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Sheffield researchers confirm coeliac disease can damage the brain

coeliac disease can damage the brain
  • Researchers have found people with Coeliac Disease (CD) are at higher risk of brain damage
  • People living with CD have an autoimmune response to ingesting gluten, so are advised to follow a strict gluten-free diet (GFD) which is the only effective treatment for the condition and helps alleviate intestinal damage and discomfort
  • Coeliac Disease affects approximately one per cent of the UK population
  • Researchers hope the study will help clinicians motivate and reassure patients and support them to maintain their GFD

People living with Coeliac Disease (CD) have a higher risk of neurological damage according to a new study from the University of Sheffield.

The study found that the brains of people living with CD showed evidence of damage to brain matter and cognitive deficit in the form of slowed reaction times.

Alongside this neurological damage, this group of people also had indications of worsened mental health compared to matched healthy control subjects.

The researchers hope the study will help clinicians to tailor their care to CD patients who may present even the mildest cognitive changes; providing reassurance and motivation for the maintenance of a strict gluten-free diet (GFD), and eradicate any scepticism in the clinical community.

People living with CD have increased sensitivity to gluten and are advised to follow a strict GFD, the only current method of minimising exposure and the immediate risk of damage to their digestive system.

As a result of repeated or uncontrolled exposure, this autoimmune response to gluten can also lead to serious complications and longer term health problems for people living with CD. These include a higher risk of coronary artery disease, small bowel cancers, deterioration of bone health and damage to the nervous system.

There has long been debate amongst neurologists and gastroenterologists about whether this neurological damage is caused as a result of people having CD, with previous studies finding conflicting evidence.

Seeking to end this debate, researchers from the University of Sheffield conducted a study using independent third party study samples from people with no pre-existing neurological illness from the national UK Biobank. This data, including cognitive test scores and brain imaging data was used to eliminate any so-called ‘ascertainment bias’ in their study.

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