An anti-ageing doctor has warned shoppers against stocking up on hot cross buns this Easter, linking the product’s ingredients to dementia.
But nutritionists and medical researchers were quick to reject his claim as “extreme” and “too simplistic”.
Dr Michael Elstein is passionately anti-gluten, a protein found in common grains such as the wheat widely used in baked goods. He told The New Daily that gluten could cause gut inflammation and that high inflammation of the gut can be bad for the brain.
He described foods containing gluten as “poison”.
“Research shows gut inflammation caused by foods high in gluten are characteristic of a broad spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases that can manifest into dementia,” Dr Elstein said.
“Gluten is a non-digestible substance with no nutritional value. Our immune system tries to fight it off, and the gut inflammation over time leads to the inflammation of brain cells which in turn destroys brain cells.
“I know I’m sounding like a party pooper but hot cross buns are full of fat, sugar and gluten which all set us up for disease over time.”
When contacted for comment, Alzheimer’s Australia refused to weigh in on Dr Elstein’s contentious claims.
Should we be worried?
University of Tasmania public health nutritionist Katherine Kent told The New Daily there was not yet enough certainty in evidence-based research to support “claims so simplistic in nature”.
Dr Kent said hot cross buns had been unfairly singled out, possibly as an excuse to present gluten as “the bad guy”.
“My own research focuses on anthocyanin-rich fruits and vegetables improving brain function. It so happens that this pigment is highly concentrated in raisins, which are an ingredient in hot cross buns,” she said.
“In no way am I saying that eating raisins prevents dementia.
“The main message here is there is no certain way to prevent dementia. However, a diet rich in a wide range of fruit and vegetables, healthy fats such as nuts and seafood, whole grains rather than refined carbohydrates and reduced alcohol intake and maintaining an overall healthy weight.”
University of NSW Professor in pharmacology Margaret Morris, who is particularly interested in the damaging effects of sugar on the brain, agreed that Dr Elstein’s reaction was “extreme”.
“The general principle that unhealthy diets over time may cause increased inflammation in the brain is sound. But this is likely to apply to prolonged intake of unhealthy foods,” she told The New Daily.
“By all means encourage people to eat healthy food … but if we mistakenly demonise one food we often replace it with something else just as bad.
“I don’t think the humble hot cross bun is really the culprit. I think the odd slice of pizza, meat pie or hot cross bun is really what we all need at Easter during a time of celebration.”
And that’s good news for fans of hot cross buns, who can consume the once-a-year food this Easter without being overly concerned about brain health.