Be pain-free with gluten-free: Nerve pain sufferers should cut gluten, research recommends


01 Mar 2018 --- Physicians have long understood that numbness and pain in the extremities is a common accompaniment to gluten sensitivity. A strict gluten-free diet may protect against nerve pain experienced by those with gluten sensitivity, new research suggests, adding scientific merit to the idea that peripheral neuropathy is linked to such gluten sensitivity. It is common for people with celiac disease to suffer from such pains, but this research adds knowledge to the scarce area of how the non-celiac gluten sensitivity condition can also experience peripheral neuropathy. 

“This might mean that a relatively simple change in diet could help alleviate painful symptoms tied to gluten neuropathy,” says lead author Panagiotis Zis, MD, Ph.D., of the University of Sheffield.

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition in which a person's peripheral nerves become damaged, often causing weakness, numbness and pain, typically in the hands and feet. When a person has nerve pain that cannot otherwise be explained - and has a sensitivity to gluten - the diagnosis might be gluten neuropathy.

The study itself involved 60 people with an average age of 70, all suffering from gluten neuropathy. A total of 55 percent experienced pain with their neuropathy. The study found that those who were following a gluten-free diet were more likely to be free of the pain than those who did not follow a strict gluten-free diet.

A total of 56 percent of those without pain were on a gluten-free diet, compared to 21 percent of those with pain. After adjusting for age, sex and mental health status, researchers found that people following the strict diet were 89 percent less likely to have pain than people not following the diet.

The simplicity of the potential alleviation of pain intensity for sufferers is particularly exciting, states Zis, as it would only require the relatively simple diet change of going gluten-free. Access to gluten-free products is remarkably easy and the diet has gained immense popularity in recent years.

In fact, Innova Market Insights data shows that the number of Americans on a gluten-free diet has nearly tripled in the past five years. This has mounted pressure on companies and manufactures to supply an extensive array of gluten-free products.

This study sheds some light the common gluten sensitivity symptoms of numbness in the extremities, but as Zis states, “More research is needed to confirm these results and to determine whether the gluten-free diet led to the reduction in pain.”

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