WHEN Andre H. Lagrange, a neurologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, saw the ominous white spots on the patient’s brain scan, he considered infection or lymphoma, a type of cancer. But tests ruled out both. Meanwhile, anti-epilepsy drugs failed to halt the man’s seizures. Stumped, Dr. Lagrange turned to something the mother of the 30-year-old man kept repeating. The fits coincided, she insisted, with spells of constipation and diarrhea.
That, along with an odd rash, prompted Dr. Lagrange to think beyond the brain. Antibody tests, followed by an intestinal biopsy, indicated celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder of the gut triggered by the gluten proteins in wheat and other grains. Once on a gluten-free diet, the man’s seizures stopped; those brain lesions gradually disappeared. He made a “nearly complete recovery,” Dr. Lagrange told me.
I began encountering case descriptions like this some years ago as I researched autoimmune disease. The first few seemed like random noise in an already nebulous field. But as I amassed more — describing seizures, hallucinations, psychotic breaks and even, in one published case, what looked like regressive autism, all ultimately associated with celiac disease — they began to seem less like anomalies, and more like a frontier in celiac research.