Dr. Bob on January 19th, 2009

Gluten sensivity can adversely affect a number of important body systems, like the digestive system and the nervous system.  Some people with gluten sensivity experience loss of brain cells from their cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance and coordination, and that is involved in thinking and emotional response (1).


Loss of balance and coordination is called ataxia.  Ataxity caused by gluten sensitivity can develop slowly or it can develop very rapidly.  The above MRI image shows “before” and “after” snapshots of the cerebellum (the lower “little brain”) of a person with rapid onset of cerebellar atrophy (shrinkage of the cerebellum) over a period of 15 months before the diagnosis of gluten ataxia (2).

The above MRI images show cross-sectional views through the middle of the brains of people with celiac diagnosed (A and B) with cerebellar atrophy and the brain of a person with cerebellar atrophy, brainstem atrophy and cortical cerebral atrophy (C) (3).

  1. Centre for Neuro Skills:  Cerebellum
  2. Hadjivassiliou et al., Gluten sensitivity as a neurological illness, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry (2002) 72:560-563.
  3. Pellecchia et al., Idiopathic cerebellar ataxia associated with celiac disease: lack of distinctive neurological features, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry (1999) 66:32-35.