Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder triggered by eating food that contains gluten.

It’s estimated that about 1% of the U.S. population has celiac disease, according to 2012 research involving a national population sample. The most common symptoms affect your gastrointestinal system and include bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes seizures. In 2015, it was estimated that about 1.2% of the U.S. population, or about 3.4 million people in total, had epilepsy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People with celiac disease develop epilepsy more often than people in the general population. Researchers still don’t have a great understanding of why this is the case. They have some hypotheses, but for now, these theories are still largely unsupported.

There is little recent data or research on possible connections, and older research was largely performed on small groups of people and not in randomized, controlled studies. This means the data may not be completely accurate.

Read on to learn what’s known about the connection between celiac disease and epilepsy.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition triggered by eating gluten. Gluten is a group of proteins found naturally in grains like wheat, rye, and barley.

If you have celiac disease and eat gluten, it causes an immune reaction in your intestines. This reaction can cause inflammation and damage to small structures in your small intestines called villi. Damage to villi can lead to malabsorption of essential nutrients and impact many aspects of your health.

Epilepsy is a neurological complication associated with celiac disease, with research estimating that it affects anywhere from 1 to 6% of people with celiac disease. People with celiac disease have about a 1.8 times greater chance of being diagnosed with epilepsy than people in the general population.

The connection between celiac disease and epilepsy still isn’t fully understood. Researchers can’t say that celiac disease causes epilepsy because the reasons for the association still are not clear.

Some researchers theorize that changes in cerebral perfusion (blood flow to the brain) and direct neurotoxicity (effects on the nervous system) as possible causes of neurological complications. Epilepsy in particular is also thought to be due to immune-induced cortical damage and cerebral calcifications as a result of vitamin deficiency from celiac disease.

Eating gluten can potentially contribute to the development of many health complications, including seizures, in people with celiac disease.

Celiac disease is associated with cerebral calcification syndrome (CEC). CEC is a disorder characterized as the combination of celiac disease, epilepsy, and calcium deposits in the brain.

In a 2019 review of studies, researchers found that of 79 studies examining the prevalence of epilepsy in people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, 30 detailed cases of epilepsy and calcification in the brain.

A gluten-free diet may be associated with:

  • better seizure management
  • decreased anticonvulsant medication use
  • resolution of seizures


Studies looking at the connection between celiac disease and seizures, as well as CEC, are limited and often rely on case reports, small population samples, and uncontrolled trials.

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People with epilepsy seem to be almost twice as likely to have celiac disease as people without epilepsy. The reason for the relationship isn’t clear.

A small number of studies have investigated rates of celiac disease among people with specific epileptic syndromes. Although the sample sizes are small, they suggest that celiac disease is more common in people with certain epileptic syndromes.

SyndromeSample sizePercent of people with celiac disease
Childhood partial epilepsy with occipital paroxysms9610.41%
Children with occipital lobe epilepsy902.22%
Adults with fixation off sensitivity1520.00%
Progressive myoclonic epilepsy2040.98%
Temporal lobe epilepsy with hippocampal sclerosis1643.76%

No shared causes between celiac disease and epilepsy have been identified.

Epilepsy has no known cause in about half of people with the condition. When the cause is known, it can include:

Research suggests that celiac disease almost always occurs in the presence of certain gene variations called HLA DQ2 or HLA DQ8. About 30% of people in the general population have these genes, but only about 3% of people with these genes get celiac disease.

In the 2019 review of studies, researchers concluded that a gluten-free diet can help manage epilepsy in people with either celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. The researchers found that adopting a gluten-free diet was effective at managing epilepsy in about 53 percent of cases.

In a 2016 study, researchers identified seven cases of celiac disease in their sample of 113 people with epilepsy. After 5 months of following a gluten-free diet, 6 out of 7 people with celiac disease had seizures entirely under control and stopped taking medication. The seventh person was able to control their seizures while reducing their medication by half.

Several studies have found that despite improvements in seizure management with a gluten-free diet, it does not lead to calcium deposit reduction in the brain. This has led to speculation that the calcium may be secondary to epilepsy and not the cause of epilepsy. They’re also speculated to be caused by folate deficiency, although the current research is inconsistent.

It’s important to note that you should speak with your doctor before adopting a gluten-free diet as a treatment for your condition.

Epilepsy appears to be more common in people with celiac disease, and celiac disease appears to be more common in people with epilepsy.

The reason for the association is not clear, but some researchers have found that adopting a gluten-free diet may help people with both conditions manage their seizures and other symptoms.

Speak with your doctor to see if this is an appropriate step for you before trying it.