Can Food Sensitivity Cause Nerve Pain?

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Patient consulting doctor about nerve pain

Food sensitivity, which includes food allergies and food intolerances, can cause problems that lead to unpleasant side effects. If you experience nerve pain, otherwise known as neuralgia, it's likely due to an underlying medical condition. While many conditions are not diet related, making dietary changes may help ease nerve pain in people who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

The Link Between Gluten and Nerve Pain

According to a review published in 2012 in Psychiatric Quarterly, nerve pain and other nerve problems may be the result of eating gluten if you have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. Authors of this review point out that antibodies found in people with gluten sensitivity may interfere with neurotransmitter release and cause nerve problems. They also note that neurologic complications due to gluten sensitivity improved significantly in participants after a year of following gluten-free diets.

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) reports that nerve pain, which can occur in any part of the body, often decreases or disappears in people with celiac disease after starting gluten-free diets.

Determining Gluten Sensitivity

A simple blood test can help determine if you have celiac disease, but according to the NFCA, there are no tests available at this time to diagnose non-celiac gluten sensitivity. If you test negative for celiac disease, you can try eliminating gluten from your diet to see if your symptoms go away.

How to Avoid Dietary Gluten

Gluten is made of proteins and is found in wheat, barley, rye and any food products which contain these grains. White flour, wheat flour, spelt, wheat germ, and wheat bran all contain gluten. Additional food items that contain gluten include:

  • Many pastas
  • Couscous
  • Flour tortillas
  • Baked goods
  • Cereals
  • Crackers
  • Gravies
  • Sauces
  • Soups

To avoid dietary gluten, look for food products that say "gluten-free" on the label. You can also choose:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Beans
  • Dairy foods
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Rice

When choosing oats or oatmeal, look for products that say "gluten-free" on the label, which means they haven't been grown, harvested or processed with gluten-containing foods.

Other Causes of Nerve Pain

In many cases, food sensitivity isn't the cause of nerve pain. Cleveland Clinic notes other medical conditions which can cause nerve pain, including:

  • Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Nerve-compressing tumors
  • Shingles
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Diabetes
  • Alcoholism
  • Limb amputation

Receiving radiation therapy and taking certain medications can also cause nerve pain.

See Your Physician About Your Nerve Pain

Numerous medical conditions can cause nerve pain, but aside from celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, most of these conditions aren't related to food sensitivity. You can try eliminating gluten from your diet to ease nerve pain, but you should definitely see a doctor to figure out the underlying cause.

Can Food Sensitivity Cause Nerve Pain?