Part 1 Of 5 Part Series: Could A Gluten Intolerance Cause Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Or Lou Gehrig’s Disease?
I would like to dedicate this series of posts to my grandfather, Jack, who died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) when I was in my early teens. He was a tall thin man who was always smiling and maintained a positive outlook even in the midst of ill health. His daughter (my mother), my daughter and I all have celiac disease (one type of gluten intolerance). I have to wonder whether his symptoms were really associated with a gluten intolerance. Over the past six years, I have come across a great deal of research linking neurological symptoms to immune reactions to gluten. This peaked my curiosity. Did the ingestion of gluten trigger a cascade of immune reactions, eventually leading to the development of ALS in my grandfather. This is an intriguing question and I believe the connection is very possible. With all forms of gluten intolerance, it seems very plausible that autoimmune factors (anti-neuro antibodies), inflammation, and malabsorption of nutrients could lead to the neurological symptoms associated with ALS.
Why haven’t doctors investigated this possible connection? The answer is a sad reality. Many people with a gluten intolerance, including celiac disease (CD), dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) and non-celiac gluten intolerance remain undiagnosed. For example, with CD, over 90% of individuals remain undiagnosed. Likely, it is even higher in non-celiac gluten intolerance since it is more under-recognized by doctors than celiac disease. Unfortunately, many doctors are not very aware of the many elusive symptoms associated with gluten intolerance and as a result, only the symptoms (ie. possibly ALS) are diagnosed, not the disease. Typically, it isn’t on the doctor’s radar so it often isn’t investigated as a cause.
What Is ALS?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerves of the spinal cord and brain. Due to interrupted neuronal impulses, the affected person’s muscles are unable to move effectively and this progressively leads to loss of strength resulting in muscle weakness. Unfortunately, there is a very poor prognosis, people with this disease generally die within 5 years of diagnosis due to respiratory failure (atrophy of the muscles that support respiration). However, some do manage to live past 10 years.
Sadly, the current treatments are not very helpful and there is no cure.
Is There Hope?
I can’t make any claims that ALS is definitely caused by a gluten intolerance, but I’m suspecting that it could be. There are many studies showing an association between gluten intolerance and neurological symptoms (i.e. Gluten Ataxia). If gluten isn’t the culprit, then perhaps IgA and IgG mediated reactions to other foods could be the culprit. IgA and IgG antibody mediated reactions to gluten can cause autoimmune diseases (celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, non-celiac gluten intolerance) so why couldn’t IgA and IgG immune reactions to other foods cause autoimmune activity that could ultimately contribute to ALS.
This series of posts will highlight why this association may be possible, how lectins (lectins are in certain foods) may contribute, and how individuals with ALS may want to rule out a gluten intolerance along with testing for other reactions to foods since these reactions can lead to neurological symptoms. More research is needed, but for now, people afflicted with ALS might want to consider these possibilities.
If some patients explore these options and have positive results, then there could be much to gain.
Over the next 6-8 weeks, I’ll be exploring the possible connection between ALS and gluten. Please join in, make comments on the posts and share your opinions and your stories.
The Series Includes:
Part 2 Of 5 Part Series: How Could A Gluten Intolerance Cause ALS
Part 3 Of 5 Part Series: How Could A Gluten Intolerance Cause ALS In Various Age Groups
Part 4 Of 5 Part Series: How could A Lectin Intolerance Contribute To ALS
Part 5 Of 5 Part Series: Some Final Thoughts About ALS And Gluten
1. ALS Society Of Canada http://www.als.ca
2. Wendy Johnston. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: A Clinical Look At The Disease That Renders A Body Helpless. Case Conundrums. PDF at http://www.als.ca