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As far back as 1954, reports of the full or partial resolution of schizophrenia following a gluten free diet began to surface in the medical literature. We covered this remarkable pattern of associations in a previous article titled, "60 Years of Research Links Gluten Grains to Schizophrenia." While the explanation for this intriguing connection has remained focused on the disruption of the gut-brain axis and the presence in wheat of a wide range of pharmacologically active and mostly opioid receptor modulating polypeptides, a new and possibly more disturbing explanation is beginning to surface: wheat consumption cuts off blood flow to the brain.
Starting with a 1997 case study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine involving a 33-year-old patient, with pre-existing diagnosis of 'schizophrenic' disorder, who first came to medical attention for severe diarrhea and weight loss (classical symptoms of gluten intolerance), brain scan technology determined that cerebral hypoperfusion (decreased blood flow to the brain) was occurring within the patient's frontal cortex.[i] A gluten free diet resulted not only in the normalization of intestinal damage and autoantibodies, but the return of blood flow to the frontal cortex, and the resolution of schizophrenic symptoms.
Then, in 2004, a follow up study was performed to verify if the 1997 case study was just a fluke, or perhaps a widespread effect of untreated celiac disease. Published in the American Journal of Medicine, researchers from the Institute of Internal Medicine, Catholic University, Rome, Italy, compared 15 untreated celiac patients without neurological or psychiatric disorders other than anxiety or depression, with 15 celiac patients who were on a gluten-free diet for almost 1 year, and 24 healthy volunteers of similar sex and age. All subjects underwent cerebral single photon emission computed tomography examination.
The results were remarkable, with dramatically increased incidence of impaired brain blood flow in untreated celiac patients, reported as follows:
"Of the 15 untreated celiac patients, 11 (73%) had at least one hypoperfused brain region, compared with only 1 (7%) of the 15 celiac patients on a gluten-free diet and none of the controls (P = 0.01). Cerebral perfusion was significantly lower (P <0.05) in untreated celiac patients, compared with healthy controls, in 7 of 26 brain regions. No significant differences in cerebral perfusion were found between celiac patients on a gluten-free diet and healthy controls."
They concluded: "There is evidence of regional cerebral blood flow alteration in untreated celiac patients."
So, let's take a closer look at what cerebral (brain) hypoperfusion means.