluten.

So what now?

Consider your health. Do you get tired after a big pasta meal, have achy joints or brain fog, indigestion or bloating, perhaps skin rashes or frequent headaches? It's not you getting older! It could be gluten issue. 

If you think that you may have a sensitivity to gluten, get tested
...or try a gluten-elimination diet for at least a month and see if your health improves.

It should be noted that it can take up to six months for gluten to be purged from your system and that consuming even a little gluten can cause significant damage, sometimes irreversible.

If going gluten free, you will have some level of exposure from time-to-time. Remember gluten is found in all sorts of foods, supplements, and even in cosmetics and medications. In today’s environment, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate gluten completely. There are a few things you can do to help mitigate reaction to exposure. Two of which are supplementing.

    • DPP-IV is a digestive enzyme that helps digest gliadin and helps regulate the immune response to it. Research is showing that supplementing with DPP-IV enzyme is therapeutic for gluten-sensitive people. DPP-IV is one of the enzymes in Dr. Tennant’s® Digestive Enzymes Formula
    • Flavonoids (colorful plant compounds such as lycopene, apigenin, quercetin and luteolin) can help dampen inflammation from gluten exposure as well. You can also find flavonoids in coffee, tea, wine, berries, green leafy veggies, apples, onions and cherries.  
    • Check out Dr. Tennant’s® Microbiome Support for flavonoids and other ingredients that help with healing the lining of the gut from damage caused by gluten, pesticides and other back actors. 

Remember this supplementation is not to be used as an excuse to eat gluten for gluten-sensitive people. See Dr. Tom O'Bryan's Hidden Sources of Gluten. Dr. O'Bryan is a leading expert in gluten health related issues. His website is full of great info that we've only touched on here. 

In Closing

Don't get me wrong. I still love baked goods. And not everyone needs to be gluten free. But given what we're learning about how gluten can be so disruptive to our health, I ask that when considering a health challenge, remember that the health issues could be related to something as simple as a cookie that you have put into your mouth.  

Featured Products in This Article:

Dr. Tennant’s® Microbiome Support

Helps detox, cleanse and heal the gut. Its clinically studied ingredients help improve intestinal wall integrity, reducing inflammation and supporting immune system modulation and regularity. 


shop now

  shop now


  1. Kharrazian D. (2013) Why Isn't My Brain Working? A revolutionary understanding of brain decline and effective strategies to recover your brain's health. Carlsbad: Elephant Press. 123-60.
  2. Yuan Z, Liu D, Zhang L, Zhang L, Chen We, Yan Z, Zheng Y, Zhang H, Yen Y. Mitotic illegitimate recombination is a mechanism for novel changes in high-molecular-weight glutenin subunits in wheat-rye hybrids. PLoS One. 2011;6(8);323511. 
  3. Molnar-Lang M, KruppaK, Cseh A, Bucsi J, Linc G. Identification and phenotypic description of new wheat; six-rowed winter barley disomic additions. Genome. 2012 Apr;55(4):302-11.
  4. Szakacs E, Molnar-Lang M. Identification of new winter wheat-winter barely addition lines (6HS and 7H) using fluorescence in situ hybridization and the stabilty of the whole 'Martonvasari 9 kr1'-'Igri' addition set. Genome. 2010 Jan; 53(1):35-44. 
  5. Leduc V, Moneret-Vautrin DA, Guerin L, Morisset M, Kanny G. Anaphylaxis to wheat isolates; immunochemical study of a case provide by means of double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003 Apr;111(4);897-9.
  6. Admou B, Essaadouni L, Krati k, Zaher K, Sbihi M, Chabaa L, Belaabidia B, Alaoui-Yazidi A. Atypical celiac disease; from recognizing to managing Gastroenterol Res Pract. 2012;2012:637187. Epub 2012 Jul 3. 
  7. Grossman G. neurological complication fo celiac disease; what is the evidence? Pract Neurol. 2008 Apr;8(2):77-89.
  8. Hadjivassiliou M, Sanders DS, Grunewald RA, Woodroofe N, Boscolo S, Aeschlimann D. Gluten sensitivity; from gut to brain. Lancet neurol. 2010 Mar;9(3);318-30. 
  9. Aledini A, Okamoto H, Briani C, Wollenberg K, Shill HA, Bushara KO, Sander HW, Green PH, Hallert M, Latov N. Immune cross reactivity in celiac disease; anti-gliadin antibodies bind to neuronal synapsin I. J Immunol. 2007 May 15; 178(10);6590-5. 
  10. Hadjivassiliou M, Boscolo S., Davies-Jones GA, Grunewald RA, NoT, Sanders DS, Simpson JE, Tongiorgi E. Williamson CA, Woodroofe NM. The humoral response in the pathogensis of gluten ataxia. neurology. 2002 Apr 23;58(8)1221-6. 
  11. Hadjivassiliou M. Immune-mediated acquired ataxias. Handb Clin Neurol. 2012;103:189-99. 
  12. Thomas H, Beck k, Adamczyk M, Aeschlimann P, Langley M, Oita RC, Thiebach L, Hils M, AeschlimannD. Transglutaminase 6: a protein associated with central nervous system development and motor function. Amino Acids. 2011 Oct 8. 
  13. Stamnaes J, Dorum S, Fleckenstein B, Aeschlimann D, Sollid LM. Gluten T cell epitope targeting by TG3 and TG6; implications for dermatitis herpetiformis and gluten ataxia. Amino Acids. 2010 Nov;39(5):1 183-91. 
  14. Hemmings WA. The entry into the brain of large molecules derived from dietary protein. Pro R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1978 Feb 23;2000(1139):175-92. 
  15. Visser J, Rozing J, Sapone A, Lammers K, Fasano A. Tight junctions, intestinal permeability, and autoimmunity: celiac disease and type 1 diabetes paradigms. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 May;1165:195-205. 
  16. Leduc V, Moneret-Vautrin DA, Guerin L, Morisset M, Kanny G. Anaphylaxis to wheat isolates: immunochemical study of a case proved by means of double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003 Apr;111(4):897-9. 
  17. Alesio MG, Tonutti E, Brusca I, Radice A, Licini L, Sonzongni A, Florena A, Schiaffino E, Marus W, Sulfaro S, Villalta D; Study Group on Autoimmune Diseases of Italian Society of Laboratory Medicine. Correlation between IgA tissue transglutaminase antibody ratio and histological finding in celiac disease. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2012 Jul;55(1):44-9. 
  18. Stamnaes J, Dorum S, Fleckenstein B, Aeschlimann D, Sollid LM. Gluten T cell epitope targeting by TG3 and TG6; implications for dermatitis herpetiformis and gluten ataxia. Amino Acids. 2010 Nov;39(5):1183-91.
  19. Thomas H, Beck K, Adamczyk M, AeschlimannP, Langley M, Oita RC, Thiebach L, Hils, M, Aeschlimann D. Transglutaminase and motor function. Amino Acids. 2011 Oct 8. 
  20. Hausch F, Shan L, Nilda A, et al. Intestinal  digestive resistance of immunodominant gliadin peptides. Am J Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2002;283-G9996-G1003. 
  21. Detel D, Persic M, Varljen J. Serum and intestinal dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP IV/CD26) activity in children with celiac disease. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2007:45(1):65-70. 
  22. Smith MV, Phillips D. Abnormal expression of dipeptidylpeptidase IV activity enterocyte brush-border membranes of children suffering from celiac disease. Exp Phys. 1900;75:613-616. 
  23. Wentz I, Nowosadzka M. (2015) Hashimoto's Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Case. USA:Wentz LLC. 129-49.
  24. Ruiz PA, Haller D. Functional diversity of flavonoids in the inhibition of the proinflammatory NF-kappa B, IRF, and Akt signaling pathways in murine and epithelial cells. J Nutr. 2006:136(3):664-71. 
  25. Peng IW, Kuo SM. Flavonoid structure affects the inhibition of lipid peroxidation in Caco-2 intestinal cells at physiological concentrations. J Nutr. 2003;133(7):2184-7. 

Additional Resources

Cyrex Labs