by: Dr. Craig A. Maxwell
Are you clumsy, uncoordinated, and losing your balance a lot? Does your child exhibit these symptoms? It could be a condition called ataxia. Ataxia is a movement disorder characterized by poor muscular coordination, unsteady/awkward gait, fine-motor impairment, and fast, uncontrollable eye movements. The causes of ataxia are usually genetic or injury-related.
However, the cerebellar damage that characterizes ataxia may also have hidden environmental causes.
Three Common Environmental Causes of Ataxia
The reason I refer to the following causes of ataxia as environmental is because the neurological damage is unrelated to genetic or injury-related factors. These causes of ataxia are the easiest to narrow down and treat if you know what to look for.
- Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmune disease occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own healthy tissues. This can cause chronic inflammation in your body and brain and result in chronic neurological distress.
The most common causes of autoimmune ataxia are:
- Thyroid Disease
Thyroid disease affects millions of Americans and has so many different symptoms associated with it that it can be difficult to diagnose. Autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Grave’s disease can attack your thyroid and prevent it from functioning optimally.
Any type of disruption in your normal endocrine function can have a negative impact on your cerebral or cerebellar function. As a matter of fact, ataxia and other central nervous system abnormalities may be one of the first symptoms of thyroid disease.
Thyroid disease specifically attacks a portion of the cerebellum called the superior vermis; the top portion that connects the two hemispheres of your cerebellum. This can cause the unsteady gait and uncoordinated clumsiness associated with ataxia.
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder characterized by extreme fatigue, muscle and joint pain, fever, chest pain, photosensitivity, nasal and oral lesions, and a tell-tale butterfly-shaped rash across the bridge of the nose. As lupus progresses, antibodies may develop against the central nervous system, causing ataxia.
- Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by the inability to digest the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Recent findings have suggested that in addition to gastrointestinal symptoms and chronic sinus problems, celiac disease can also have an impact on central nervous system function.
Studies have shown that celiac disease and ataxia may be part of the disease entity whereby the immune system indiscriminately destroys any area of the body affected by gluten. This includes the gut, the enteric nervous system (the gut brain), and the central nervous system.
- Nutritional Deficiencies
Nutritional deficiencies have reached near-epidemic proportions due to poor diet and digestive malabsorption disorders. A deficiency in vitamin B12, CoQ10, Vitamin E, and magnesium can all contribute to the development of sensory ataxia.
- Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common yet easily-overlooked cause of several different symptoms, including ataxia. If you’re taking proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux disease for 2 years or more, you have a 65% likelihood of developing this nutrient deficiency. This is because the same cells that create stomach acid are also responsible for making the protein that helps your body absorb vitamin B12 from food.
One of the primary functions of vitamin B12 is building the myelin that protects your nerve endings and allows them to send signals back and forth to one another. Without this building block, neurological symptoms such as brain fog, memory impairment, mood swings, ataxia, muscle twitching, and tingling in extremities.
- CoQ10 Deficiency
Children with clumsy, uncoordinated movements may have a CoQ10 deficiency affecting their development. One study revealed that 75% of children who took 200 to 900 milligrams per day showed symptom improvement. Adults, however, did not respond to CoQ10 treatment.
- Vitamin E Deficiency
Evidence has suggested that children who are genetically predisposed to ataxia may benefit from lifelong high doses of vitamin E. Though vitamin E deficiency is rare, it is important to rule it out as a possible cause of ataxia.
- Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. It is the number one cause of nutrient-related mental health symptoms. The neurological symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle spasms and cramps, trembling, tingling in extremities, vertigo, and ataxia. 85% of my patients came to me deficient in this mineral, which has been easily corrected with dietary changes and supplementation.
- Mercury Toxicity
Mercury toxicity can develop as a result of dental amalgams, vaccinations, over-consumption of tuna and swordfish, and environmental exposure to pesticides. Symptoms may develop gradually or come on suddenly soon after exposure. They include irritability, anxiety, nervousness, memory loss, emotional instability, insomnia, bipolar disorder, ataxia, inability to concentrate, and chronic lethargy.
Treat Environmental Causes of Ataxia Naturally
If you or someone you care about is experiencing ataxia and you suspect an environmental cause, follow this four-step process:
- Identify the Cause
The first step in treating any type of chronic condition is to identify the cause.
- Thyroid Disease
If you suspect thyroid disease might be causing your ataxia, it is important to test for it. Diagnosing thyroid disease can be misleading as many physicians only order a thyroid stimulating test (TSH) to screen for hypothyroidism.
This test will often miss hypothyroidism, as it does not directly measure the output of free T3 and free T4 from your thyroid gland. In order to receive a complete and accurate thyroid function diagnosis, I recommend the Complete Thyroid Panel + Thyroid Antibodies from Direct Labs.
- Celiac Disease
Blood tests for celiac disease can often bring about false negatives and lead those who are intolerant to gluten to believe their symptoms are caused by something else.
This is why I recommend a more comprehensive approach.
The Alcat Comprehensive Wellness 1-Kit tells you exactly which foods and chemicals you might be sensitive to, and how severely. Just take it to the nearest LabCorp office for blood drawing and they pack it and send it off for you. You should receive your results in 7-10 business days!
I also recommend the Doctor’s Data Comprehensive Stool Analysis x 3 DD Kit. It evaluates for parasitic infection, leaky gut syndrome, and candida while measuring dysbiotic bacteria, digestive enzymes, digestion capability, and even a count of all probiotics!
- Nutritional Deficiencies
Testing for nutritional deficiencies is an important part of discovering which ones you need to add to your diet. Spectracell Laboratories (www.Spectracell.com) has a nutritional analysis test which looks beyond blood serum and checks white blood cells for nutritional deficiency. I highly recommend it.
- Mercury Toxicity
In my opinion, the best way to test for heavy metals is to do a hair analysis. Hair readily absorbs, and accumulates, heavy metals from the blood. This is why I recommend the Hair Toxic Element Exposure Test by Doctor’s Data. When you order, Direct Labs will send you a test kit in a prepaid envelope. Just collect and send several small clips of hair and a report will then be sent directly to you and any doctor you authorize.
- Make Environmental Changes
There are many hidden neurotoxins in your everyday environment that can cause and/or worsen ataxia. If you use conventional cosmetics, cleaning supplies, and air fresheners, you’re exposed to parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, bleach, mercury, and aluminum that can interfere with your normal neurological function.
Read over the labels of your favorite household products carefully. If they contain chemicals you can’t pronounce, trade them in for natural, organic replacements. One such example is castile soap. Castile soap is an olive oil and essential oil based soap that can be used as a shampoo, body wash, shaving medium, and household cleaner.
If you suspect or have found out through testing that mercury toxicity is responsible for your ataxia, talk with a holistic dentist about removing your mercury fillings.
- Make Dietary Changes
To test for gluten-related ataxia, follow a strict gluten-free diet for a period of 6-8 weeks. If your symptoms improve, you’ve likely found the cause. I also recommend slowly weaning off highly-processed food and eating more organic vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, meat, poultry, and wild-caught fish.
Load up on brain-healing foods such as:
- Turmeric – Boosts memory and stimulates new brain cell production. Has been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s.
- Garbanzo Beans – High in nervous-system-healing magnesium.
- Healthy Fats – Walnuts, avocado, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil help heal your brain and improve your neurological function.
- Take the Right Supplements
A very effective way to treat nutritional deficiencies is to use professional ultra high-grade supplements. Diamond Nutritional’s line offers chelated magnesium for ultimate absorbability, a complete multivitamin for both children and adults, mercury-free omega 3 fish oil, and much more.