A gluten-free diet is essential for Hayley Belcher and other people who have coeliac disease.
But is the diet, also popular with the health-conscious Gen Y, actually good for those who don’t have coeliac disease (CD)?
That’s one of the questions Miss Belcher and fellow University of Wollongong psychology honours student Harry Hawkins want answered.
Their research is also investigating the neurological function of adults with CD who are on a gluten-free (GF) diet.
‘’As most symptoms of CD seem to be addressed by a GF diet, it would seem reasonable to assume that any neurological effects of untreated CD are also being addressed by the diet,’’ Miss Belcher said.
‘’However, some research shows that this might not be the case, so we are running this study to find out more.’’
It’s also the first study to look at brain responses in individuals with coeliac disease.- UOW researcher Harry Hawkins
Coeliac disease, an autoimmune disorder affecting primarily the small intestine, can develop at any age and is caused by a reaction to gluten proteins which can be found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye.
Symptoms vary from no obvious ones at all to severe nausea, vomiting and bloating. People may also experience fatigue, weakness, altered mental alertness and irritability.
The Coeliac Australia website states if coeliac disease is left untreated, there is an increased risk of things like neuropathy (a breakdown of the nervous system), epilepsy and depression.
Mr Hawkins said the study is the first of its kind to compare brain electrical activity of individuals with coeliac disease to a control group (individuals without the disease).
‘’It’s also the first study to look at brain responses in individuals with coeliac disease,’’ he said.
The study is important to Miss Belcher, who was diagnosed with coeliac disease when she started university.
‘’In high school I experienced poor mental alertness and “brain fog” [mild degradations to cognitive functions, including attention, memory, and speed of cognitive processing],’’ she said.
‘’After following a gluten free diet I found that many of these symptoms resolved.
‘’Through Facebook Coeliac Support groups I heard stories of individuals experiencing similar symptoms of brain fog as well as depression.
Through Facebook Coeliac Support groups I heard stories of individuals experiencing similar symptoms of brain fog as well as depression.- UOW researcher Hayley Belcher
‘’After researching this I also found some studies to suggest that the effects on brain activity and cognitive performance may continue despite following a gluten-free diet and therefore we are wanting to replicate some of these studies.’’
They have already tested 33 individuals without coeliac disease and 20 with the disease.
‘’We are looking for more individuals with the disease who would be willing to participate,’’ she said.
Email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for more details or to participate in the study.