Celiac Disease & Functional Medicine
We are never shy about our aversion to gluten at Brookview Wellness. For many of us, this dietary decision is optional, but for those with Celiac Disease, it is crucial to avoid gluten at all costs. May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month, so we are here with some essential information to educate and spread the word about this common diagnosis and how Functional Medicine can help.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive system, specifically the small intestine. It is a condition estimated to affect approximately 1% of the population worldwide. That’s about 80 million people!
For those with Celiac Disease, the culprit is GLUTEN, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When someone with CD consumes gluten, their immune system reacts by attacking the lining of the small intestine, causing damage and preventing the body from absorbing nutrients from food.
What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?
The symptoms of Celiac Disease can vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. Some people with Celiac Disease may not experience any symptoms at all, but most experience at least one of these common symptoms:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fatigue and weakness
- Skin rash
- Joint pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Discolored teeth
For many people with Celiac Disease, the symptoms can be quite debilitating and impact their quality of life significantly. Those with CD typically have to plan their meals and social activities around avoiding gluten and even trace gluten exposure can trigger symptoms that last for several days or more. Additionally, the chronic nature of the disease can lead to long-term complications, such as malnutrition, osteoporosis, and infertility.
How to Treat Celiac Disease
The only effective treatment for Celiac Disease is a strict gluten-free diet, which involves avoiding any and all foods that contain gluten. This can be a little tricky because even small amounts of gluten can cause damage to the small intestine in people with Celiac Disease. This means that individuals with Celiac Disease should avoid consuming wheat, barley, and rye, as well as any foods or products made with grains such as bread, pasta, baked goods, some condiments, processed meats, and beer.
Gluten is found in some foods that you may not expect, which makes avoiding it more difficult than you might think. Check out this list of “hidden” gluten.
Those with Celiac Disease also need to be mindful of possible cross-contamination when they are preparing food or dining out. Cross-contamination is a major concern for people with celiac disease because it can cause a reaction even if they only consume a small amount of gluten. Cross-contamination occurs when gluten-containing foods come into contact with gluten-free foods, utensils, or surfaces such as:
- Shared utensils: If a gluten-free person uses utensils that have been used to prepare gluten-containing foods without properly cleaning them, they can become contaminated with gluten.
- Shared cooking surfaces: If gluten-free foods are cooked on surfaces that have been contaminated with gluten, such as a shared grill or frying pan, they can become contaminated.
- Shared appliances: If gluten-free foods are prepared in an appliance that has been used to prepare gluten-containing foods, such as a toaster or blender, they can become contaminated.
- Shared condiments: If gluten-free foods are served with condiments that have been used on gluten-containing foods, such as a shared butter dish or jar of jam, they can become contaminated.
- Airborne flour: Flour can become airborne during food preparation and settle on nearby surfaces, which can lead to cross-contamination.
To prevent cross-contamination, it is important for people with Celiac Disease to carefully clean all surfaces, utensils, and appliances before preparing or consuming gluten-free foods. They should also use separate containers, utensils, and condiments, and be cautious when eating out or traveling.
Functional Medicine & Celiac Disease
The Functional Medicine treatment of Celiac Disease starts with an elimination diet. With this diet, we are able to strip down all things that could cause an inflammatory reaction in your body. We do this because people with Celiac Disease may experience reactions to other foods that mimic gluten. The immune system of individuals with Celiac Disease is already activated and may be hypersensitive to other proteins in foods, which can trigger similar immune responses as gluten. Tricky, right?!
For example, some people with Celiac Disease can also have a sensitivity to oats, even those that are labeled gluten-free. Oats are often processed in the same facilities as wheat, barley, and rye, which can lead to cross-contamination with gluten-containing grains. Some people with Celiac Disease may also experience reactions to other grains, such as corn or rice.
Some people with Celiac Disease may experience also reactions to dairy products, soy, or eggs.
These reactions are not due to the presence of gluten but rather a separate food sensitivity or allergy that many people have in conjunction with Celiac. This is why the elimination diet is so effective in targeting your allergies and sensitivities. Once we determine where you stand, you can build a nutrition plan that is curated to your specific needs. Below is a list of common cross-reaction foods that can be problematic to those with CD.
Healing Your Gut
In addition to a gluten-free diet, people with Celiac Disease need to focus on healing their gut. Celiac Disease is very destructive to the microbiome in your intestines, leaving you with inflammation that can lead to many other problems. Healing your gut with Functional Medicine included a 5-R program. This program requires the following:
Remove: The first step is to remove any potential irritants or harmful substances from your diet and lifestyle. This may include eliminating inflammatory foods like sugar, processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine. It may also involve reducing exposure to environmental toxins and stressors. This step aims to remove anything that may be damaging your gut lining and contributing to gut inflammation.
Replace: The next step is to replace any nutrients that may be lacking in your diet. This may involve adding whole, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. It may also involve supplementing with vitamins and minerals like zinc, vitamin D, and probiotics. This step aims to support your gut lining and promote healing.
Re-inoculate: The third step is to re-inoculate your gut with beneficial bacteria. This may involve consuming probiotic-rich foods like fermented vegetables, kefir, or yogurt, or taking probiotic supplements. This step aims to restore a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut and improve digestion.
Repair: The fourth step is to repair any damage to your gut lining. This may involve consuming foods and supplements that are high in gut-healing nutrients like collagen, glutamine, and bone broth. It may also involve reducing stress and practicing self-care to promote healing. This step aims to strengthen your gut lining and promote optimal gut function.
Rebalance: The final step is to rebalance your lifestyle to support ongoing gut health. This may involve reducing stress, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, and continuing to eat a healthy, nutrient-dense diet. This step aims to maintain gut health and prevent future gut issues from arising.
It is important to work with a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable about Celiac Disease to ensure effective dietary mitigation. They can help you heal your gut and ensure your nutritional needs are met. They can also provide useful advice for reading food labels and avoiding cross-contamination with gluten-containing foods.
If you have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease or suspect you make have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten, schedule a Discovery Call with Dr. Brooke to discuss your Functional Medicine treatment options.