Researchers have conducted laboratory research to investigate the potential link between gluten consumption and brain inflammation. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and it is known to trigger immune responses in individuals with celiac disease. A new study aimed to understand whether gluten could also impact brain inflammation in individuals without celiac disease.
In a groundbreaking discovery, researchers at the University of Otago found that the gluten found in wheat can cause inflammation in the brains of mice. A new study, led by Associate Professor Alex Tups and published in the Journal of Neuroendocrinology, could have important implications for understanding of how body works.
Using mice as a model, the researchers explored whether adding gluten to their diets could change their body weight and metabolism and cause inflammation in their brains. The results were surprising: mice that ate a diet with gluten showed signs of brain inflammation. This suggests that similar inflammation might also happen in humans, as mice share many similarities with human in how their bodies function.
Associate Professor Alex Tups explained that mice are an excellent way to learn about human bodies because they have similar systems, like blood circulation, reproduction, digestion, hormones, and nerves. This discovery could have important implications for the proper health and diet.
Gluten, found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley, is a significant component of diets in many Western countries. Previous research has indicated that gluten can lead to weight gain and inflammation in the stomach and gut of mice.
However, a new study specifically explored the effects of gluten on the brain. As anticipated, researchers findings demonstrated that when mice consumed gluten alongside a high-fat diet, they experienced increased weight gain. Notably, a new study revealed a novel aspect: gluten also triggers brain inflammation, particularly in the hypothalamus.
Associate Professor Tups, who led the study, said, “While we expected the weight gain, this is the first time we’ve seen that gluten can inflame the brain.”
The brain has special immune cells similar to those in the blood, called astrocytes and microglia. Researchers found that both gluten and a high-fat diet increase these immune cells. Surprisingly, adding gluten to a regular diet raised cell numbers as much as being on a high-fat diet, and adding gluten to a high-fat diet increased cell numbers even more.
The hypothalamus in the brain, which controls body weight and blood sugar levels, is essential. If gluten causes inflammation there, it might lead to weight gain and blood sugar issues over time. These effects could even impact memory if they persist, as memory is linked to blood sugar regulation. However, researchers are not sure why this is happening yet – it’s a discovery, and they are still trying to understand it.
Certain parts of wheat or gluten that are hard to break down trigger an immune response similar to those in people with celiac disease, potentially affecting the brain. However, it’s still early, and further research is needed to understand if this has implications for individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Nevertheless, Associate Professor Tups emphasizes that “this doesn’t mean everyone should suddenly stop eating gluten. We’re not saying gluten is bad for everyone. For those who can tolerate gluten, completely cutting it out might have drawbacks that outweigh any potential benefits. Gluten-free foods sometimes lack nutrients, are low in fiber, and high in sugar. We suggest that more studies are necessary to determine if our findings in mice also apply to humans. We’re curious whether this brain response to gluten could occur in people sensitive to gluten.”