It is well established that following a strict, gluten-free diet is the only effective treatment for celiac disease, but does the diet have benefits for other ailments? In research to be presented at this spring’s American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting, authors Zis, Argoff, and Alaedini examined the relationship between the gluten-free diet and the experience of pain in patients with gluten neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy is caused by nerve damage of the extremities, particularly the hands and feet, which can be experienced as numbness, tingling, or pain. In some cases, the root cause of the neuropathy is gluten sensitivity. Previous studies have shown that strict adherence to a gluten-free diet can improve neuropathy in general, but what about pain in particular?

This study recruited 60 patients with gluten neuropathy, 55% of whom were experiencing pain, and asked them to follow a strict, gluten-free diet. Blood tests were done after a time to assess for the presence of gluten antibodies; those patients who had managed to normalize these results were considered to be on a “strict” diet, while the rest were not. Researchers also used several established tools to measure pain quality and intensity, as well as patients’ overall mental health.

After adjusting for age, sex, and mental health status, those following a strict, gluten-free diet experienced an 88.7% reduction in risk for neuropathic pain. By removing the source of the inflammation behind the nerve pain (gluten), the pain was reduced.

While the study sample was small, researchers still recommend that all patients with peripheral neuropathy be tested for antigliadin antibodies, which define the presence of sensitivity to gluten – likely one of the most common causes of such nerve damage. These patients might not show the intestinal damage that signals celiac disease, but they might still have elevated antibodies to indicate a reaction to gluten. In these cases, even trace amounts of gluten might provoke the inflammation that leads to pain.

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Gluten-Free Diet Helps Control Pain in Gluten Neuropathy