Is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine triggered by the exposure to gluten in genetically predisposed individuals.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and all grains related to wheat. Oats is often cross contaminated with gluten and therefore only recommended when labelled gluten-free!
It is estimated that Coeliac Disease (CD) may affect up to as many as 1 in 100 people but around 75% do not know they have it. It is one of the most under diagnosed, yet most common chronic diseases. CD has a clear genetic predisposition. There is a 10% prevalence of the disease among first-degree relatives.
Gluten sensitivity in CD causes the body to produce antibodies that attack the lining of the small bowel resulting in inflammation and flattening of the tiny, finger-like projections, called villi. This mucosal damage affects the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food and can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
A strict gluten-free diet will allow the small intestine to reduce inflammation and repair itself. This process can take anywhere from a few weeks to many months depending on the severity.
Undiagnosed or poorly treated CD can lower the immune system due to malnutrition. The combination of nutritional deficiencies and a hyper-reactive immune system leaves a person more susceptible to other illnesses.
There are quite a few disorders associated with CD: IBS, recurrent mouth ulcers, chronic fatigue, Type 1 diabetes, infertility, recurrent miscarriage, thyroid disorders, iron/folate/B12 deficiency, dermatitis herpetiformis, psoriasis, osteoporosis, and intestinal lymphoma.
Signs and symptoms
Diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain, abdominal distention/bloating, chronic tiredness, presence of excess fat in faeces (steatorrhoea), short stature, weight loss, failure to thrive, iron deficiency anaemia, folate/B12 deficiency, low levels of albumin/calcium/potassium/sodium, oedema, leaky gut, anxiety and depression. CD may be asymptomatic and have no recognisable clinical symptoms.
- Lifelong elimination of gluten is required in all cases of CD. Ingesting even small amounts may prevent remission or induce relapse.
- Eliminate dairy products initially. Many people with recently diagnosed CD are at least temporarily lactose intolerant. These individuals should choose dairy-free foods high in calcium such as green leafy vegetables, figs, broccoli, oranges, sardines, tofu, almonds or calcium-fortified foods.
- A wholefood diet rich in antioxidant foods (e.g. blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, beans, sprouts, brightly coloured vegetables, nuts, green tea, gluten-free whole grains, fish) helps to support a healthy immune system.
- A diet providing high-quality protein is imperative for optimal immune function. Good sources of protein are found in eggs, fish, meat, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, energy drinks) as it acts as a diuretic, increasing the loss of much needed nutrients.Avoid refined foods, sugar, additives, colourings and preservatives.
Anyone suffering from CD may require blood tests to identify nutrient deficiencies as they are in a higher risk group.
- Vitamin A – to form and maintain healthy mucous membranes.
- A high quality B complex – essential for protein synthesis, healthy immune function and proper digestion.
- Vitamin C – to strengthen resistance to infections and to improve the function of the immune system.
- Vitamin D – important for intestinal absorption of calcium and phosphorus, development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, and for modulating immune responses. The two main ways to get vitamin D are by exposure to sunlight and by taking vitamin D supplements.
- Vitamin K – deficiency caused by CD may lead to a lack of clotting factors in the blood.
- Calcium – for promoting bone health, but it also plays a role in blood clotting, muscle contractions and nerve function.
- Iron – essential for the production of haemoglobin, a protein responsible for transporting oxygen through the body. Low iron levels can lead to fatigue, weakness, irritability, headaches or difficulty concentrating.
- Selenium – antioxidant for protection from infection and oxidative damage.
- Zinc – highly important antioxidant with numerous fundamental roles in the immune system.
- Essential fatty acids DHA/EPA – prevent inflammation and are required for the structure and function of the immune cells.
- Probiotics – to help establish a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut and to provide vital support to the immune system. The probiotics most likely to help with the treatment of diarrhoea are Lactobacillis rhamnosus and Saccharomyces boulardii.
- L-glutamine – to speed up healing of the intestinal lining and decrease inflammation.
Note that gluten is found in many nutritional supplements!
- Marshmallow root, slippery elm, meadowsweet, calendula and chamomile all have healing and protective effects on the intestinal wall.
- Herbs to enhance the immune system, e.g. echinacea
- Golden seal to restore the mucous lining of the gut.
- Liver herbs, such as St. Mary’s thistle/milk thistle and schisandra to improve detoxification processes.
Herbal Medicines are more effective when they are individually prescribed by a Naturopath or Medical Herbalist. Come in to see us in store so we can prescribe what will work best for you.
Maria is one of our highly talented resident Naturopaths and Medical Herbalists. She has over 13 years experience in complementary medicine and co-founder of Advanced Naturopathics, a Naturopathic clinic in Christchurch. She uses a variety of non-invasive modalities including nutrition, herbal medicine, homotoxicology and Bicom bioresonance therapy.