If you are a caregiver trying to maintain a healthy diet and help your senior loved one do the same, you’ve probably noticed an increasing number of products popping up in grocery stores throughout the Great Lake state that bear the label “Gluten-free.”

While most of us think the gluten movement is primarily focused on helping people manage digestive illnesses, newer research might suggest there are other reasons to monitor your gluten intake. One is a link between wheat and other grains and the development of dementia.

Researchers believe the connection might be because gluten increases inflammation in the body. When gluten can’t be digested or processed, the body’s immune system begins to attack. This leads to increased inflammation. Chronic inflammation is widely considered to increase a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

What is Gluten?

So what exactly is gluten?

Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. It is what helps our food maintain its shape, essentially acting as a bonding agent that holds it together. Estimates are that 10% of the population lives with gluten-sensitivity or intolerance. Some people aren’t even aware they have it. Many times it is misdiagnosed as IBS or a “nervous stomach.”

Researching the Connection between Gluten and Dementia

Dr. David Perlmutter, the author of Grain Brain, is a neurologist who advocates for gluten-free living. His research shows that people with lower blood sugar levels are at lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia. Dr. Perlmutter believes gluten increases blood sugar.

In reinforcing his point, he cites studies going back more than a decade, including one published in Neurology in 2005. Perlmutter contends that the connection between blood sugar levels and the rate of brain atrophy and cognitive decline is the key.

Even slight elevations of blood sugar increase your risk for brain degeneration. Researchers like Perlmutter are especially interested in a process known as glycation. It occurs when glucose binds to protein in the body. The result is an increased production of inflammatory chemicals.

Dr. Perlmutter and his colleagues say you can cut your risk for dementia by eating a diet rich with inflammation-fighting foods and low in gluten and other carbohydrates.

What Other Researchers Say about Gluten

Then there are the scientists who say this issue is much more complex. Frank Sacks, Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health, believes obesity might be the underlying issue.

They cite the obesity epidemic in our country as the real cause of high blood sugar and the rise in type 2 Diabetes. These experts say eating a healthy diet and getting the right amount of exercise each week will help you lose weight while decreasing the level of inflammation in your body. The result may be a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, including the latest news on how diet and lifestyle might impact your risk, we invite you to follow our blog. We share frequent updates on a variety of aging-related topics!


Photo Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net