Celiac disease, also called celiac sprue or gluten-sensitivity, is a chronic digestive disorder characterized by a permanent intolerance to gluten, which causes primary malabsorption. It is most likely caused by a hereditary disorder. Gluten is the sticky protein found on wheat, rye, barley, oats, kamut, spelt, and semolina. When a celiac patient eats wheat gluten, an immune response causes inflammatory damage to the villa (finger-like projections) which are part of the mucosal lining of the small intestine. The villa absorb the nutrients from foods and deposit them in the bloodstream. Gluten will destroy the villa and compromise the absorptive features of the surface.
Celiac is a disease that is autoimmune in nature, and can be associated with other conditions such as multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, insulin-dependent diabetes, infertility, and attention deficit disorder. Symptoms include nausea, abdominal swelling, foul-smelling stools that float, depression, irritability, muscle cramps, and large, lightly colored stools. Children and babies with celiac may gain weight more slowly than normal children or may lose weight mysteriously.
Celiac can strike at any age, and the incidence of the disease is increasing in North America. Caution should be exercised, because a physician can often misdiagnose celiac disease. Celiac is difficult to diagnose because it has symptoms similar to those of other diseases, such as irritable bowel disease, gastric ulcers, and anemia.
People with celiac must strictly adhere to a gluten-free diet. They should not eat products containing barley, oats, rye, or wheat. They should not consume hot dogs, gravies, beer, lunch meats, ketchup, mustard, non-dairy creamers, seasonings, white curry, and white vinegar. This is the only reasonable course of treatment. There are different phases of the disease, and symptoms may vary with severity. However, once a celiac, always a celiac. While patients may vary in their sensitivity to gluten, all gluten-containing products should be avoided to allow the intestinal tract to heal and prevent further complications.
Unfortunately, gluten is pervasive in the American diet. There are many “hidden” sources of gluten, such as thickeners in salad dressings and sauces, and coatings on meat. It is safe to eat rice, millet, raw carrots, apples, bananas, potatoes, and berries. It is also safe to eat fresh vegetables, lentils, beans, peas, nuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, figs, and fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Those with celiac should eat high free-form proteins (beans, brewer’s yeast, eggs, nuts and seeds, poultry, fish, protein drinks, and wheat germ) and healthy fats (avocado, nuts and seed butters, olive oil, unrefined vegetable oil, and butter). They should avoid excess sugar and simple carbohydrates, processed foods, dairy products, chocolate, and bottled salad dressings.
- MULTIPLE VITAMIN/MINERAL FORMULA
People with celiac disease have malabsorption of B vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, K, and E), so taking these nutrients in a multi-vitamin is essential. Make sure the label reads that the vitamin is gluten-free, wheat-free, yeast-free, and generally “hypoallergenic.”
The B-complex vitamins are mostly depleted in patients with celiac. These water-soluble vitamins are necessary for proper digestion. If oral supplements are poorly absorbed, inquire with a physician about getting B-complex injections. Dosage: 50-100 mg daily; injection 2 ml weekly or biweekly, as prescribed. Extra VITAMIN B6 (pyridoxine) may be useful. Take extra folic acid if tingling of the extremities occurs.
Taking extra vitamin C, E, beta-carotene, and selenium will neutralize free radicals that can damage tissues and cells.
- ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS (found in flaxseed, fish, and primrose oils)
These omega 3 and 6 essential fats are effective anti-inflammatory agents and may be helpful in healing the hair-like villa in the intestines. Dosage: 1000 mg 2-3 times a day.
The replenishing of “friendly” bacteria is important to improve the digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, and elimination of wastes. Dosage: 1-2 capsules between meals.
- CALCIUM/MAGNESIUM/VITAMIN D3
Many people with celiac disease have a harder time balancing minerals in their bodies. Since this mineral deficiency could contribute to osteopenia or osteoporosis, taking extra calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D is recommended. In addition, calcium and magnesium help to maintain the body’s pH level (which should be alkaline, not acidic). Dosage: calcium, 1,000-1,500 mg daily; magnesium, 500-750 mg daily.
- DIGESTIVE ENZYMES
Pancreatic enzymes will aid in the digestion and absorption of food. Dosage: 1-2 tablets 5-15 minutes before larger meals.
- VITAMIN B12
Malabsorption of vitamin B12 is a direct result of having celiac disease. Dosage: 1,000-2,000 mcg daily.
Glutathione is an amino acid that is useful in healing and repairing the intestinal tract. Dosage: 500 mg 2-3 times a day.
- VITAMIN K
In some cases, celiac disease symptoms may result from vitamin K deficiency since fat-soluble vitamins are not well absorbed. Dosage: As directed on label. May be supplied by alfalfa.
This nutrient forms a basis of the complex molecular structures of the mucous membranes of the lining of the intestinal tract. Dosage: As directed on label.
Iron deficiency is common in celiac. Supplementation is advised. Dosage: As directed on package.
This ancient Chinese adaptogenic herb has been shown to increase energy and speed recovery from illness. Dosage: As directed.
Balach, PA, Balach, JF. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Third Edition. Penguin Putman, Inc., New York, NY. 2000.
Marion, JB. Anti-Aging Manual. Information Pioneers. S, Woodstock, CN. 1996.
Moir, L. Wake Up to Celiac Facts. Alive #222, April 2001. P. 100-101.
Torkos, S. Beyond Survival: Living Happily with Celiac Disease. Alive #212, June 2000, P.38-39.
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