Living with celiac disease

A patient with celiac disease will never be able to consume gluten products again, and a complete lifestyle change is needed to live symptom free.

by Dr. Tricia Pingel —

We are seeing an upswing in the availability of gluten-free products. Whether it is in the grocery store or at a restaurant, the options for maintaining a gluten-free diet have increased, compared to just a few years ago.

Gluten is a common name for the proteins found in all forms of wheat and grains such as rye and barley. It is the glue that gives bread its spongy texture and holds many food products together. People suffering from an autoimmune condition known as celiac disease experience an adverse reaction to gluten.

Celiac disease is a chronic intestinal malabsorption problem caused by a toxic reaction to gluten. Living a gluten-free life is not a choice for a person diagnosed with celiac disease; rather, it is a lifelong commitment.

Causes of celiac disease

Celiac disease can appear at any time in a person’s life. According to www.celiac.org, one in every 133 people in the U.S. is afflicted with this condition. It is often inherited and passed down through the HLA DQ2 and DQ8 genes. Not every person who inherits these genes will develop celiac disease, but every patient who develops it will usually test positive for the genes.

Celiac disease is not a food allergy — it is an autoimmune condition. People who suffer from a wheat allergy may eventually grow out of it, while those with celiac disease have it for life. Another possible cause is an overabundance of gluten in the modern diet. Gluten is found in many processed products, and often when we eat something in excess, our bodies become intolerant over time.

Although this may not officially qualify as celiac disease, many Americans are now developing intolerance to gluten. This intolerance presents a variety of similar symptoms, such as fatigue, rashes, joint pain, abdominal complaints and headaches. When celiac screening comes back negative, gluten may be dismissed as a source of the problem, but it is actually a strong contributor.

Symptoms of celiac disease

One of the first signs of celiac disease is a change in bowel movements. Stool may become greasy, fatty, loose and frothy with a very bad odor. This change may be accompanied by abdominal cramping, gas and bloating. Other symptoms may include: unexplained weight loss or gain, hair loss, thyroid problems, anemia, skin changes such as rash or hives, depression and anxiety, migraine headaches, mouth/skin ulcers, fatigue, bone or joint pain, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Diagnosing celiac disease

In traditional medicine, celiac disease is diagnosed by taking a biopsy of the intestine, but this procedure is very invasive. Blood screening is less invasive and an extremely effective method for diagnosis. Multiple blood markers that include anti-tissue transglutaminase, anti-deaminated gliadin and anti-endomysial antibodies can be a good indication that celiac disease is present, but these are not foolproof.

If some blood markers are higher than others, it may be an indication that gluten malabsorption caused from intolerance is the culprit and not celiac disease. Genetic screening that looks for the presence of HLA DQ2 and DQ8 genes is also a less invasive diagnostic tool. All blood markers should be examined closely before making a positive diagnosis.

Treating celiac disease

The most effective treatment for celiac disease is to completely eliminate gluten and gliatin (a protein found in wheat) from the diet. This is a lifelong commitment that includes not only eliminating gluten from the diet, but also ensuring that beauty products are gluten free. Patients who refrain from eating gluten may still experience symptoms if gluten is present in their shampoo, toothpaste, lotion or any other product applied to the skin.

I have found that once gluten and gliatin are eliminated, 30 percent of patients begin to have relief from symptoms in three days, and 90 percent within three months. For those with gluten intolerance rather than actual celiac disease, this process can take longer because the intestinal lining needs to heal. The good news is that once the lining is healed, the patient will not have to be as concerned about small amounts of dietary gluten.

Living gluten free improves symptoms, but because the intestines have been damaged and inflamed, they will need time to heal for proper nutritional absorption. When inflamed, the intestines are unable to properly absorb the nutrients and vitamins that are essential for healing.

The best way to combat nutritional deficiencies from lack of intestinal absorption is through IV vitamin therapy. This therapy is effective because vitamins and minerals are injected into the vein, bypassing the intestines for optimal absorption.

Some common herbs that can be used to sooth inflammation are deglycerized licorice, slippery elm, marshmallow root and glutamine. Pancreatic enzymes that break down foods will also help with the digestion process.

What happens if celiac disease is untreated?

If left untreated, the body will be unable to absorb essential vitamins and nutrients, and will slowly be poisoned. This may lead to chronic fatigue, thyroid abnormalities, insulin-dependent diabetes, psychiatric disturbances (including schizophrenia, depression and anxiety), dermatitis herpetiformis (itchy rash), urticaria (hives), increased risk of Hodgkin’s disease, lymphoma (the body lacks the nutrients needed to fight cancer), iron deficiency, pancreatic insufficiency, gall bladder malfunction and celiac/cow’s milk associations.

Lactose intolerance is a possible side effect of celiac disease. Studies have found that many people who cannot tolerate gluten also cannot tolerate cows’ milk and have a much higher incidence of celiac disease.

A celiac patient who eats gluten sustains significant damage to the small intestine. This damage makes it nearly impossible to break down lactose, which may continue for years, even after that patient is gluten free. Thus, a patient who is diagnosed with celiac disease should also eliminate dairy products until the intestines have had time to heal.

How can you live a gluten-free life?

A patient with celiac disease will never be able to consume gluten products again, and a complete lifestyle change is needed to live symptom free. Luckily, with growing awareness of celiac disease and gluten intolerance, many options are now available. In health food stores and in many grocery stores, gluten-free products are available for purchase. Some restaurants also offer gluten-free menus. Ask your favorite restaurant if they provide the option of gluten-free dishes.

For people suffering from symptoms similar to those of celiac disease or gluten intolerance, it is wise to seek health care advice before self-diagnosing or administering herbal remedies.

 

Dr. Tricia Pingel is a naturopathic medical doctor located in Scottsdale, Ariz. She treats a variety of conditions, including menopausal symptoms, infertility, thyroid disorders, anxiety/depression, gastrointestinal concerns, celiac disease, IBD and more. www.drpingel.com or 602-845-8949.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 4, August/September 2012.

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