Celiac Disease Has No Effect on Dementia Diagnosis

January 5, 2016
Rachel Lutz

The risk for dementia does not increase before or after celiac disease diagnosis, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The risk for dementia does not increase before or after celiac disease diagnosis, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center studied more than 40,000 older patients from 28 pathology centers in Sweden with a celiac disease diagnosis to determine whether these patients have an increased risk of dementia. The team found approximately 9,000 patients with celiac disease.

“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,” Peter Green, MD, the Phyllis and Ivan Seidenberg Professor of Medicine at Columbia University and the director of the Celiac Disease Center, explained in a press release. “However, we didn’t know if these effects have long term consequences in the form of increased risk of dementia.”

After a median follow-up period of about 8 years, the dementia diagnosis rate was 4.3% of celiac disease patients and 4.4% of matched, non-celiac disease control patients. Overall, the researchers reported there was no significant increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia after celiac disease diagnosis.

There was, however, a small potential increase in the risk of vascular dementia in the celiac disease population.

“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,” lead author Benjamin Lebwohl, MD, assistant professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, continued in the release. “Our findings on vascular dementia were small and may be due to chance.”

This study offered an explanation and response to the theory that wheat and gluten have toxic effects on the brain, as popularized by several books, and could lead to a rise in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Part of this hypothesis stemmed from the observation that celiac disease patients often report cognitive deficits when exposed to gluten (wheat or grains).

“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,” Green concluded. “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 provides concrete evidence that this particular worry can be laid to rest.”