Celiac and gluten-gut-brain connection seen in abnormal reversible SPECT brain scans

SPECT brain imaging of the majority of the few celiac disease patients studied reveals abnormalities that are usually most severe in the frontal areas of the brain. An improvement in these abnormalities is observed with a gluten-free diet. The frontal area of ​​the brain is important in brain function that controls attention, impulse control, organization, and problem solving. Problems in this area of ​​the brain lead to short attention span, disorganization, procrastination, short-term memory problems, anxiety, and depression.

Not surprisingly, these are common symptoms reported by Sprue patients and in non-celiac gluten sensitivity that improve with a GFD. ADD, schizophrenia, alcohol and drug addiction problems, and depression, all associated with gluten in some studies, are also associated with functional disorders in the frontal region of the brain seen on SPECT scans. Although reports of SPECT imaging in celiac disease are limited, there have been some very interesting findings that make sense to those of us familiar with the effect of gluten on the brain.

The most dramatic report I have found comes from a 1997 report of a newly diagnosed celiac patient with established schizophrenia whose symptoms and abnormal SPECT exam reversed on a gluten-free diet. He presented with an established diagnosis of schizophrenia, diarrhea and weight loss. Anti-endomysial antibody was positive and villous atrophy was present on intestinal biopsy. A SPECT scan was performed before and after a gluten-free diet. Before GFD, the scan confirmed an abnormal decrease in blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain. Once the GFD Schizophrenia symptoms resolved, the bowel lesion resolved and the SPECT examination became normal. More recently in 2004, Usai et al. reported 34 celiac patients in whom 70% had abnormal SPECT scans. Again, the abnormalities were more pronounced in the frontal areas of the brain and were less severe on a gluten-free diet.

SPECT is computerized single photon emission tomography. This is a combined nuclear medicine CT scan of the head performed by injecting radioisotope material which is taken up by the brain depending on blood flow and metabolism. A scan is produced which is a color-coded 3D representation of metabolism or brain activity. Daniel Amen MD is one of the nation’s leading experts in SPECT brain imaging. You can take a free online brain system quiz at http://www.amenclinic.com it can be useful. His detailed and well-researched recommendations for nutritional interventions for the brain are also worth considering. Greater collaboration with neuroscientists and gastroenterologists is definitely needed to further investigate the association between poor brain function and gluten. SPECT imaging technology seems like an exciting tool at our disposal if we can fund the research. We will continue to further explore the gut-brain connection.

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