Volunteers needed for Sheffield study into gluten and dementia risk

31 January 2020

Researchers at the University of Sheffield are looking to recruit healthy volunteers aged between 50-70 to look to see whether eating food containing gluten has any effect on aspects of brain health.

With one in three people born today predicted to develop dementia in their lifetime, gaining a better understanding about the potential risk factors for developing the condition is vital for developing new strategies to help people reduce their risk.

Dementia is caused by a number of diseases in the brain, most commonly Alzheimer’s disease. While the biggest risk factor for developing the condition is age, genetics and lifestyle factors also play an important role.

An increasing number of research studies point towards the immune system being key in the development of dementia. Substances like gluten, which can cause inflammation, are beginning to be studied in more detail. Gluten is the name for a family of proteins found in wheat.

People with coeliac disease have a severe immune response to gluten, which can cause physical symptoms such as feeling nauseous and stomach cramps  But some people without a diagnosis of coeliac disease may have a low-level sensitivity to gluten, which Dr Iain Croall believes may have a hidden impact on the health of the brain.

Now, Dr Croall and his team are trying to understand whether a diet containing gluten can cause long term damage in the brain and increase the risk of developing dementia.

Those who register their interest in this Sheffield-based study must have no known gluten sensitivity and be prepared to have a blood test and brain scan.

Dr Iain Croall, Research Fellow, at University of Sheffield said:

“Investigating any link between diet, inflammation and brain health is an important avenue to explore in dementia research.

“This study is a first step to establish any potential link and help determine whether gluten could be a risk factor for dementia.”

The trial is currently recruiting healthy volunteers between the ages 50 and 70 who are able to travel to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, via an easy-to-use volunteer service called Join Dementia Research.

Join Dementia Research is an innovative UK-wide service, run by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and supported by Alzheimer’s Research UK, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer Scotland. The service allows anyone to register their interest in dementia research, so they can be matched to studies they may be able to take part in.

Dr Katy Stubbs, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“By signing up to register your interest in taking part in dementia research you are helping bolster efforts to end the fear, heartbreak and harm of dementia. It’s only with the dedicated support of research volunteers that we will be able to make the discoveries that change people’s lives.

“Anyone interested in registering their interest in this study or other dementia research can do so by ringing the Alzheimer’s Research UK Dementia Research Infoline on 0300 111 5111. Alternatively, you can sign up online at joindementiaresearch.org”