Gluten-Free Diet May Prevent Nerve Pain in Those with Gluten Neuropathy

A strict gluten-free diet may help protect against nerve pain in people with gluten sensitivity, according to preliminary study findings recently presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 70th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles.

Peripheral neuropathy, a condition in which the peripheral nerves have become damaged, can cause weakness, numbness and pain, particularly in the hands and feet. In some people, this often painful condition has been associated with gluten sensitivity. When a gluten-sensitive person suffers from nerve pain that can’t otherwise be explained, the diagnosis might be gluten neuropathy.

The study findings reveal that, among 60 patients with gluten neuropathy, those who followed a strict gluten-free diet were 89 percent less likely to have pain with their neuropathy than those who did not follow the diet.

“These findings are exciting because it might mean that a relatively simple change in diet could help alleviate painful symptoms tied to gluten neuropathy,” said lead author Panagiotis Zis, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Sheffield in Sheffield, United Kingdom, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “While our study shows an association between a self-reported gluten-free diet and less pain, it does not show that one causes the other.”

For the study, the researchers observed 60 people with gluten neuropathy. The participants, who had an average age of 70, were asked about the intensity of their pain, their other neuropathy symptoms, their mental health and whether they followed a strict gluten-free diet. A total of 33 of the participants (55 percent) experienced pain with their neuropathy.

The researchers found that participants who were following a gluten-free diet were more likely to be free of 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, the researchers found that people following the strict diet were 89 percent less likely to have pain with their neuropathy than people not following the diet.

The researchers also found that people with painful gluten neuropathy scored significantly worse on the mental health assessment, which has a range of zero to 100 with 100 being best. Those with painful gluten neuropathy had an average score of 76, as opposed to the average score of 87 for those with painless gluten neuropathy.

“This study is promising because it shows that a gluten-free diet may help lower the risk of pain for people with gluten neuropathy,” Zis said. “More research is needed to confirm these results and to determine whether the gluten-free diet led to the reduction in pain.”

Source: American Academy of Neurology