Celiac Disease and Cognitive Decline


Although most people typically think of the impact of celiac disease on the gut, it can influence many areas of the body, including the brain. Some celiac disease patients report having “brain fog”; which is characterized by mental confusion, lack of focus and poor memory recall. Recent research explored whether there is a scientific link between celiac disease and cognitive function.

A study in JAMA Neurology examined the clinical profiles of patients with celiac disease who developed cognitive decline. In the study, researchers identified thirteen Mayo Clinic patients with cognitive impairment within two years of the onset of symptoms of celiac disease; the disease was confirmed with a small-intestine biopsy.

Key Points:

  • Within two years, 10 patients experienced loss of coordination and four experienced symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
  • Some patients had nutrient deficiencies that were treated with supplements; however their cognitive decline did not improve.
  • Once gluten was removed from the diet, however, three patients’ cognitive decline either improved or stabilized.
  • This study confirmed that a gluten-free diet may have a beneficial effect on mental health for those patients with celiac disease.

In a second study published in the journal Alimentary, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, researchers tested patients with celiac disease to assess memory, visual-spatial ability, attention and other cognitive function indicators. Participants closely followed a gluten-free diet over the 12-month study. As intestinal damage improved, so did the participants’ cognitive function. Researchers concluded that “brain fog” exists in untreated celiac disease but a strict gluten-free diet can improve symptoms.

There are a few different theories to explain the connection between celiac disease and cognitive decline, including:

  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Inflammatory cytokines
  • Immune attack on the brain
  • Systemic inflammation

While research is still pending, many new scientific studies are confirming the link between celiac disease and cognitive decline. For patients diagnosed with celiac disease, following a strict gluten-free diet can play a critical role in intestinal and mental health.

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