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Gluten-Free Diet May Lift Celiac 'Fog'

Scores on attention, memory tests improved after one year
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Maureen Salamon

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 26, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The "brain fog" experienced by many celiac disease patients seems to improve as their intestines heal after adopting a gluten-free diet, a small new study suggests.

Australian scientists found that banishing gluten -- a protein found in wheat, barley and rye that causes intestinal inflammation in those with celiac disease -- led to better scores in attention, memory and other brain functions over the course of a year.

Experts cautioned, however, that those without celiac 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 celiac patients consuming gluten is to blame for subtle thinking problems, not gluten itself.

"Maintaining a gluten-free diet is essential not only for [celiac 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 celiac disease patients."

The study appears in the July issue of the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

An inherited autoimmune disorder affecting about one in 133 Americans, celiac 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 Celiac Awareness.

Yelland and his colleagues administered tests measuring memory, visual-spatial ability, attention, information processing and motor function in 11 newly diagnosed celiac patients. Blood tests gauging antibodies to gluten also tracked the condition of participants' small intestines, and medical procedures (endoscopies and biopsies) evaluated celiac-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.

Yelland noted that the phenomenon of "brain fog" is also reported by chemotherapy patients, pregnant and breast-feeding women, and those with fibromyalgia.

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