Gluten Not a ‘Brain Fog’ Trigger in Women Without Celiac Disease

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay reporter

FRIDAY, May 21, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Going gluten-free is a trend touting benefits for the mind and body, but a new study finds no evidence that gluten is bad for your brain.

Among nearly 13,500 middle-aged women, researchers found no link between consumption of wheat, barley or rye (the sources of gluten) and mental abilities.

According to the study’s authors, the only people who mentally benefit from avoiding gluten are those with celiac disease, who can’t digest it.

“Those who do not have a history of true gluten sensitivity with celiac disease should not follow a gluten-free diet assuming they will improve their brain health,” said lead author, The Dr Andrew Chan, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and vice president of gastroenterology at Massachusetts General Hospital, both in Boston.

“This contrasts with some anecdotes and the popular press that gluten is harmful and may contribute to cognitive decline or so-called ‘brain fog’,” he said.


The study participants had all participated in the Nurses’ Health Study II, a survey of risk factors for chronic disease in women. As part of this study, dietary data and mental function were assessed. Mental ability tests looked at speed, attention and memory. None of the women had celiac disease.

Based on this data, Chan and his team found no effect of gluten on mental abilities. They assume they would find the same result in men, he said.

“We found that among people with no history of celiac disease, a diet low in gluten was not associated with any improvement in cognitive function,” Chan said. “The evidence is simply not there to support changing his diet for this purpose.”

According to Harvard University, the gluten-free food industry grew 136% between 2013 and 2015, with nearly $ 12 billion in sales in 2015, and most people who buy the products don’t have celiac disease. People without celiac disease who adopt a gluten-free diet may be at increased risk for obesity and metabolic syndrome, a set of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.


Samantha Heller, senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health in New York City, reviewed the results and agreed that gluten would not rot the brain.

“Ignore the fear and misinformation that gluten is a brain poison,” she said. “People who have no medical reason to avoid gluten, such as celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, can eat foods containing gluten without worrying that these foods will cause cognitive impairment. or inflammation of the brain. “

What affects brain health are other diseases that are mostly preventable, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity, Heller said.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with a roughly doubled risk of dementia, and studies have shown that patients with heart disease have a 45% increased risk of thinking disorders. People who are overweight or obese are at greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, she said.

“Let’s focus on what we can do to help prevent these all-too-common illnesses,” Heller said. “The approach is similar for everyone and also helps improve brain health.”


His advice:

  • Make physical activity part of your daily routine. Run, walk, swim, ride a bike, do yoga, dance – whatever you like.
  • Add more vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, carrots, and zucchini, to your meals – all vegetables are good for you.
  • Nibble on fresh, seasonal fruit.
  • Enjoy more whole grain products like 100% whole wheat bread, multigrain cereals and crackers, oats, buckwheat and bulgur.
  • Switch from fats like butter to vegetable oils like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or canola oil.
  • Replace animal proteins (burgers, cheese, steak, cold cuts, pork) with beans, nuts, nut butter, edamame, tofu, seitan and veggie burgers.
  • Stay well hydrated by drinking water, seltzer, or tea (herbal or traditional).

The study was published online May 21 in the journal JAMA network open.

More information

To learn more about gluten, visit Harvard University.

SOURCES: Andrew Chan, MD, MPH, professor, medicine, Harvard Medical School, and vice president, gastroenterology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Samantha Heller, MS, RDN, senior clinical nutritionist, NYU Langone Health, New York City; JAMA network open, May 21, 2021, online

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