A new study published in the open access journal Nutrients titled, “The Prevalence of Antibodies against Wheat and Milk Proteins in Blood Donors and Their Contribution to Neuroimmune Reactivities,” implicates two of the Western world’s most popular foods in various forms of immune-mediated brain damage and dysfunction, including gluten ataxia and multiple sclerosis.

A group of U.S. researchers set out to ascertain the presence of IgG, IgM, and IgA antibodies against wheat and milk, in 400 blood samples, from 181 males and 219 female donors of mixed ancestry. Because wheat and milk antibodies have been found in elevated concentrations in various neuroimmune disorders, the researchers measured the co-occurrence of their antibodies against the following brain proteins:

1. GAD-65 (Glutamic Acid Decarboxylase)
2. Cerebellar peptides
3. MBP (myelin basic protein)
4. MOG (myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein)

Their results revealed significant clustering when certain wheat and milk protein antibodies were cross-referenced with neural antibodies.

While not a direct causal link, these associations do signal a very real possibility that the increase in antibody titers against food antigens can cause cross-reactivity to brain proteins through a process known as molecular mimicry, presumably resulting in neurological damage.

The results were reported in the study abstract as follows:

“Approximately half of the sera with antibody elevation against gliadin reacted significantly with GAD-65 and cerebellar peptides; about half of the sera with elevated antibodies against α + β-casein and milk butyrophilin also showed antibody elevation against MBP and MOG.”

Based on these results they arrived at the following conclusion:

“We conclude that a subgroup of blood donors, due to a breakdown in immunological tolerance, may react and produce significant levels of antibodies (p-values less than 0.05) against wheat and milk antigens that cross-react with different neural antigens, which may have broader implications in the induction of neuroimmune reactivities.”

How Wheat Opens Pandora’s Box

One might wonder how the ingestion of seemingly common and innocuous foods can result in a condition as serious as the immune system attacking the human brain. The fact is that available scientific research already clearly reveals how such a grave consequence can (and does) emerge. Modern bread wheat, for instance, contains over 23,000 distinct proteins, some of which are capable of up-regulating intestinal permeability in the guts of susceptible individuals, e.g. alpha gliadin, and a lectin (carbohydrate-binding protein) known as wheat germ agglutinin also capable of penetrating the intestinal lining. This results in the entry of a wide range of antigenic proteins and intestinal contents (e.g. bacteria) into the blood stream – any number of which contribute to inappropriate immune reactions, systemic inflammation, and ultimately the loss of immunological self-tolerance.

Of course, this does not happen to everyone who consumes wheat because there are so many contributing variables involved. Indeed, the researchers noted that the observed relationship between food antigens and cross-reactive antibodies to neural proteins is complex and that “multiple factors, including an individual’s genotype, the timing and level of exposure, and the health of the gut and blood brain barriers,” are involved and need further study.

Extensive Body of Research Linking Wheat to Brain Damage

While the concept that common food proteins can cause the immune system to attack the brain may be surprising to many who still consider cow’s milk and wheat-based products to be ‘wholesome,’ this is not a novel finding. There is already a sizable body of literature implicating these two foods in a wide range of neurological problems.