Gluten May Cause Brain Inflammation

When scientists fed mice gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, they observed inflammation in the hypothalamic region of the rodent's brains, something not seen in previous research.

The gluten-free (GF) revolution is well underway, with more and more people eliminating this wheat protein from their diets. While some may go gluten-free or reduce gluten consumption to improve symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn's disease, people with celiac disease must avoid gluten because it causes an immune system reaction that damages their small intestines.

Previous research suggests that gluten can promote body mass gain and inflammation of appendages in mice. However, less is known about the wheat protein's impacts on overall inflammation in the body.

In a new study, researchers from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, found that a gluten-enriched diet caused brain inflammation in male mice. The study authors say this discovery is surprising and likely the first of its kind in gluten research.

For the study, published in the Journal of Neuroendocrinology on July 17, researchers fed male mice either a standard low-fat diet with 4.5% gluten — an amount similar to what humans consume daily — or a high-fat diet with the same amount of gluten. They also fed mice high fat and low-fat diets without added gluten.

The investigators found that mice fed a high-fat, gluten-enriched diet gained more body mass and fat compared to rodents fed a high-fat diet without the wheat protein.

Moreover, mice fed a low-fat diet enriched with gluten showed increased C-reactive protein levels — a biomarker for inflammation.

The scientists also found that adding gluten to a low-fat or high-fat diet significantly increased the number of immunoreactive cells and the number of microglia and astrocytes in the hypothalamus. Microglia and astrocytes play vital roles in immune responses and blood-brain barrier maintenance in the central nervous system.

The study authors believe this is the first evidence to date that gluten can increase brain inflammation, and it's possible this could happen in humans.

Is the gluten-free diet suitable for everyone?

While eliminating gluten is critical for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, some research suggests that following a GF diet may help manage other health conditions. These may include fibromyalgia, endometriosis, and certain mental health conditions.

Still, people without celiac disease who go gluten-free can experience adverse effects, including nutrient and fiber deficiencies, hyperglycemia, and coronary artery disease. Moreover, GF diet foods can be expensive and difficult to manage when eating in restaurants or other people's homes.

According to an Otago Daily Times report, lead study author Alexander Tups, an associate professor at the University of Otago School of Biomedical Sciences, said, "We are not saying that gluten is bad for everyone. For gluten-tolerant people to go entirely gluten-free may have health implications that may outweigh potential benefits."

Tups also noted, "We are saying that future studies need to reveal whether our findings in mice are translatable to humans and whether gluten-induced astrogliosis and microgliosis may also develop in gluten-sensitive individuals."

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Gayle Makins
prefix 1 month ago
Early in my life I did not have problems with wheat but now I have painful gluten sensitivity. It first started when Wheat was geneticly changed to tolerate roundup in USA. Please research that angle. I traveled in Europe and they did not use roundup years ago. It was not a problem there.