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The Startling Connection Between Epilepsy and Gluten

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Gluten is a sticky and gluey blend of proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. You may associate gluten sensitivity with gut troubles like bloating, gas, cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.

Up to 40% of those with autism may also have epilepsy.

As it turns out, sensitivity to gluten is responsible for a wide range of symptoms—including neurological symptoms.

And sometimes, these may be the only signs of gluten sensitivity. (1)

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Insomnia
  • Brain fog
  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • Epilepsy
  • Vertigo
  • Bipolar disorder

If you have any of these symptoms and no gut distress, you may still be sensitive to gluten. People who are affected by Celiac disease or non-Celiac gluten sensitivity feel better only when on a 100% gluten-free diet.

There are no laboratory tests that specifically identify gluten sensitivity. In the case of gluten-triggered autoimmunity, when the cells of the small intestine are completely damaged, a physician can diagnose Celiac disease—not before.

What Is Epilepsy?

Up to 40% of children diagnosed with autism may also have epilepsy. Removing gluten from the diet could be a solution to calm inflammation in the body and brain that leads to epileptic seizures.

Epilepsy often begins in childhood, or between the ages of 5-20 years old, and is characterized by more than two seizures a day.

Chinese medicine, which uses the natural elements to describe health and disease, tells us that seizures and epilepsy are caused by wind in the body. The Western medical equivalent to wind is inflammation.

And sure enough, when we dig into the Western medical research on seizures and epilepsy, we find that there is always some level of inflammation. This inflammation occurs in the brain, but it can also be systemic—meaning that it happens throughout the entire body.

Seizures are symptoms. Children on the autism spectrum and those who live with one or more autoimmune disorders commonly have seizures. (2) Up to 40% of those with autism may also have epilepsy. (3) In all disorders, there is always some degree of inflammation—both systemically and in the brain.

A Gluten-Free Diet May Be the Only Way to Address Epilepsy

In Celiac disease, your own immune system attacks and destroys intestinal cells. Gluten triggers this immune response and, so far, the most effective treatment for Celiac disease is a gluten-free diet.

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, 3 million Americans have Celiac disease, and as many as 18 million Americans have non-Celiac gluten sensitivity.

While as high as 16% of epileptics may have undiagnosed Celiac disease, the relationship between epilepsy and non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (those without Celiac disease) is less clear. (4) In spite of this, a gluten-free diet is not often mentioned when people are diagnosed with epilepsy.

Using Diet to Control Epilepsy

The ketogenic diet, high in fat and low in carbohydrates, is a diet that physicians have used for 80 years to treat seizures. The diet forces the body to burn fat as fuel—rather than sugar.

Other diets have also been successful in controlling epilepsy.

The low glycemic index treatment (LGIT), developed in 2002 by Dr. Elizabeth Thiele and Heidi Pfeifer from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, is effective for children with either generalized or partial onset seizures.

The diet was developed in response to the ketogenic diet, which is rigid and can be difficult to follow. The LGIT allows more carbohydrates and foods that have a low glycemic index. Whole grains—such as wheat, rye, and barley—fall into this category.

Heidi Pfeifer explains that, “The rate at which a food is digested and absorbed also affects its glycemic index—so buttering a piece of bread can actually reduce its glycemic index.” (5)

Unfortunately, neither diet takes into account gluten sensitivity or the health of the gut.

Removing a trigger food like gluten is only part of the solution. When controlling epilepsy with diet, we also want to heal the gut lining and restore balance to the inner ecosystem.

At Body Ecology, we believe that the inner ecosystem of the gut is critically important and an often overlooked aspect of healing. This is why we promote the use of coconut water kefir and fermented foods. When we introduce small amounts of beneficial bacteria and yeast into the body on a daily basis, we help to heal the gut.

Vitality SuperGreen is designed to specifically address cells in the small intestine that are worn thin and damaged; it contains GlutImmune, a supercharged form of glutamine. Studies have found that glutamine is the preferred fuel source of the small intestine. We also know that glutamine increases the number of cells in the small intestine and the height of those cells. (6)(7)

What To Remember Most About This Article:

Gluten is a sticky protein blend found in grains. It can cause sensitivity to result in digestive issues like cramping, constipation, gas, and bloating. Gluten sensitivity can even lead to anxiety, insomnia, ADHD, and epilepsy.

A condition like epilepsy may often start in childhood and is diagnosed when more than two seizures occur a day. Medical research tells us that epilepsy is triggered by inflammation in the brain. Children with autism or autoimmune disorders are likely to experience seizures as a symptom of this inflammation.

Removing a trigger food like gluten from the diet could help to control epilepsy, along with healing the gut by drinking coconut water kefir and eating fermented foods. Vitality SuperGreen provides a supercharged form of glutamine called GlutImmune to fuel the small intestine and heal the inner ecosystem.

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  1. P Baglioni and G Das. Coeliac disease: does it always present with gastrointestinal symptoms? QJM. 2010 Dec;103(12):999-1000. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcq046. Epub 2010 Apr 11.
  2. A Vincent and PB Crino. Systemic and neurologic autoimmune disorders associated with seizures or epilepsy. Epilepsia. 2011; 52: 12–17. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2011.03030.x
  3. L Gabis, et al. Autism and epilepsy: cause, consequence, comorbidity, or coincidence? Epilepsy Behav. 2005 Dec;7(4):652-6. Epub 2005 Oct 24.
  4. M Hadjivassiliou, et al. Does cryptic gluten sensitivity play a part in neurological illness? Lancet. 1996; 347: 369 – 371
  6. BR Thomson, et al. Nutritional modulation of the inflammatory response in inflammatory bowel disease- From the molecular to the integrative to the clinical. World J Gastroenterol  2007 January 7;13(1):1-7
  7. A von Kreel, et al. Glutamine and the preservation of gut integrity. The Lancet. 341(8857): 1363-1365.

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  • Josephine Stevens

    Thank you so much for these comments. Next time I see my doctor I'll get het to give me a gluten intollerance test. I might try going gluten free myself. I have epilepsy and depression. I am now 54 and have had epilepsy since I was 6 years old. I am also going through menopause.

  • Amy

    I totally agree with you Heather as Im in the same boat. Without gluten, processed carbs and sugar, there is no seizure issue. The best part is that the dr gave me attitude when i tried to explain to him what was working. They are sooooooooo sad that everything has to be drugs, drugs, drugs. His response to me was take more pills so you can have a normal diet......... HA!!!!

  • nooneknows

    I did not start having seizures until I was about 18. After my body spiraling out of control, on every level, for two years, I finally had a specialist suggest Celiac Disease. GE was so sure, he ordered me to cut out all gluten before even getting labs back. For the first few days I was pretty sick, and had seizures constantly. After that first few days, I made a 90% improvement on every level. Then, by the end of the week, not realizing how serious this was, I had corn tortillas. I was back to square one. Pain, nausea, insomnia, fatigue, and horrible seizures. It lasted a few days, before the end of it I had received results. Negative for Celiac, negative for any noticeable gluten sensitivity. :/ Yet with the improvement made, I was diagnosed with NCGS. I have been GF for just a month
    now. I am 1 million times better and the ONLY time I have had a seizure is when I have had a for sure contact with gluten. Coincidence maybe, but I think that says a lot. I am not Celiac, and I only have seizures when I ingest gluten. It is worth a try when Epileptic.

  • Kelly

    Thank you very interesting! My son seems to have good results with reduced seizures when he's 100% grain free. Sugar also is a big problem so we stick to honey and a little maple syrup. Low sugar fruits.
    To Danny
    The essential oils are taken as a supplement in capsules or applied to the skin. Not smelling them.

  • Danny

    I am open to natural alternatives to treatment, but I find it necessary for there to be a firm footing of peer-reviewed scientific analysis to back up the often lofty claims that are plastered all over the internet. I did not have my first seizure until I was almost 30 years old. My seizures are gran mal - complete loss of consciousness, memory loss for up to 48 hours, and convulsions that have severely injured me -- not from falling -- but from muscle contractions.

    I think it's interesting, then, to point out that although I have never had an entirely gluten-free diet, I shifted from the gluten-heavy diet of my Italian-American childhood to a vegetarian diet in my early 20's that eschews processed grains and focuses strictly on vegetables, legumes, and the occasional fish. Simply put, I eat very well and I'm in amazing shape. Perhaps the argument against this observation is that "only" an ENTIRELY gluten-free diet can deter seizures, but it's an interesting observation nonetheless.

    What I'm saying to the many commentors here who believe that a change in diet has resulted in reduced seizures is that correlation does not imply causation. Just because you made a change in diet and your seizures have stopped, dwindled, or decreased in intensity does mean that the two are related. Many people who suffer from seizures in their youth will experience fewer as they age.

    I'm particularly alarmed by the commentor from Health Essentials LLC who proposes that essential oils can stop a seizure. I would like for this person to watch one of my own, during which I have, for example, tore my own arm out of its socket, breaking the humerus, and ask him or herself whether an essential oil would have stopped the seizure. It's also worth noting that seizures can be brief, and inevitably, except in the case of death, a seizure will come to an end. Again - correlation does not imply causation. If a person is able to smell essential oils during a seizure and the seizure stops, that does not mean that the two are related.

    I'm not saying that living a healthy life does not have a positive effect on the incidence or severity of seizures. I'm also not saying emphatically that there is no connection between gluten and epilepsy, or even that there isn't one between certain essential oils and reducing seizures. What I am saying is there there is painfully little known about the relationship between these things, let alone epilepsy itself. I hope that some people have success managing their seizures through diet or natural supplements. But to say that there is a "startling" connection between epilepsy and gluten, or between seizures and essential oils, seems to me to be irresponsibly overstating. I don't think there is any true harm in trying out any of a number of safe nutritional or holistic methods in an attempt to reduce seizures, but I implore people, like myself, who are searching for ways to live a better life, to do research, check sources, and look for published peer-reviewed scientific documentation before jumping to conclusions.

  • An Epileptic

    Epilepsy is a serious condition . In the case of this article, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

    While celiac disease can cause seizures and the ketogenic diet can be used to control seizures in children because it puts the body into ketosis, staying gluten free does not control epilepsy in an epileptic who is not also celiac. Celiacs only make up 1% of the population.

    Nutrition fads are one thing, but saying they can control a potentially life threatening condition and eliminate medicine that has been proven to help is wrong.

  • Epilepsy Treatment

    Really very helpful information! Epilepsy restricts a wide variety of physical activities. But, efficient drugs like Trileptal have enabled patients to live a near-normal life.

  • Lisa

    Thank you for providing this information. Please note an error in your article. Twice you describe epilepsy as a person who has two seizures per day.
    The correct definition is "when a person has two or more unprovoked seizures, they are considered to have epilepsy." via
    The two seizures could be over a lifetime, but do not have to take place twice daily, (thank goodness)!

  • Carol Lombard

    I work for a small non-profit agency that helps people with epilepsy who do not have insurance. I appreciate your article and will pass on this information to our clients but would like to clear up two things. One, we prefer not to use the word "epileptics" when referring to people who have epilepsy. It is a disorder but doesn't define who they are as is implied when calling them epileptics. The second thing I'd like to say is that a diagnosis of epilepsy is given when people have had two or more seizures (recurrent seizures) but not necessarily having two siezures in one day which your summary states. Thank you for the article nonetheless.

  • Eugeniya Hilzinger (Health Essentials LLC.)

    There is a Russian saying: "In a healthy body is a healthy soul".

    I drink kefir every day and don't have any pains or arthritis.

    For epilepsy, high quality therapeutic grade essential oils are very effective: they balance, cleanse, and repair, and can be used to prevent and stop the seizure.

  • Eugeniya Hilzinger (Health Essentials LLC.)

    It all begins in the gut and in your subconsciousness. Having a healthy diet and intestinal flora is very important.

    High quality therapeutic grade essential oils can effectively help balance, cleanse and repair human cells Therefore, you can use oils to prevent the attack, either by diffusing, internally or topically. They can also stop the seizure.

  • Heather McClees

    Thank you for this article!! I healed myself through eliminating gluten, sugar and processed carbs after 10 years of suffering from epileptic seizures and depression. I was an addict, and I began seeking answer from holistic sources instead of medications. I let go of all processed carbs ( mainly gluten and sugar) and I haven't had a seizure in 10 years, nor a pill, and am a firm believer in this eating style. I will never look back! I now blog about my journey on my blog The Soulful Spoon.

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