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Stuttering and Allergies - 1

Several years ago, I posted a question to a listserver group dedicated to Coeliac Disease (an intolerance or allergy to gluten) about a possible connection between allergies and stuttering. The connection suggested itself to me because of the existence of both conditions in my family, and something I had glimpsed or imagined on the Web that mentioned stuttering in the context of autoimmune disorders. I knew that neurological problems are side-effects of some allergic conditions, so a cause-and-effect relationship, while unlikely to be straightforward, would be worth looking into, I thought.

I received responses, summarised them, and re-posted the summary and my own further comments to the discussion group at large. Below is that summary:

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You bet!!!!! I start stuttering and stammering like crazy the second I get a good dose of gluten. Have mapped it to the gluten reaction and absolutely nothing else can be the cause.

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Well I don't know if it is part of the disease or not but I do know that I stutter. I don't do it as badly as I use to but I still do stutter. When I was a teenager nobody could seem to understand me and those who did were very impatient with how long it would take for me to talk at times. Now I only seem to do it when upset and nervous.

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I'd be interested in hearing your summary of replies. My son, who was around three at the time we found out he was gluten-sensitive—stuttered severely and we had just taken him to speech therapist for evaluation at the time. When we removed the wheat from his diet, his stuttering cleared up almost immediately. We never knew if there was any correlation between the wheat and the stuttering—since he was so young it might just have been age related. But the speech therapist did make a comment about how often she found there were food sensitivities in the medical histories of her young patients. This is all anecdotal of course, but I find it interesting, in light of your recent observation of a possible connection.

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I'm 36 and have been a stutterer all my life and a celiac for some part, if not all, of it. I've never connected the two. Keep us informed if you find other links. I admit to being a little sceptical, but who knows?

[In a 2nd letter] Actually, I was diagnosed w/ [Coeliac Disease] only a few months ago, and have been gluten free (I hope) since June. I had no clearly defined symptoms in the first place, so the difference at this point, if any, is minimal. My doctor said in 3 months it would be "like night and day." According to what I've experienced and read in the posts, his statement was overly optimistic... I'll start paying more attention to my speech as I continue on the gluten-free path that is now mine to travel...

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This is absolutely fascinating...I am a retired speech teacher. Stuttering has been a very difficult problem to overcome... The kicker comes in, tho, with this fact....cultures that do not have a word for stuttering do not have stutterers! The country with the highest rate of stutterers is Japan where the culture is very demanding and stressful on the young. I would be very interested to see how and if this ties in with celiac.

[In a 2nd letter] ...One of the things we HAVEN"T seen is a breakdown of celiac occurrence by nationality. I think that would be very revealing.

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Interesting. I have been both a stutterer and a celiac my entire life. My father stuttered and, looking back with what we know now, we believe the "psoriasis" he suffered from for many years was actually DH [Dermatitis Herpetiformis, closely related to coeliac disease]. So this is certainly an interesting question for me. However, be careful about drawing false conclusions from your responses. There are about 3000 members on this list. I'm not sure what the incidence of stuttering in the general population is, but if it is, say, 1%, then 30 people should respond even if there is no relationship at all.

[In a 2nd letter] To follow up: I stuttered from earliest childhood, when I was not GF (they didn't know gluten caused [Coeliac Disease] in those days), and I have stuttered for the last 20 years of gluten-freeness. So there is certainly no proximate chemical effect in my case. However, not long ago I saw an item on the web about functional MRI's being done on stutterers. They showed that stutterers use a different part of the brain to process speech than normal speakers. So I would think there is at least a possibility that gluten poisoning in infancy could create organic changes in the brain leading to abnormal development of the speech processing centers.

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We get surprises all the time. I did not know stuttering might be a symptom of celiac. I stuttered badly as a child. Not so much now but it is still there. I've know I'm celiac for only 4 years. I'm 60.

I, also, had a problem with concentration. I didn't realize it was a problem until I had to find why my son was having difficulties in school. When his problem was diagnosed by a doctor I knew it was my problem too. When talking to my daughter who graduated near the top of her class, I learned that is why she spent so much time in her room studying. She does not test positive for celiac but I think my son will when we get the results from the University of Maryland.

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I have a brother that stutters so much that he sounds like a car running. He has not been tested for [Coeliac Disease] as of yet. I am the one that has been tested. I'll keep this in mind when I speak to him next.

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I have a son aged 30 years old. He has had a slight stutter since he was two years old. When he went gluten-free the stutter went away! It only comes back when he eats gluten accidentally. So, yes, I believe there is a definite connection. In the [very expensive specialty] book "Epilepsy and other Neurological Disorders Related to Celiac Disease" by Gobbi et al, Pub by John Libby & Co, UK, there is a study related concerning speech defects being connected to [Coeliac Disease] . While it doesn't mention stuttering as such, in fact, it mentions Tourette's Syndrome, which is far worse, I believe stuttering is definitely connected. Lack of B vitamins affects the nerve connections. Speech is a series of nerve impulses and connections within the brain. Please don't discount gluten being the root cause of your family's stuttering just because the blood tests are negative.

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I am curious to know what you find out. My son has speech problems and [Coeliac Disease] as well.

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Please be sure to post the answers you receive. I am extremely interested as I have [Coeliac Disease] and I have a 29 year old son who began stuttering at about age 19. He hasn't been tested.

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This is interesting. My husband is a diagnosed celiac. My daughter, 11 has autism and my son, 9, has a neurological developmental disorder. We suspect our daughter is gluten intolerant and she is on the same diet my husband is. At home we all are on the gluten free diet but my son (and 5 yo "normal" daughter) are allowed gluten when it is offered them away from home. Both my 11 yo and my 9 yo stutter, although I don't know of anyone on either side of our extended family who does or has.

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[End of responses from Coeliac listserver group]

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I offered this small bit of speculation, for what it was worth:

Problems with nerves and muscles twitching, aching, spasming and weakening are commonly associated with [Coeliac Disease] and related autoimmune disorders, such as MS, lupus, multiple connective tissue disease, and scleroderma. So it is not preposterous to imagine muscles and nerves controlling the voice being affected too in some individuals. If gluten can be a major factor in stuttering (decide for yourself) then perhaps other allergens, of both food and airborne varieties, might have the same effect.

Maybe some cases of stuttering could be, likewise, an allergic response to ubiquitous substances in the environment—if not food, then mould, dust mites, chemicals, etc., or a combination of them. Other big allergens we breathe include mould spores; dust mite poo; nitrogen dioxide from gas stoves, heaters, and car exhausts; phenol in antiseptic cleaners; terpenes escaping from conifer trees; and, of course, pollens.

Anyway, who knows? Maybe a really good allergist might just conceivably be able to help in certain cases of stuttering.

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Next, I posted the above summary to a newsgroup on the Internet for stutterers (alt.support.stuttering). It provoked the following response:

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thanks for your fascinating post!!! i have largely eradicated my stuttering in the last couple of years, and i attribute it entirely to my change in eating patterns and exercise regime. my diet basically consists of meat, fruit, veges, nuts and small amounts of dairy. i avoid bread and wheat-based products completely, apart from when i succumb to a pizza every so often.

i recently underwent tests for celiac disease, as i have done a lot of research into the cause of stuttering in my spare time. the level of some chemical (i forget which) in a blood test were slightly elevated, and according to my doctor were indicative of a celiac managing his symptoms. subsequently i underwent a gastroscopy and they declared everything was fine. however, this was only after about 1 1/2 weeks of having gluten products, which after my long abstinence may not have been enough to show. also, the test as it is, is not conclusive (said the specialist) as they only looked at my upper intestinal canal. i now have an appointment to see an allergist in the near future.

although my speech is quite good, i still suffer from my muscles tensing up (resulting in a lack of coordination) every now and then when i get a bit excited or am not totally relaxed. also my blood pressure is too high for a fit person (even though it's still within safe limits) and my heartbeat escalates very high at times (i think this is linked to the muscle tensing)- even though i'm basically relaxed and stress free. i would not be surprised if most stutterers have these medical symptoms, and they may not even realise it.

i remember vividly a weekend a couple of years ago when i experimented by having nothing but wheat based products (pancakes, cereal, bread) for the whole weekend. by the end of it i felt extremely fatigued, couldn't sleep, and was almost suicidal. it exacerbated some of my symptoms in that i was depressed at the time. i'm sure if it was due to the allergic response, or out of control blood sugar levels, or maybe a combination of both, but it certainly had a profound effect.

oh, one other symptom i have is irregular bowel movements. i suffered from severe constipation as a kid, but only get it mildly now, though on a regular basis. usually it's like i can't quite complete the bowel expulsion. i don't think this is normal, and is somehow tied in with the big picture.

something which you have very wisely pointed out (and which i have strongly believed for sometime) is that stuttering is just the most obvious symptom of the medical problem behind stuttering. most people seem to think that the story ends at stuttering, but there are so many other medical symptoms that could add up to the big picture behind the metabolic/chemical causes, of which just one of the effects happens to be stuttering, and which no one has bothered to look at yet. it is very disappointing. well, we can only hope.

cheers, paul

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I corresponded with Paul some more. It turns out his brother suffers from schizophrenia. I speculated wildly that it could theoretically be part of the same syndrome at the base of his own disorder.

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Here's an email I received years after posting the above information:

Gluten &/or foods w/ Yeast seem to cause me to minor stutter. I've narrowed down to those two. I know I am highly allergic to yeast & followed the anti-candida diet for many years, but lab test for celiac was negative. But i still react w/ symptoms including fatigue, foggy thinking, a little fluid retention, joint inflammation & stuttering. I do think there is a connection.

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I also received more replies from the newsgroup which I have archived on a second page for the keenly interested.


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