ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Mayo Clinic researchers have uncovered a new link between celiac disease, a digestive condition triggered by consumption of gluten, and dementia or other forms of cognitive decline. The investigators' case series analysis -- an examination of medical histories of a group of patients with a common problem -- of 13 patients will be published in the October issue of Archives of Neurology.
"There has been very little known about this connection between celiac disease and cognitive decline until now," says Keith Josephs, M.D., Mayo Clinic neurologist and study investigator. "This is the largest case series to date of patients demonstrating cognitive decline within two years of the onset of celiac disease symptom onset or worsening."
Says Joseph Murray, M.D., Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and study investigator, "There has been a fair amount written before about celiac disease and neurological issues like peripheral neuropathy (nerve problems causing numbness or pain) or balance problems, but this degree of brain problem -- the cognitive decline we've found here -- has not been recognized before. I was not expecting there would be so many celiac disease patients with cognitive decline."
The next step in the research will be to investigate the measure and nature of the connection between the two conditions.
"It's possible it's a chance connection, but given the temporal link between the celiac symptoms starting or worsening and the cognitive decline within a two-year time span, especially the simultaneous occurrence in five patients, this is unlikely a chance connection," says Dr. Josephs. "Also, these patients are relatively young to have dementia."
Theories to explain the connection between celiac disease and cognitive decline include the following, according to Dr. Murray: