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Celiac Disease May Masquerade as Alzheimer's

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For decades many doctors have encouraged patients to skip vitamins and eat a "well balanced diet.�? What that means exactly has been hotly debated for a very long time. One key component, though, has always been whole grains like wheat, barley and rye.

The only trouble with this recommendation is that for millions of Americans it is poison. People with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein found in these grains.

When they eat foods made with flour such as pasta, pizza or even whole wheat bread, the lining of the small intestine is severely damaged. As a result, such patients cannot absorb key nutrients from their diet and they may suffer from a range of serious symptoms.

Digestive tract upset is not uncommon. Many people complain of discomfort ranging from heartburn, gas and bloating to cramping and diarrhea. Others experience fatigue, anemia, an itchy skin rash, nerve pain, migraines or osteoporosis.

But one of the most insidious and easily overlooked complications of celiac disease may be dementia. Physicians are rarely taught that cognitive impairment might be a symptom of celiac disease, so forgetfulness is usually attributed to aging or Alzheimer's disease.

After listening to a radio show we hosted on celiac disease, a listener shared this story: "Your program may have saved my life. I know it saved my sanity.

"The more people talked on the show, the more I thought 'That sounds like me!' I had heard of celiac disease, but I did not know it could show up in adulthood. I figured I had nothing to lose by eliminating wheat from my diet for a while.

"After a week of rice and vegetables, I couldn't believe how much better I felt. The bloating, gas, diarrhea, and puffiness were gone. Best of all, though, the depression, lethargy and inability to concentrate and think began to lift.

"Not long before, I had insisted my doctor test me for Alzheimer's! I was losing my ability to recognize faces. I couldn't have written a letter because I wouldn't have been able to sustain a train of thought long enough to get past the first paragraph.�?

New research from the Mayo Clinic suggests that celiac disease should be considered when people start having trouble thinking, doing simple math or remembering things (Archives of Neurology, Oct. 2006). A review of patient records revealed several people who had been diagnosed with both celiac disease and dementia. In two cases, following a gluten-free diet reversed the cognitive decline.

Earlier diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease with a completely gluten-free diet might be able to keep some people from developing cognitive problems that resemble Alzheimer's disease.

Celiac disease is far more common than most people realize. It often goes undiagnosed for years because symptoms are varied and nonspecific. Perhaps as this condition gets more attention, it will become rare for people to suffer from the debilitating consequences.

Readers who would like to learn more about celiac disease may want a CD of our one-hour radio interview. The show covers symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. It is available for $16 from the People's Pharmacy (CD- 594), P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027 or from www.peoplespharmacy.com.

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6 Comments

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I had the specific blood test for Celiac disease last year and it came back negative. I was scheduled for a colonoscopy last week and I insisted they do an upper GI as well, including the entrance to the small intestine. The doctor took biopsies and found, contrary to the blood test, I did have Celiac disease. The doctor said I was the second person in two days to be found with the disease after receiving a negative blood test.

The information about Celiac cognitive dysfuction is especially interesting. I have over the last several years been dealing with treatments and recovery from ovarian and uterine cancer. Chemo Brain has seemed to set in big time, but I have been over time recovering. BUT--also after I had radiation treatments across my pelvic regions I developed symptoms of Celiac disease. I was tested and do have a milder form or a lower test number. I have cut out most of the gluten in my diet but do cheat some. My Chemo Brain has improved. Now--is it because of my limiting gluten or is it because I am getting farther away from my chemotherapy? I feel that I am still troubled by Chemo Brain--it will be interesting to observe--after reading the article--if I am better when I don't cheat.

Thanks for the information--I haven't seen this connection before and my oncologist isn't really certain she beleives in chemo brain at all--it will be interesting to present this information to her.

Is there any evidence that chemo either causes or triggers celiac (could have been dormant and triggered by the chemo)? The reason I ask is that my wife, who is in her early 40's, recently underwent chemo for HCL (Hairy Cell Leukemia). She has experienced "chemo brain" and now persistent nausea. She was tested today for celiac.

An additional reason I ask is that my niece (wife's sister's child) underwent chemo and was recently diagnosed wth celiac.

I have been suffering from celiac disease for years and did not know. My mother grand mother and another sibling also suffer from this disorder. I notice every time any of us eat anything containing wheat gluten. (Bread,pizza) or anything containing wheat we suffer from bloating, heart burn, constant burping and cramping. At about the age of 45years of age, I suffered a drastic loss of weight and ended up in the hospital with a blood sugar of 500. I was diagnosed with diabetes and started taking insulin but this did not solve my problem. The blood sugar stayed up in the 200 even with insulin.

I contacted the people on D-life and one day they sent out an article about celiac disease. This article may have saved my life. I stopped using wheat flour and in about six months I started seeing changes in my blood sugar glucose level. I thank God for sending this answer through D-life.

My mother is still suffering. She has been diagnosed as an Alzheimers patient I found your article tonight (Celiac may masquerade as Alzheimers ) I really believe this is what is wrong with my mother. I have contacted my siblings to ask them to eliminate wheat from her diet.

Did you see any improvement in your mother by putting her on a gluten free diet?

Vitamin deficiencies from diseases etc often do cause dementias. A relative of mine developed korsakoffs/wernicke dementia from Vitamin B1 deficiency caused from alcohol abuse and is now in a care home at 60 yrs old. It's preventable if treated early and correctly with vitamins. Physicians think stomach irritation may be part of the process. Patients with chemotherapy, anorexia etc can also develop this dementia.

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