Abuja - The "brain fog" experienced by many coeliac disease patients seems to improve as their intestines heal after adopting a gluten-free diet, a small new study suggests.
scientists found that banishing gluten – a protein found in wheat,
barley and rye that causes intestinal inflammation in those with coeliac
disease – led to better scores in attention, memory and other brain
functions over the course of a year.
cautioned, however, that those without coeliac disease who choose to go
gluten-free – a current diet trend – can't expect clearer thinking to
result. While more research is needed, they said, it appears that
systemic inflammation common to coeliac patients consuming gluten is to
blame for subtle thinking problems, not gluten itself.
a gluten-free diet is essential not only for [coeliac patients']
physical well-being, but for mental well-being also," said study author
Dr Greg Yelland, an adjunct senior lecturer in gastroenterology at
Monash University in Clayton. "Given the extent of anecdotal data, we
would have been surprised not to have found evidence of minor cognitive
[brain] impairment in untreated coeliac disease patients."
The study appears in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.
Undiagnosed or misdiagnosed
inherited autoimmune disorder affecting about one in 133 Americans,
coeliac disease damages the small intestine and interferes with nutrient
absorption when gluten is consumed. An estimated 83 percent of those
with the disorder are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with another
problem, according to the National Foundation for Coeliac Awareness
and his colleagues administered tests measuring memory, visual-spatial
ability, attention, information processing and motor function in 11
newly diagnosed coeliac patients. Blood tests gauging antibodies to
gluten also tracked the condition of participants' small intestines, and
medical procedures (endoscopies and biopsies) evaluated
coeliac-specific damage to the small bowel.
Over 12 months, all
participants closely followed a gluten-free diet. As researchers
observed improvements in patients' intestinal damage and gluten antibody
levels, they also noted statistically significant improvements in tests
assessing verbal fluency, attention and motor function.
noted that the phenomenon of "brain fog" is also reported by
chemotherapy patients, pregnant and breast-feeding women, and those with
has shown that 'brain fog' does exist in untreated coeliac disease,"
Yelland said. "The mechanism for the cognitive impairments associated
with 'brain fog' are as yet unknown . . . [but] it would seem unlikely
that it specifically involves the ingestion of gluten, but rather some
underlying factor such as systemic inflammation."
Quigley, medical director of Houston Methodist Hospital's Centre for
Digestive Disorders, called the new research "probably one of the best
studies that has looked at impaired cognitive function in coeliac
He agreed with Yelland that patients with many health issues use the term to describe "just not being on top of their game"
interpretation [of the study results] is that whatever defect in the
intestine is allowing this brain fog to develop is being resolved" by
not eating gluten-containing foods, said Quigley, who wasn't involved in
Dr Peter Green, director of the Coeliac Disease
Centre at Columbia University Medical Centre in New York City, said
research on gluten is still "nascent", with scientists only recently
beginning to tease out its effects in those with and without coeliac
For the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page!