Gluten and Dementia – Is There a Link?
I recently had the opportunity to discuss the connection between gluten and dementia, brain inflammation, and leaky brain with health expert, Jonathan Landsman. We discussed how grain can damage the health of the brain in multiple ways, including a negative impact on memory, brain fog, dementia, and more. Jonathan is the host of the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Summit. You can hear our interview and learn more about this free online event here <<==
Most people have heard of Leaky Gut, but it is rare to hear anyone talk about the concept of Leaky Brain Syndrome. Today I want to talk about one of the most debilitating diseases linked to a break down in the gastrointestinal barrier, but also potentially a break down in the blood brain barrier.
Dementia. Unfortunately, many are unaware of the connection between gluten and dementia (Alzheimer’s). Part of this connection has to do with the role gluten plays in causing intestinal permeability (Leaky Gut). This process was discovered originally by Dr. Fasano. You can read a review of it here. The part less talked about has to do with gluten’s impact on the microbiome (good bacteria in the gut).
Consider this quote from a recent study published on the connection between non celiac gluten sensitivity and dementia:
The non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a chronic functional gastrointestinal disorder which is very common world wide. The human gut harbors microbiota which has a wide variety of microbial organisms; they are mainly symbiotic and important for well being. However, “dysbiosis” – i.e. an alteration in normal commensal gut microbiome with an increase in pathogenic microbes, impacts homeostasis/health. Dysbiosis in NCGS causes gut inflammation, diarrhea, constipation, visceral hypersensitivity, abdominal pain, dysfunctional metabolic state, and peripheral immune and neuro-immune communication. Thus, immune-mediated gut and extra-gut dysfunctions, due to gluten sensitivity with comorbid diarrhea, may last for decades. A significant proportion of NCGS patients may chronically consume alcohol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and fatty diet, as well as suffer from various comorbid disorders. The above pathophysiological substrate and dysbiosis are underpinned by dysfunctional bidirectional “Gut-Brain Axis” pathway. Pathogenic gut microbiota is known to upregulate gut- and systemic inflammation (due to lipopolysaccharide from pathogenic bacteria and synthesis of pro-inflammatory cytokines); they enhance energy harvest, cause obesity, insulin resistance, and dysfunctional vago-vagal gut-brain axis. Conceivably, the above cascade of pathology may promote various pathophysiological mechanisms, neuroinflammation, and cognitive dysfunction. Hence, dysbiosis, gut inflammation, and chronic dyshomeostasis are of great clinical relevance. It is argued here that we need to be aware of NCGS and its chronic pathophysiological impact. Therapeutic measures including probiotics, vagus nerve stimulation, antioxidants, alpha 7 nicotinic receptor agonists, and corticotropin-releasing factor receptor 1 antagonist may ameliorate neuroinflammation and oxidative stress in NCGS; they may therefore, prevent cognitive dysfunction and vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease.
Other Studies have shown that gluten can alter the normal bacterial flora, and in doing so set the stage for decreased levels of regulatory gut bacteria, and increased levels of bacteria that contribute to inflammation. When you combine leaky gut with altered bacteria, you get an increased presence of bacteria and their by products in the blood. One type of bacterial byproduct is LPS (lipopolysaccharide). Studies have shown that when this happens, the immune system will produce inflammation trying to combat the presence of these translocated bacteria. This increase inflammation has been shown to alter the function of the brain, and a side effect of this is DEMENTIA.[1, 2] The image below illustrates the connection:
Leaky Brain Syndrome
As described above, a big part of the gluten and dementia connection is leaky gut syndrome. However; newer research has shown evidence that patients with gluten and dairy reactions have the antibodies showing up in their cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This is an indicator that a disruption in the blood brain barrier is present (i.e. Leaky Brain)  Why is this so abnormal? The blood brain barrier (BBB) is supposed to protect the brain from elements in the blood stream that could create potential harm. This includes antibodies, inflammatory compounds, infections… If this barrier becomes leaky, it opens up the potential for a number of health problems. Some of the most common include autoimmune diseases that impact the central nervous system. Beyond dementia, examples include:
- Migraine headaches
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Bipolar disease
- Seizure disorders
- Facial Palsies (i.e Bell’s)
- Nerve pain syndromes
- Autism and other developmental disease
What Can You Do About It?
Get Educated. Right now you can register for and watch the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Summit for free. I discuss the connection between gluten and dementia, but the summit also includes interviews with 33 of the world’s leading experts on brain health.
There are a number of things that can be done to protect yourself from this leaky gut/brain scenario. If you suffer with dementia or if you suspect Leaky Brain Syndrome, the most important thing you can do is to be tested for gluten sensitivity and other food allergies. I would also highly recommend having your doctor measure your gut bacteria for the presence of gram negative bacteria, as these are the types that have been found to be the most problematic. If they are present, you will definitely want to consider taking high doses (200 billion CFU/day or more) of probiotics for at least 2 months. Also consider having your doctor check your vitamin and mineral status as these are essential to the healing process. From a food perspective, you will want to consume whole unprocessed foods. I would recommend avoiding all grain, processed dairy, processed sugar, legumes, alcohol, and large quantities of seeds. Bone broth is an excellent source of nutrient dense food helpful in gut recovery. I put together this short video on helpful nutritional supplementation as well:
Wishing you excellent health,
Dr. Osborne – The Gluten Free Warrior