Is There An Association Between A Gluten Intolerance And Alzheimer’s Disease?

April 2, 2011 · Filed Under Alzheimers Disease 

Could immune reactions to gluten lead to the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease? This is an intriguing question and I suspect that the connection is very likely.

Immunological reactions to gluten can lead to brain atrophy, nerve damage, nutrient deficiencies, hypoperfused (low blood flow) brain regions, vasculitis (inflamed blood vessels in the brain), and white matter lesions in the brain. This could potentially contribute to  to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia symptoms.

One study mentioned that two patients with Alzheimer’s disease were later found to have celiac disease. Once a gluten-free diet was initiated, their cognitive symptoms improved (15). The study findings are not really that surprising, immune reactions against gluten and cross reactions against brain tissue can occur with a gluten intolerance and this could contribute to cognitive decline. Associated nutrient deficiencies (with intestinal villi damage) can certainly affect a patient’s cognitive abilities as well.

I think researchers need to look closer at this possibility. Many families are negatively impacted by this disease. If gluten is the underlying culprit, a therapeutic gluten-free diet would be an attractive treatment that may improve their cognitive status.

This study just mentioned the possible connection to celiac disease, I strongly suspect that non-celiac gluten intolerance could also contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore negative celiac tests wouldn’t rule out this possible connection. Testing for non-celiac gluten intolerance would also need to occur.

References

1. Hadjivassiliou M, Grunewald RA, Chattopadhyay AK, Davies-Jones GA, Gibson A, Jarrat JA, et el. Clinical, Radiological, Neurophysiological, And Neuropathological Characteristics Of Gluten Ataxia. Lancet 1998;352:1582-5.

2. Dickey W. Epilepsy, Cerebral Calcifications, and Coeliac Disease. Lancet 1994;344:1585-6

3. Hadjivassilou M and Grünwald R. The Neurology of Gluten Sensitivity: Science vs. Conviction. Practical Neurology 2004 4, 124-126.

4. Collin P, Pirttilä T, Nurmikko T, Somer H, Erilä T, Keyriläinen O. Celiac disease, brain atrophy, and dementia. Neurology. 1991 Mar;41(3):372–375.

5. Ghezzi A, Filippi M, Falini A, Zaffaroni M. Cerebral involvement in celiac disease: a serial MRI study in a patient with brainstem and cerebellar symptoms. Neurology. 1997 Nov;49(5):1447–1450.

6. Matthias Kieslich, MD, Germán Errázuriz, MD, Hans Georg Posselt, MD, Walter Moeller-Hartmann, MD, Friedhelm Zanella, MD, and Hansjosef Boehles, MD. Brain White-Matter Lesions in Celiac Disease: A Prospective Study of 75 Diet-Treated Patients. PEDIATRICS Vol. 108 No. 2 August 2001, p. e21.

7. Addolorato G et al (2004) Regional cerebral hypoperfusion in patients with celiac disease Am J Med 116 (312-317)

8. B. Emanuel, A. Lieberman. Electroencephalogram changes in celiac disease. The Journal of Pediatrics, Volume 62, Issue 3, Pages 435-437.

9. Lea ME, Harbord M, Sage MR. Bilateral Occipital Calcification Associated With Celiac Disease, Folate Deficiency, And Epilepsy. AJNR 16:1498-1500, Aug 1995.

10. B. Emanuel, A. Lieberman. Electroencephalogram changes in celiac disease. The Journal of Pediatrics, Volume 62, Issue 3, Pages 435-437

11. Regional cerebral hypoperfusion in patients with celiac disease. The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 116, Issue 5, Pages 312-317

12. R. L. Chin, MD, H. W. Sander, MD, T. H. Brannagan, MD, P. H.R. Green, MD, A. P. Hays, MD, A. Alaedini, PhD and N. Latov, MD PhD. Celiac Neuropathy. Neurology 2003;60:1581-1585.

13. Wilkinson ID, Hadjivassiliou M, Dickson JM, Wallis L, Grünwald RA, Coley SC, Widjaja E, Griffiths PD. Cerebellar Abnormalities On Proton MR Spectroscopy in Gluten Ataxia. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2005 Jul;76(7):1011-3.

14. Kepes JJ, Chou SM, Price LW., Jr Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy with 10-year survival in a patient with nontropical sprue. Report of a case with unusual light and electron microscopic features. Neurology. 1975 Nov;25(11):1006–1012.

15. Lurie Y, Landau DA, Pfeffer J, Oren R. Celiac disease diagnosed in the elderly. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2008 Jan;42(1):59-61. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18097291

Comments

4 Responses to “Is There An Association Between A Gluten Intolerance And Alzheimer’s Disease?”

  1. Alison on April 2nd, 2011 11:30 pm

    Thanks for posting this, Shelly. A family friend has unfortunately just been put in a home because of her Alzheimer’s. We suspect she has celiac and gluten sensitivity, as she has had thyroid issues and other health problems. We tried to tell her and her doctors, but it went nowhere, and it was just too late. She is rapidly declining and does not know her own husband at this point. It’s so very sad.

  2. Margaret on April 3rd, 2011 8:47 am

    Looking at various family members, I suspect a strong connection to gluten as well as to sugar (diabetes of the brain) as an underlying cause of Alzheimer’s Disease.
    Magnesium is also very important – keeps calcium out of cells: when Magnesium is low, calcium rushes in, causing cell death. – from Dr. Carolyn Dean MD,ND, Medical Director of the Nutritional Magnesium Association
    http://www.nutritionalmagnesium.org and http://www.carolyndean.com

  3. Shelly on April 3rd, 2011 12:34 pm

    Alison,

    So sad! It can be very difficult to advocate due to the lack of awareness in the medical profession with nurses and doctors. Perhaps it might help if the doctor looks at this study along with some research that demonstrates the neurological and cognitive symptoms that can be associated with a gluten intolerance. It would be interesting to see what kind of effect a trial gluten-free diet (along with vitamins, probiotics and omega 3 supplements) would have on her cognitive status, even at this point. Testing for additional food allergies might be beneficial as well.

    Best of luck Alison:)

    Shelly

  4. Doud Hamilton on May 16th, 2012 1:00 pm

    Listening to the car radio the other day I heard a statement from the commentator that a gluten-free diet could aid in memory deficit and with omega-3 would improve memory considerably in the elderly. I am researching this gluten-free diet now and as an RN would like as much info on alz. disease as is available. At age 74 I still work 30-40 hours a week. I would like to continue as retirement is not at all what I thought it would be. Thanks Doug Hamilton, Ocala,Fl

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