Potential Link Between Celiac Disease and Alzheimer’s Risk Disproven

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Alzheimer’s Risk Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It typically occurs in seniors, although cases can occur in people who are middle-aged or younger. Alzheimer’s disease begins with memory loss and slowed thinking, eventually progressing to disorientation, severe memory loss, and a decline in basic functioning, including the inability to speak or swallow.

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers have found many risk factors linked to the development of the disease. These include genetics, age, head injuries, sleep disorders, and high blood pressure. Celiac disease has been suggested as a potential contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease, particularly in health-related books and TV shows, although no research had proven a link. Now, according to a new study, the link between celiac disease and dementia has been disproven.

In the study, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) explored whether there was a link between dementia and celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the small intestine cannot properly digest gluten. Gluten is a substance found in wheat products, including breads, pasta, and pastries.

A common symptom associated with celiac disease is “brain fog,” which refers to slowed thinking, forgetfulness, and a lack of mental clarity. People suffering from brain fog may feel like their mind is not functioning at its normal level.

The researchers from CUMC’s Celiac Disease Center studied more than 8,000 people over the age of 50, monitoring them over a median period of eight years. Of the participants with celiac disease, 4.3% developed dementia, compared to 4.4% of people without the disease.

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

The results of the study indicate that while celiac disease may cause some cognitive symptoms, it is not linked to Alzheimer’s. There was no increase in risk between people who had celiac and those who did not.

However, the study did find that there was a slight increased risk for celiac patients of developing vascular dementia, a form of dementia that develops due to reduced blood supply to the brain.

Celiac disease could contribute to vascular dementia as it has an effect on cardiovascular health, including the heart: “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,” said Lebwohl.

However, Lebwohl cautioned that the increased risk wasn’t significant enough to draw any conclusions, stating that the findings regarding vascular dementia were insignificant enough that they may be attributed to chance.

Dr. Peter Green, study co-author and the director of the Celiac Disease Center, said that the results should put an end to fears that celiac disease may have played a part in Alzheimer’s disease risk, stating that the study “provides concrete evidence that this particular worry can be laid to rest.”

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Alzheimer’s Diseases: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment,” Medical News Today web site, October 19, 2015; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/159442.php.
“Celiac Disease,” WebMD web site; http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/celiac-disease/celiac-disease, last accessed October 26, 2015.
Gough-Gordon, E., “Despite ‘Brain Fog,’ Celiac Patients at No Greater Risk of Alzheimer’s,” MPR web site, October 19, 2015; http://www.empr.com/news/despite-brain-fog-celiac-patients-at-no-greater-risk-of-alzheimers/article/447975/.
Preidt, R., “Celiac Disease Doesn’t Seem to Boost Dementia Risk,” WebMD web site, October 23, 2015; http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/celiac-disease/news/20151023/celiac-disease-doesnt-seem-to-boost-dementia-risk-study.