In America today, Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise. 5.4 million people live with the illness, including one in eight adults aged 65 and over. In the next 20 years, it is projected that Alzheimer’s will affect one in four Americans, matching the current frequency of obesity and diabetes.
While little progress has been made to figure out what causes Alzheimer’s and how to treat it, there have been some breakthroughs for those living with the disease.
Recent studies seem to show that gluten, most commonly found in wheat, rye and barley, may have a profound affect the brain and nervous system in many people.
Gluten’s Impact on The Brain
Researchers have found that eating gluten can potentially increase the risk of memory loss, dementia symptoms and Alzheimer’s. With the rates of Celiac Disease having more than quadrupled in the last 30 years, gluten intolerance now affects an estimated 10 percent of the population.
Experts agree that diet can have a big impact on your overall health, and a gluten-free diet might have a positive result when it comes to brain health.
Only a minority of people who have been diagnosed with gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease complain of experiencing digestive issues or pain. Some have no symptoms at all. For those with undiagnosed gluten intolerance, however, gluten can silently wreak havoc in the brain for years or decades before symptoms–including loss of memory and cognition–begin to manifest.
A 2006 study performed by researchers at the Mayo Clinic examined 13 patients with progressive mental decline who also tested positive for celiac disease. Several of them showed improvement or stabilization of dementia symptoms on a gluten-free diet.
Dr. Keith Josephs, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist and researcher on the study said, “There has been very little known about this connection between Celiac Disease and cognitive decline until now. This is the largest case series to date of patients demonstrating cognitive decline within two years of the onset of celiac disease symptom onset or worsening.”
According to Dr. Joseph Murray, another study researcher and a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic, there are several theories that explain the connection between Celiac Disease and cognitive decline:
- Nutritional deficiency
- Inflammatory cytokines (chemical messengers of inflammation that could contribute to problems in the brain)
- An immune attack on the brain that may occur in some patients with Celiac Disease
Practical Application for Your Life
Understanding the powerful connection between the method of activating the immune system and diseases like Alzheimer’s is only half the battle. Making practical choices for your everyday life, including what your diet is comprised of, can have profound long term effects on your overall health.
The foods we consume nourish our bodies, but studies also show that the food we are eating can also benefit our brains. The Signature Dining program at Five Star communities has plenty of healthy choices available on the menu and can even cater to special diets for those who need it.
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