Dementia risk in celiac disease patients does not increase before or after their diagnosis

By: Emily Lunardo | Brain Function | Friday, February 19, 2016 - 03:30 PM

Dementia risk in celiac disease patients does not increase before or after their diagnosisDementia risk in celiac disease patients does not increase before or after diagnosis. Director of the Celiac Disease Center Peter Green said, “Patients coming to our center have long described ‘brain fog,’ and it appears that gluten can cause cognitive effects in some individuals with and without celiac disease. However, we didn’t know if these effects have long-term consequences in the form of increased risk of dementia.”

The study analyzed 8,846 individuals over the age of 50 with celiac, along with matched controls without celiac disease, in order to determine the incidence rate of dementia. After an average 8.4-year follow-up, dementia was diagnosed in 4.3 percent of celiac patients and 4.4 percent of the matched controls.

Lead author Benjamin Lebwohl said, “Celiac disease did not increase the risk of Alzheimer’s in this population-based study. We did not find evidence of increased dementia risk prior to the diagnosis of celiac disease, either.”

Celiac disease was not found to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia, but there was a slight increase in vascular dementia. Dr. Lebwohl added, “We know that patients with celiac disease have a modestly increased rate of cardiovascular disease, and that patients who experience neurologic symptoms have abnormalities on MRIs that mimic vascular disease.”

Dr. Green concluded, “People who promote an anti-grain or anti-gluten agenda sometimes cite our work in celiac disease, drawing far-ranging conclusions that extend well beyond evidence-based medicine. We know ‘brain fog’ is a serious symptom commonly reported by our patients, and it’s understandable that people have been worried about a possible connection to dementia. Fortunately, our work with Dr. Ludvigsson provides concrete evidence that this particular worry can be laid to rest.”

Celiac disease treatment

Celiac disease is intolerance to gluten, which is found in wheat. The body mistakenly attacks gluten believing that it is an invader and causes an immune response that can lead to diarrhea, cramping, pain, and constipation. Treatment options for celiac disease in order to reduce symptoms include:

  • Avoiding foods that contain gluten, including wheat, rye, and barley found in pasta, cereal, and bread.
  • Avoiding oats – although some patients can tolerate oats, many still cannot.
  • Reading labels carefully for gluten and wheat, especially in processed food.
  • Being mindful of medications, vitamins, and gummies that may contain gluten.
  • Avoiding beer and being mindful of alcohol that contains barley.
  • Avoiding dairy products that contain lactose, as many celiac patients often have a lactose intolerance as well.
  • Speaking with a dietician to determine which foods are safe to eat and which foods should be avoided.
  • Considering taking a multivitamin, as many celiac patients have trouble with nutrient absorption, which can lead to malnourishment.

The key to living with celiac disease is ultimately avoiding gluten at all costs. Knowing what you can and cannot eat can make living a day-to-day life much easier.

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