For many years, both patients and healthcare providers have had concerns about negative cognitive effects patients with celiac disease experience from eating gluten. The biggest fear is that these effects could create long-term problems, such as dementia. These effects have included some of the following symptoms:
- Brain fog
- Memory lapse
- Problems with concentration
- Other cognitive effects
Celiac Disease Study Results
A recently published study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease addressed these concerns head-on. The results of that study by the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University indicate that celiac disease patients do not suffer increased risk of development of Alzheimer’s.
As part of this study, 8846 people were medically followed for 8.4 years. The participants were aged 50 years and older, placing them in an age bracket at greater risk for development of Alzheimer’s. Of these, a portion had been diagnosed with celiac disease and a portion were gluten tolerant. The rate of development of dementia was equal within both groups.
Despite the upbeat results regarding Alzheimer’s, there were some down sides to the study outcome. Researchers did find that patients with celiac disease are at greater risk for vascular dementia. This is a type of cognitive impairment caused by problems in supplying blood to the brain.
Why does brain fog appear in people with celiac disease, if it is not Alzheimer’s?
Brain fog is sometimes a problem for people with celiac disease. Researchers acknowledge that and, while Alzheimer’s risk is not greater for people with gluten intolerance, the cause of this brain fog in people with celiac disease has yet to be determined.
In essence, the question of whether it is Alzheimer’s is answered with a solid, “No.” Now researchers need to figure out what the cause of this brain fog is and whether something can be done to prevent it. Some of the researchers believe brain fog is a result of systemic inflammation caused by eating gluten. Others leading the study hypothesize that antibodies more highly present in people with celiac disease bind to nerve tissue as a result of gluten exposure. Whatever the cause, future studies will focus upon brain fog of the gluten intolerance.
What should a celiac disease patient do when brain fog occurs?
Researchers recommend that celiac disease patients talk to their specialist or a celiac disease expert about their brain fog, when it is occurring. The occurrence could be related to continued exposure to gluten, even when a person believes he or she is gluten-free. Gluten can be “hidden” in some products and foods, so that could be causing exposure. Or, the symptoms could be derived from nutritional deficiencies or other problems.
What is vascular dementia?
Vascular dementia is insufficiency of blood supply to the brain. This can occur after a stroke in anyone. At other times, minor insufficiencies occur. These are much like silent insults to the brain. While a slight increase in the number of celiac disease patients experiencing vascular dementia exists over the occurrence in non-celiac counterparts, the reason for this increase is still unclear. This issue will be the focus of future studies.