Despite theories that people without celiac disease can protect cognitive function by cutting gluten from their diets, researchers say a recent study showed no benefit from excluding the common food protein. Photo by congerdesign
May 21 (UPI) -- Consuming large amounts of the protein gluten -- found commonly eaten cereal grains -- doesn't increase the risk for cognitive decline in women without celiac disease, a study published Friday by JAMA Network Open found.
Women in their 50s and 60s with the highest levels of gluten intake continued to perform well on standard measures of cognitive function, the data showed.
Their scores on cognitive tests were similar to those of women whose diets contained lower amounts of gluten.
"We found that among individuals without a history of celiac disease, a low-gluten diet was not associated with any improvement in cognitive function," study co-author Dr. Andrew T. Chan told UPI in an email.
"This is in contrast to some ... popular press that gluten was harmful and could contribute to cognitive decline or so-called 'brain fog,'" said Chan, a professor at Harvard Medical School and a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Gluten, found in foods containing wheat, barley and rye, among other grains, and is "ubiquitous" in the diets of people in the United States, has been associated with an elevated risk for cognitive impairment in those with celiac disease, he and his colleagues said.
In people with celiac disease, which affects about 1% of the U.S. population, gluten causes damage to the small intestine, making foods containing it difficult to digest, according to Beyond Celiac, an advocacy group for those with the disease.
For those with the condition, gluten appears to trigger a severe immune response that has been linked to multiple neuro-psychiatric symptoms, including cognitive impairment, depression and anxiety, Chan and his colleagues said.
However, it is unclear whether the protein causes the same response in those without celiac disease, the researchers said.
For this study, the researchers assessed the daily gluten intake of nearly 13,500 women in their 50s and 60s who did not have a history of celiac disease or its symptoms.
They tracked study participants' gluten intake over 25 years, and tested their cognitive function at the end of that period. They then compared cognitive function test scores for women with the highest levels of gluten intake in their diets to those with the lowest.
Long-term gluten intake was not associated with cognitive scores in middle-aged women without celiac disease, the data showed.
"People without a history of celiac disease should not modify their gluten intake under the belief that it will somehow prevent cognitive decline," Chan said.
"The evidence is simply not there to support modifying one's diet for this purpose," he said.