Gluten-Free Diet May Help Reduce Nerve Pain For Millions Of People

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A new study discovered that people on a gluten-free diet were less susceptible to nerve pain compared to people on a different diet. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.  ( Oli Scarff | Getty Images )

A gluten-free diet may help reduce nerve pain in millions of people, according to a study linking gluten to the nerve damage disorder neuropathy.

Experts came up with the gluten-free diet for people with celiac disease — an autoimmune disorder involving damage to the small intestine upon the consumption of gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. However, the diet has caught on as a popular trend even to people without celiac disease. In fact, experts also recommend this diet to people suffering from neuropathy.

Gluten-Free Diet May Help Reduce Nerve Pain

According to the results of a new study that researchers will present at the American Academy of Neurology's 70th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles in April, a gluten-free diet may help people deal with neuropathy.

There is a link between gluten sensitivity and peripheral neuropathy — a condition where the peripheral nerves are damaged, leading to pain, numbness, and weakness, often in the hands and feet. Whenever a person suffers from unexplained nerve pain and is sensitive to gluten, the possible diagnosis is gluten neuropathy.

The study, led by Dr. Panagiotis Zis of the University of Sheffield in Sheffield, United Kingdom, discovered that people on a gluten-free diet were more likely to be living without pain compared to people not on a gluten-free diet. A total of 56 percent of the subjects who were without pain followed a gluten-free diet, compared to 21 percent of the subjects experiencing pain.

"This study is promising because it shows that a gluten-free diet may help lower the risk of pain for people with gluten neuropathy," said Zis, who added that further research is needed to confirm the findings of the study, and to find out whether the gluten-free diet purposely reduced nerve pain.

Gluten-Free Diet Risks And Benefits

Dr. Anthony Geraci, the director of the Neuromuscular Center at the Neuroscience Institute of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, agreed that trying a gluten-free diet for patients suffering from neuropathy may be a reasonable intervention. Millions of people suffering from gluten neuropathy may try the diet while waiting for further findings from research on the disorder.

However, going on a gluten-free diet comes with risks that include reduced fiber intake that leads to gut inflammation, weakness and fatigue due to reduced nutrients, and greater depression symptoms. In addition, gluten-free food has also been previously linked to toxic metals such as mercury and arsenic.

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