Gluten and brain health: Could gluten drive inflammation?

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
a stalk of wheat on a dark blue backgroundShare on Pinterest
Research in mice suggests that wheat gluten in the diet may contribute to brain inflammaton. Image credit: Maren Caruso/Getty Images.
  • In a groundbreaking study, researchers in New Zealand observed that wheat gluten can cause brain inflammation in mice.
  • Their recent work showed that gluten added to a low- or high-fat diet triggered inflammation in the brain’s hypothalamic region, which regulates metabolism.
  • Experts theorize that gluten may elicit an inflammatory immune response similar to what people with celiac experience.
  • This research ties inflammation of nerve cells, to the onset of metabolic disease.
  • Because mice and humans have similar systems, this study may carry important implications for human physiology.

Gluten is a protein present in wheat, barley, rye, and other widely consumed grains. This component is also added to many processed foods.

Research has suggested that gluten could contribute to peripheral inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and enteric nervous system.

According to University of Otago researchers in New Zealand, wheat gluten may trigger central inflammation in the brain as well.

In their study in mice, the team fed male rodents either a low-fat diet or a high-fat diet, later adding gluten.

Associate professor Dr. Alexander Tups, the lead author, said that the addition of gluten to either diet “led to a marked increase in the number of microglia and astrocytes in the arcuate nucleus (ARC) of the hypothalamus, a key brain region for metabolic control”.

Their findings appear in the Journal of Neuroendocrinology.

Medical News Today discussed the study’s findings with Heather Sandison, doctor in naturopathy, specialized in brain Health. She was not involved in the study.

MNT asked Sandison how gluten triggers inflammation through the gut microbiome. She responded: “Gluten ingestion can trigger the production of zonulin, which can create a ‘leaky gut’ with gaps between cells where large molecules can cross from the gut into the bloodstream triggering a body-wide inflammatory response.”

Dr. Sandison also mentioned a theory that gut microbiota and gut-derived bacterial toxins called lipopolysaccharides may enter the bloodstream. Consequently, an “inflammatory cascade” ensues.

A 2022 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences covered this theory.

Share this Article