Gluten Ataxia

Gluten Ataxia can affect balance, speech, sight, swallowing, and more. How does being gluten free help?

Gluten Ataxia is the rarest of the Gluten-related disorders. It’s a neurological condition. As with the other Gluten-related disorders, it reflects an immune-mediated response to gluten.

The authors of a study published in Brain in 2003 concluded, “Gluten ataxia is…the single most common cause of sporadic idiopathic ataxia.” “Sporadic” means “at irregular intervals,” “Idiopathic” means “of unknown cause,” and “Ataxia” means “being unable to coordinate movement.”

Tests to distinguish Gluten Ataxia from other ataxia movement disorders include blood tests for antibodies to gliadin. People who are diagnosed with Gluten Ataxia do not necessarily have the small intestinal mucosal atrophy found in Celiac Disease.

Gluten Ataxia usually affects muscle coordination in the lower body, resulting in balance problems or difficulty walking. It also can affect muscles in fingers and hands, resulting in tremor; muscles involved in speaking and swallowing, resulting in communication difficulties and/or choking; and muscles involved in eye movements, resulting in vision disturbances.

Those diagnosed with Gluten Ataxia take longer to recover from symptoms than those with other Gluten-related disorders, but improvement can occur on the gluten free diet.

The authors of the 2003 study published in Brain consider “Antigliadin antibody testing…essential at first presentation of patients with sporadic ataxia.” The reason is reported in another study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, also in 2003. Here, the authors tested 43 persons who had been diagnosed with Gluten Ataxia. 14 of the patients refused a gluten free diet, and these became the control group. The others became the treatment group and followed a gluten free diet. After one year, 26 of the 29 people in the treatment group no longer showed elevated anti-gliadin antibody levels. For those 26, the authors reported, “After one year there was improvement in ataxia reflected in all of the ataxia tests…This was significant when compared with the control group.” The authors of this study concluded, “The diagnosis of gluten ataxia is vital as it is one of the very few treatable causes of sporadic ataxia.”

For more information, see gluten free and gluten free diet.