Helping Huntington’s Disease with The Paleo Diet

Huntington's Disease | The Paleo Diet

I was recently asked whether following The Paleo Diet can help to treat individuals diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease (HD). HD is a neurodegenerative illness in which brain and nervous tissue are affected. Recent molecular advances suggest that increased expression of an enzyme called transglutaminase is likely involved in eliciting the disease in genetically susceptible people, and that transglutaminase inhibitors may be therapeutic in tissue cultures and animal models. Further, at least one study done in 2004 showed that 44% of HD patients maintained antibodies to gliadin, the storage protein found in gluten containing grains (wheat, rye, barley). Human studies have demonstrated that wheat and gluten consumption upregulates, or increases the expression of transglutaminase in a variety of human tissues, which can be reversed by gluten-free diets. To date, while there are no clinical trials evaluating gluten-free or Paleo diets in HD patients, I am aware of at least one anecdotal case of a young HD patient whose symptoms, as measured by MRI, remitted after following a gluten-free/Paleo diet. I don’t want to give HD patients false hope, nevertheless there are no known nutritional dangers to following The Paleo Diet.

I shared the notion of transglutaminase upregulation autoimmunity via wheat consumption with Trevor Connor, my graduate student in HES and Nutrition at the Colorado State University. We worked out the potential mechanism of how wheat/gliadin upregulates transglutaminase and may predispose genetically susceptible individuals to Huntington’s Disease.

It’s Genetic

Huntington’s Disease is genetic. If a genetic mutation in the gene that codes for Huntington Protein is identifiable, you have this mutation and will develop Huntington’s Disease.

Repetitive Protein

The mutant Huntington Protein has a “repeat.” The glutamine sequence starts multiplying and lengthening the protein. This repeat serves no purpose, but Huntington’s Disease is considered active at over 36 repeats. People with active Huntington’s Disease have a mutant protein in the brain that starts aggregating by binding to itself and other proteins. The aggregates then bind to neurons and kill them.

Huntington’s Mice

Scientists are focusing on trying to prevent the repeat and aggregation. However, we found a critical study where they knocked out tissue transglutaminase in Huntington’s mice. Even though aggregation was severe in these mice, disease onset was delayed and if it did develop, it was less severe.

Environmental Trigger

It was our belief that this same mechanism of gliadin binding to tissue transglutaminase (tTG) in Celiac’s Disease, is the environmental trigger in Huntington’s disease. It’s the gliadin-tTG complex that is influencing pathogenesis, or mechanism by which Huntington’s Disease is caused.

  • Immune Activation: In another important set of studies, HLA-DR, a heterodimeric cell surface glycoprotein, expression was increased by gluten consumption. In active Huntington’s subjects, HLA-DR activity was so strong in their disease tissue, it was visible with the human eye after staining.
  • In the same way that gluten breaks down the barrier of the gut, there is some evidence that gluten can open up the blood-brain barrier and allow the gliadin-tTG complex to enter protected neural regions and activate the Huntington aggregates.

Learn more: Connor, Trevor B.“A Potential Dietary-Based Environmental Trigger for Huntington’s Disease” Thesis. Department of Health and Exercise Science, Colorado State University, 2010.


Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

About Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor Emeritus

Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor EmeritusDr. Loren Cordain is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research emphasis over the past 20 years has focused upon the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health and well being in modern humans. Dr. Cordain’s scientific publications have examined the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets as well as the nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods consumed by foraging humans. He is the world’s leading expert on Paleolithic diets and has lectured extensively on the Paleolithic nutrition worldwide. Dr. Cordain is the author of six popular bestselling books including The Real Paleo Diet Cookbook, The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Answer, and The Paleo Diet Cookbook, summarizing his research findings.

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“14” Comments

  1. Hi, my name is CC, I live in Colorado & I’m 45. I started the carnivore diet about a year ago. Tbh I found great relief at first but then didn’t once we moved into a home with mold. However, I noticed once I added in vitamin supplementation that I’m doing better. If there happens to be a study or you need a new subject LMK. I’m holistic and believe in food as medicine. I do not take any pharma either.

    • I understand, of course, that the genetic basis of HD cannot be changed, but there must be some environmental factors that can influence its progression. [My research so far on any such environmental factors has drawn a blank though]

    • Dear Matthew,

      Thanks for reaching out to us. I’m sorry to hear you have the Huntington’s gene. I know that can be a scary thing to hear. We are by no means experts on HD, but several years ago, Dr Cordain and I wrote a paper on the condition after we talked with a woman who went on a wheat-free diet and saw a remission of her symptoms. I haven’t actually followed-up with her in a long time, so I don’t know if she’s still in remission, but I can say that for the time period that we were in touch with her, the doctors were surprised by her progress. I truly hope that if you try the same approach you have similar success!

      Please check your email, we’ve sent you a paper focusing on this subject.

      Trevor Connor

  2. What a load of rubbish. Your diet cannot stop you from getting something that is caused by your genetics, or faulty genes. Diet can only reduce the symptoms or slow it down, there sadly isn’t a cute for huntingtons, you can’t stop it if you have it.

  3. The title to your article says “treatment for HD”.
    There is NO treatment for HD. My son has JHD. There are diets and essential oils etc that may aid in the symptoms that go along with HD, but there is no treatment for HD.

    • HI Laura,
      Thank you for your feedback. Our editorial board talked about it and agreed you have a good point. We changed the title to something that we hope you find more appropriate (as you can see above.) We wish you and your son all the best!

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  5. Great information ! I am 36, started having symptoms about 9 month ago. I will definitely tray the diet. Thank you for giving us some hope ! I will share the info wiht my family and Doctors.

  6. I’m so happy to read this. In England no one looks into diet and HD is all extremely grim. I am at risk and after reading this I feel there is something I can do to help myself.
    Thank you so much

  7. Hi, my name is Andi. I was diagnosed with HD a year ago. I am 52, have 4 kids. My daughter just got married, will test for H D soon. I want to try this diet, if it helps. I want to be sorrounded by grand children, maybe even great grsndchildren.

  8. Hi
    I have the HD gene. when I found out I had severe food allergies so I was eating organic, no wheat, sugar, milk. After eating healthy for 10 yrs. My allergies went away, and I had no signs of HD at all.
    After my allergies were better, I felt better, so started eating badly again. Now after
    5 years I am now showing signs of HD in my mind and body. So obviously it was the
    food that was keeping me from HD symptoms starting. thank you so much for this
    site I obviously need to get off wheat, and sugar again thaks a lot!!!!

    Kim Goodfellow

    • Hello Kim, I am really happy to hear about your results. I have 41 repeats and I was just curious as to how many repeats you might have. I hope this isn’t to personal of a questions. Thank you.

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